Inon Dan Kehati is an ex-Israeli Defence Force soldier. He was recommended to me by a friend, so I personally met with him in Jerusalem. We spent two hours together talking and drinking coffee. However, due to time constraints and other commitments at the time, this interview was done via Skype, after I had left Israel.
Dan Kehati: “Good to see you again, George. So, you can ask me any question; the good, the bad, the dirty. I am open to anything.”
George Mitchell: “Thank you. What was your position in the IDF?”
DK: “I was a boot camp instructor of young Israeli soldiers. I taught them to use such weapons as M16s, taught them discipline and so on.”
GM: “Have you personally ever shot or killed a Palestinian?”
DK: “No. Let me explain. I wasn’t a solider myself on the frontline. As the only son of my mum, the IDF doesn’t allow you to go to frontline combat duties.”
GM: “How many soldiers in the IDF?”
DK: “Around 170,000. With reserves numbering maybe half a million.”
GM: “At what age do people sign up?”
DK: “We have compulsory conscription, they join at 18. Boys do three years, girls do two and half. Then they can leave, but of course many stay on and make it their career.”
GM: “Do the girls serve on the frontline?”
DK: “Yes they do, especially on the border areas. A very important role.”
GM: “The IDF, rightly or wrongly, have a very bad reputation in much of the world. I want to talk about specific incidents. All documented, often recorded live, of IDF soldiers treating Palestinians badly, using excessive force and even torture.”
I was intrigued as to what Inon’s reaction would be. I was expecting this to be brushed away, or him trying to justify it all. However, he took the wind completely out of my sails by saying: “George, there are war crimes that the IDF commits. I say it loud and clear.”
I had not expected this.
GM: “So, just to clarify, you’re saying the IDF have committed war crimes?”
DK: “Yes. Because we are at war.”
I questioned him on the raids, or snatching of Palestinians by IDF troops. They cross into towns in the West Bank, and always at night. It happens on a regular basis, one night 16 may be taken away, or 10, or 20 and so on.
Inon told me: “Let me tell you about this. Most taken are involved in terrorism in some way, or connected to Islamic groups. The IDF doesn’t deliberately take innocent people. But I accept they do make mistakes. I’ll tell you one example. I know that in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, the IDF entered the wrong house and took the wrong people, and put them into shackles. That’s wrong, I say that here. But yet if there was not the IDF to clean out the nests of terrorism, they would be much more bloodshed. Let’s say that there are 100 cases every year of extreme treatment by the IDF, heck let’s say it’s even a 1,000 cases, the IDF have 170,000 soldiers, so it’s not even 1% doing wrong. But unfortunately, the international media focuses on these incidents and then the whole world demonises all IDF soldiers.”
At this point, I feel it only right to mention the following. The IDF helping Syrians injured and or fleeing war from nearby Syria. It’s called “Operation Good Neighbour”. Thousands have been taken care of and treated in Israeli hospitals. IDF troops have been saving the lives of Syrian civilians at border fences for more than five years. I’m not defending the IDF, I’m just giving you a side to a story that is rarely reported by the media.
“Let’s talk about teenagers throwing stones at the IDF, who respond with tear gas and often bullets. The maximum penalty for throwing stones, if it can be proved it was meant to seriously injure, is 20 years in jail. Come on, really?” I said sarcastically.
“I agree with you. But remember, there must be consequences of throwing stones. What message does it send if people can throw stones; it’s violent. They must be punished accordingly, but never 20 years in jail of course. And remember, it’s not just stones; stabbings and gun attacks take place on a regular basis,” he told me.
GM: “Am I right in saying that in the West Bank, Palestinians live under military law, whilst Jews live under civilian law? Surely that’s wrong?”
DK: “Yes, I agree, it’s wrong.”
GM: “What is the mindset of a typical IDF solider today?”
DK: “Look, many are only 18, just kids not adults. They are being sent to do a job they are not supposed to be doing, I mean trying to maintain law and order on the streets. That should be the job of the police. I will always support the IDF, in general they do a great job of protecting Israel, but I want to remove the IDF in amongst the civilian population and bring in the police. IDF should be focused on being an army, not policing the streets or people.”
GM: “Do they care about ordinary Palestinians?”
DK: “Some won’t, of course. But the vast majority don’t want to see any civilian hurt.”
GM: “Let’s talk about the Gaza Strip. I put it to you that the people of Gaza are all suffering a collective punishment because of the actions of a few.”
DK: “I agree, they suffer terribly. And I don’t say that lightly.”
I looked directly at Inon via my Skype video and said: “During the last full-scale war in 2014, now I’m not talking about Hamas, or you guys defending Israel against rocket attacks, so please don’t answer about that. I’m saying to you directly, how can you, how can Israel, justify the fact that more than 500 totally innocent children were killed in Gaza due to rocket strikes by the IDF?”
DK: “Let me tell you about these children …” I was on the edge of my seat, I genuinely had no idea what he was going to say. Inon took a deep breath then a long pause, but was soon overcome with emotion and cried, he put his head in his hands. I didn’t know where to look. It was the longest 30 seconds of my life.
Finally, composed again, Inon said: “No kid deserved this. We do not celebrate the death of children. The kids of our enemy are not our enemy.”
GM: “Did Israeli news show these images and video clips when it was all happening?”
DK: “Yes. We even saw the awful incident when the Palestinian kids were killed on the beach by our side.”
GM: “And what was the reaction to this footage by the average Israeli?”
DK: “Most were very saddened by images of dead children. I say it again, no kid in Gaza deserved this.”
“How do we solve the Israeli/Palestinian problem?” I asked with a sigh.
DK: “Actually, it’s very simple. Firstly, Hamas must disarm, stop using their own people for their own Islamic agenda. And they must be willing to meet with Israeli leaders. Jews must be allowed to live where they want without threat. As for us, we must remove the walls and checkpoints. We must also open the border with Gaza. We must allow Palestinians to work and live in Israel. From the land to the sea, one country, but no walls, no division, no checkpoints, Jews and Muslims and Christians and atheists all living together.”
Our interview was over and I thanked Inon for his time.
I ask you, the reader, is there any part of you, now you’ve just read our interview, that thinks this was all an IDF PR stunt and that Inon was simply saying what I possibly wanted to hear? If so, let me complete the picture, which I deliberately didn’t tell you at the start of this interview.
Inon is a peace activist. He is the founder and chairman of a non-governmental organisation called The Home. Inon works with anyone, including numerous Palestinians who seek peace. They do charity and environmental work. Conferences are held and projects worked on for school kids.
Our news is often filled with bad people doing bad things. Look at Inon’s website the-home.org and see for yourself the good that is being done by him and many good people like him. His task is not an easy one, ie changing people’s mindsets that are filled with decades of hate and brainwashing.
But I believe in his cause. Here is his mission: “The Home represents the diversity of cultures, communities and opinions, promoting and developing dialogue, social action and political transformation in order to provide the residents of the Holy Land with the security, dignity and freedom, which each individual deserves in their own home.”
Inon said to me: “I’m focused on this 24/7.”
After five intensive weeks in the West Bank and seven days in the Gaza Strip, it was time for me to finally move on from this fascinating yet extremely complicated part of the world.
To contact George directly about any of his columns, email firstname.lastname@example.org