D-9 bulldozers and the 2002 IDF "incursion" into Jenin Refugee Camp

From a link in a post on Angry Arab’s blog here dated 6 July 2008, I found this appalling item on Uri Avnery’s Gush Shalom website, a translation of an article from Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper of an interview with someone without any experience who drove a D-9 bulldozer in Jenin (Palestinian) Refugee Camp while on reserve duty during the IDF incursion in 2002.

The article is entitled “I made them a stadium in the middle of the camp“.

It shows what can happen if you care only for your own people, for your own side … and feel almost nothing for the others.

And it may explain what happened in Gaza in the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead — maybe an unmanned bulldozer was considered more merciful, more accurate, and more obedient of orders than this, which happened in the confines of the Jenin Refugee Camp in 2002.

But, let’s start first with the Gush Shalom comments, which are posted on its website here, following their translation of the interview:
“This is the incredible, self-told Story of Moshe Nissim, a fanatic football fan and a permanent troublemaker, who begged his commanders in the reserves unit for a chance to take part in ‘the action’. By ‘action’ he was referring to the wide scale destruction carried out by the Israeli army in many Palestinian locations, especially in the Jenin Refugee camp. He was sent into Jenin, riding a 60 ton demolition bulldozer – and equipped with 16 years of pent-up personal frustration, plenty of whisky and only two hours of training on that armored tool. ‘Enough training to drive forwards and make a flat surface’, as he himself testifies in the interview … Of course, it is unconceivable, that the British army would send a drunken and frustrated Manchester fan into Belfast riding a D-9 bulldozer. Therefore, the really troubling questions must be directed at the system that sent him into Jenin on this mission of destruction. This system is the Israeli army.
1. What kind of army puts a 60 ton, multi-million dollar demolishing bulldozer in the hands of such a person, who has not operated one before?
2. How could his rampage go on, without being stopped by any of the officers, at any rank?
3. How can such an army insist it is the ‘most moral army in the world’?
4. Does this interview shed more light on Israel’s refusal to have its actions in Jenin investigated?
5. What did happen in Jenin?”

The interview — well, it is shocking, compelling, and awful. In it, the author writes
“Moshe Nissim, nicknamed ‘Kurdi Bear’, the D-9 operator who became the terror of the Jenin refugee camp inhabitants, speaks with no censorship about his time of glory. ‘I entered Jenin driven by madness, by desperation, I felt I have nothing to loose, That even if I ‘get it’, no big deal. I told my wife: ‘If anything happens to me, at least someone will take care of you!’. I started my reserve service, in the worst conditions possible. Maybe this is why I didn’t give a damn. Not about explosive charges, not about gun fire … The truth is that when I finally decide to do something, I am one stubborn guy. I will go for it till the end. This time was one of those moments. What haven’t I done for them to take me? I sent the guys to twist the battalion commander’s arm, I phoned the company commander, I drove them mad. ‘I promise to work’, I pleaded with the battalion commander. Finally, he agreed to give me a chance … The speaker is Moshe Nissim, AKA [also known as] ‘Moshe Nissim Beitar Jerusalem’. In the Jenin refugee camp, he was called, over the military radio: ‘Kurdi Bear’. Kurdi, because this is the name he insisted on. Bear, after the D-9 he was driving, demolishing house after house … For 75 hours, with no break, he sat on the huge bulldozer, charges exploding around him, and erased house after house. His story, which he tells openly and with no inhibitions, is far from being a regular war myth. Medals, so it seems, will not be awarded for it. (Actually, his company was later awarded a citation for outstanding service.) ‘The funny bit is, I didn’t even know how to operate the D-9. I have never been an operator. But I begged them to give me a chance to learn. Before we went into Shekhem (Nablus), I asked some of the guys to teach me. They sat with me for two hours. They taught me how to drive forwards and make a flat surface. I took it on with no problem and told them: ‘That’s it. Move aside and let me work’. This is what happened in Jenin as well. I have never demolished a house before, or even a wall. I got into the D-9 with a friend of mine, a Yemenite. I let him work for an hour, and then told him, ‘OK. I got the idea.’ But the real thing started the day 13 of our soldiers were killed up that alley in the Jenin refugee camp … They knew I had no fear, that I don’t give a damn, and that I can go anywhere, without asking questions, without an escort of tanks or APC’s or anything. Once, in Jenin, I left the tank that escorted us everywhere. I wanted to have a spin around the camp, see what’s going on. Gadi, the other operator who was with me, nearly fainted. He started going mad: ‘Get back,’ he shouted, ‘we have no escort!’, but I had to get to know the place better, to find an exit, just in case we needed one. I was not afraid to die. At least I was insured. This would have helped my family … When we got into the camp, the D-9’s were already waiting. They where hauled from Shekhem (Nablus). I got the big D-9 L, me and the Yemenite, my partner. First thing I did was to tie the Beitar team flag. I had it prepared in advance. I wanted the family to be able to identify me. I told the family and the kids: ‘you will see my bulldozer on television. When you see the Beitar flag, that will be me’. And this is exactly what happened … Someone told me that my commander wanted to take it [the Beitar flag] off. But no way. If I had a say in the matter, there would be a Beitar flag on the top of the mosque in the camp. I tried convincing the Golani (an infantry brigade of the Israeli army) officer I worked with to let me go up there and hang it, but he refused. He said I would be shot if I tried. Pity. The flag was the most outstanding object in the camp. Reservists who went home on short leave came back with Beitar flags, just to imitate me. It made a lot of noise, my flag. The Golani soldiers were stunned. ‘You brought Beitar here,’ they told me. And I said: ‘I am going to make a Teddy stadium here. Don’t you worry’ …

The interview continues: “The moment I drove the bulldozer into the camp, something switched in my head. I went mad. All the desperation, caused by my personal condition, just vanished at once. All that remained was the anger over what had happened to our guys. Till now I am convinced, and so are the rest of us, that if we were let into the camp earlier, with all our might, twenty-four soldiers would not have been killed in this camp. The moment I went into the camp, for the first time, I just thought of how to help these soldiers. These fighters. Children the age of my son. I couldn’t grasp how they worked there, were a charge blows up on you, with every step you take. With the first mission I was given, to open a track inside the camp, I understood what kind of hell this was. My first mission, voluntarily, was to bring the soldiers food. I was told: ‘The only way to get food in there, is with the D-9’. They haven’t eaten in two days. You couldn’t poke your nose out. I filled the bulldozer till the roof, and drove the bulldozer right up to the door of their post, so that they would not have to take even one step outside their shelter. One step was enough in order to lose an arm or a leg. You could not tell where the charges were. They (the Palestinian fighters) dug holes in the ground and planted charges. You would just start driving, and you would hit a 3” pipe, welded on both ends. As you touch them, they go off. Everything was booby trapped. Even the walls of houses. Just touch them, and they blow up. Or, they would shoot you the moment you entered. There were charges in the roads, under the floor, between the walls. As you make an opening, something goes off … They just planted charges everywhere. For me, in the D-9, it was nothing. I didn’t mind. You would just hear the explosions. Even 80 Kilos of explosives only rattled the bulldozer’s blade. It weighs three and a half tons. It’s a monster. A tank can get hit in the belly. It’s belly is sensitive. With the D-9, you should only look out for RPG’s or 50 Kilos of explosives on the roof. But I didn’t think about it then. The only thing that mattered was that these soldiers must not risk themselves just to eat or drink something. “I fell in love with those children [the younger soldiers]. I was willing to do with my bulldozer anything they would ask for. I begged for work: ‘Let me finish another house, open another track.’
They, in return, protected me. I would leave the bulldozer without weapons, nothing. Just walked in. They told me I am mad, but I said: ‘Leave me alone. Anyhow, the armored vest will not save me.’ This is how I worked. Even without a shirt. Half naked. Do you know how I held out for 75 hours? I didn’t get off the bulldozer. I had no problem of fatigue, because I drank whisky all the time. I had a bottle in the bulldozer at all times. I had put them in my bag in advance. Everybody else took clothes, but I knew what was waiting for me there, so I took whisky and something to munch on. Clothes? Didn’t need any. A towel was enough. Anyhow I could not leave the bulldozer. You open the door, and get a bullet. For 75 hours I didn’t think about my life at home, about all the problems. Everything was erased. Sometimes images of terror attacks in Jerusalem crossed my mind. I witnessed some of them.”

And, the testimony goes on: ” What is ‘opening a track’? You erase buildings. On both sides. There is no other choice, because the bulldozer was much wider than their alleys. But I am not looking for excuses or anything. You must ‘shave’ them. I didn’t give a damn about demolishing their houses, because it saved the lives of our soldiers. I worked where our soldiers were slaughtered. They didn’t tell all the truth about what happened. they drilled holes in the walls, holes for gun barrels. Anyone who escaped the charges, was shot through these holes. I had no mercy for anybody. I would erase anyone with the D-9, just so that our soldiers won’t expose themselves to danger. That’s what I told them. I was afraid for our soldiers. You could see them sleeping together, 40 soldiers in a house, all crowded. My heart went out for them. This is why I didn’t give a damn about demolishing all the houses I’ve demolished – and I have demolished plenty. By the end, I built the ‘Teddy’ football stadium there. Difficult? No way. You must be kidding. I wanted to destroy everything. I begged the officers, over the radio, to let me knock it all down; from top to bottom. To level everything. It’s not as if I wanted to kill. Just the houses. We didn’t harm those who came out of the houses we had started to demolish, waving white flags. We screwed just those who wanted to fight. No one refused an order to knock down a house. No such thing. When I was told to bring down a house, I took the opportunity to bring down some more houses; not because I wanted to – but because when you are asked to demolish a house, some other houses usually obscure it, so there is no other way. I would have to do it even if I didn’t want to. They just stood in the way. If I had to erase a house, come hell or high water – I would do it. And believe me, we demolished too little. The whole camp was littered with detonation charges. What actually saved the lives of the Palestinians themselves, because if they had returned to their homes, they would blow up. For three days, I just destroyed and destroyed. The whole area. Any house that they fired from came down. And to knock it down, I tore down some more. They were warned by loudspeaker to get out of the house before I come, but I gave no one a chance. I didn’t wait. I didn’t give one blow, and wait for them to come out. I would just ram the house with full power, to bring it down as fast as possible. I wanted to get to the other houses. To get as many as possible. Others may have restrained themselves, or so they say. Who are they kidding? Anyone who was there, and saw our soldiers in the houses, would understand they were in a death trap. I thought about saving them. I didn’t give a damn about the Palestinians, but I didn’t just ruin with no reason. It was all under orders. Many people where inside houses we stto [sic] demolish. They would come out of the houses we where working on. I didn’t see, with my own eyes, people dying under the blade of the D-9. and I didn’t see house falling down on live people. But if there were any, I wouldn’t care at all. I am sure people died inside these houses, but it was difficult to see, there was lots of dust everywhere, and we worked a lot at night. I found joy with every house that came down, because I knew they didn’t mind dying, but they cared for their homes. If you knocked down a house, you buried 40 or 50 people for generations. If I am sorry for anything, it is for not tearing the whole camp down. … I didn’t stop for a moment. Even when we had a two-hour break, I insisted on going on. I prepared a ramp, to destroy a four-story building. Once I steered sharply to the right, and a whole wall came down. Suddenly I heard shouting on the radio: ‘Kurdi, watch it! It is us!’ Turns out there where our guys inside, and they forgot to tell me. I had plenty of satisfaction. I really enjoyed it. I remember pulling down a wall of a four-story building. It came crashing down on my D-9. My partner screamed at me to reverse, but I let the wall come down on us. We would go for the sides of the buildings, and then ram them. If the job was to hard, we would ask for a tank shell. I couldn’t stop. I wanted to work and work. There was this Golani officer who gave us orders by radio – I drove him mad. I kept begging for more and more missions. On Sunday, after the fighting was over, we got orders to pull our D-9’s out of the area, and stop working on our ‘football stadium’, because the army didn’t want the cameras and press to see us working. I was really upset, because I had plans to knock down the big sign at the entrance of Jenin – three poles with a picture of Arafat. But on Sunday, they pulled us away before I had time to do it … After I finished the work, I got out of the bulldozer, piled up some clothes on the side of the road, and fell asleep. They looked after me, so that I won’t get run over by a tank or something. All the fatigue of the past 75 hours just landed on me. There was a lot of excitement in what I did. The fact that I did a good job operating the bulldozer, the soldiers who came to me, after it was all over, and said: ‘thank you’. This was enough for me. I miss them. I’ve invited all of them for Kubeh at my place. Their commander, Kobi, the one I worked with throughout the 75 hours, was amazed by the invitation. ‘Do you want the entire company to come over to your house?’ I told him: ‘As far as I am concerned, bring the whole battalion.’ I phoned my mother, from the D-9, and told her that the whole battalion was coming. She said: ‘no sweat’. I am waiting for them … I know many people will think that my attitude stems from me being a ‘Beitar’ and ‘Likud’ member. It is true. I am heavily on the right. But this has nothing to do with what I have done in Jenin. I have many Arab friends. A nd I say, if a man has done nothing – don’t touch him. A man who has done something – hang him, as far as I am concerned. Even a pregnant woman – shoot her without mercy, if she has a terrorist behind her. This is the way I thought in Jenin. I answered to no one. Didn’t give a damn. The main thing was to help our soldiers. If I had been given three weeks, I would have had more fun. That is, If they would let me tear the whole camp down. I have no mercy. All the human rights organizations and the UN that messed with Jenin, and turned what we have done there into such an issue, are just bullshitting, lying. Lots of the walls in those houses just exploded by themselves, at our slightest touch. It is true, though, that during the last days we smashed the camp. And yes, it was justified. They mowed our soldiers down. They had a chance to surrender. No one expressed any reservations against doing it. Not only me. Who would dare speak? If anyone would as much as open his mouth, I would have buried him under the D-9. This is the reason I didn’t mind seeing the hundred by hundred (x) we’ve flattened. As far as I am concerned, I left them with a football stadium, so they can play. This was our gift to the camp. Better than killing them. They will sit quietly. Jenin will not return to what it use to be … Yeffet Damti, his bulldozer partner from Jenin, says that one thing is certain: “‘On the next mission, I am only going with Kurdi. Kurdi, for his part, thanks his commanders that gave him the chance” … This extraordinary testimony is posted on the Gush Shalom website here.

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