Noam Chayut’s book on his experiences in the Israeli Defence Forces is a chronicle of shame and regret, says Sue Turner
The Girl Who Stole My Holocaust by Noam Chayut (Verso, £14.99)
In 2002 Noam Chayut took part in Operation Defensive Shield as a young officer in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). On the pretext of hunting down Palestinian “terrorists” the Occupied Territories suffered bombardments, curfews and the deaths of 500 Palestinians.
At this time Chayut felt immense pride in the existence of an Israeli state and was totally committed to its policies against the Palestinians. Having lost an extended family at Auschwitz, and growing up in the shadow of this absolute evil, he wanted to be a loyal son to his people.
His book charts his growing political awareness to the point where he leaves the IDF and becomes a leading campaigner against the Israeli occupation.
Despite a tendency to leap backwards and forwards through the chronology of his life the writing flows freely, with extended descriptions of military operations he was involved in.
During one such mission, a village girl is so frozen by fear of him that she cannot run away but stares in horror before eventually escaping. This is the girl who stole his Holocaust. He realised that this girl saw him as the embodiment of absolute evil, which helped him to shed his belief in the absolute evil that had shaped his family.
His attachment to zionism weakened as his shame and regret grew.
Leaving the IDF in 2003 Chayut embarked on a cross-Israel trek which helped him see his country from another perspective. Arabs described to him their expulsion from their lands and he became increasingly ashamed of his country’s reputation for brute force.
Not only is Chayut one of an increasing number of Israeli soldiers who have rejected their country’s standpoint on the Palestinians, but he has also become an activist and eloquent author.
This book is a unique account of the occupation from the occupiers’ viewpoint and one of its major features is the link it makes between the actions of the nazi state against Jews and the actions of Israel against the Palestinians.
Chayut eventually joined the organisation Breaking The Silence which interviews veterans and broadcasts and publishes their testimonies, hoping to force Israel to face the truth about abuse towards Palestinians.
One ex-soldier told him that they were “accomplices to executions performed under immoral and even illegal orders.” As Chayut says, “I was among the brainwashed who committed crimes in the Occupied Territories and the struggle Breaking The Silence is conducting is a penance for me.”