1297792397goldberg_021411_380px Michelle Goldberg in Tablet:

Breaking the Silence was formed almost by accident in 2004. It started as an exhibition of photographs and video testimonies by soldiers who had served in Hebron and were anguished by their own behavior. The IDF wasn’t happy—military police raided the Tel Aviv gallery where the exhibit was mounted and confiscated one of the videos—but thousands of Israelis attended. Many of them were soldiers who’d never discussed their own shame. Among them was Manekin, who’s still dealing with what he describes as a “great sense of discomfort about my own personal behavior” during his army service. He agreed to give his own testimony, and soon he was part of a nascent movement.

There was no single epiphany that radicalized Manekin, no moment when he realized that much of what he’d taken for granted about Israeli righteousness was wrong. The son of two professors—his mother teaches modern Jewish history, his father medieval Jewish philosophy—he grew up in a home that was religiously Orthodox and decidedly Zionist, if also politically liberal. He had dual Israeli-American citizenship, and he spent a lot of time going back and forth between the two countries. When he was a teenager, Manekin’s family moved to Israel full-time, and he was sent to an Orthodox high school where right-wing politics predominated.

For Manekin, being accepted into the Golani battalion was like getting into a good college. “You want to excel,” he says. He enlisted for four years, one year more than required. He served first in Southern Lebanon and then in the Nablus region in the West Bank. During that time, he did things that he’s ashamed of, though they’re the sorts of things that any soldier controlling a restive, angry population would do, such as shooting stun grenades at Palestinians to intimidate them at checkpoints. Once, when his unit was assigned to protect the route to a settlement, the soldiers commandeered a house in a nearby village to serve as a lookout, and then, suspecting others might be more suitable, they took over those instead. Manekin was troubled by the soldiers’ cavalier attitude toward Palestinian homes. When he voiced his concerns, he was summoned to the battalion general, who asked if he was uncomfortable serving in the territories.

At the time, he was indignant at the suggestion that he wasn’t ready to do everything required by his military position. But in retrospect, he realized the general was right. There is no way to maintain an occupation without cruelty and moral squalor.