David (Dudu) Shilo

 

Born 1951, principal of a school for mysticism, lives on Moshav Aminadav near Jerusalem.


Descendant of Rabbis

My first childhood memory is of the rain leaking into our tin-made home in the ma'abara (refugee absorption camp for new immigrants).  I was born in Hadera, and my parents emigrated from Iraq.  My maternal family was extremely wealthy back there, due to commerce with China and India.  On my paternal side, father was the descendant of a family of Rabbis.  Along with the leaking house, I remember too the bedbugs that would make us all itch by night.  The day I cried most was the day they shaved my head because of the lice, and on that same day, a neighbor's son stole my biggest treat: a piece of bread with margarine and sugar. 

We lived in Migdal Ha'emek, and I would bump into Arabs constantly; they would come from Nazareth, Yafia and Reineh and sell vegetables, fruit and haberdashery.  We would do our big shopping in Nazareth, where I also saw my first movie ever, in the Diana cinema - it was an Egyptian movie starring Farid al-Atrash. 

My father was a civilian employed by the IDF, an ammunition guy who dealt with bombs.  My mother was a housewife.  We were ten children at home, but despite the economic hardship, we were sent to the best schools.  I went to the agricultural high school in Nahalal.  It was there, in the dorms, that I met Shaul Mofaz and his younger brother, Dudu, who became my close friend.  We were both recruited to the paratroopers unit, following in Shaul's footsteps.  Shaul was our hero.  After receiving our paratrooper wings, we would go out on Saturdays, wearing our uniforms and berets in order to impress the girls. 

During the War of Attrition, we sat in military posts along the canal and had some days of heavy shelling.  On one of the nights we went out on an ambush and the platoon commander, who thought he had identified Egyptian soldiers right across from us, gave the order to open fire.  I shot with an FN MAG (a heavy machine gun).  It turned out to be our second platoon, and until we realized our mistake we had shot their platoon commander, and both platoons sustained injuries.   

After my release, I started learning in a pre-academic program, and then the Yom Kippur War broke out.  We went up to the Golan Heights on Half-Tracks.  En route we saw Syrian casualties and our own smoking tanks.  I remember the silent wirelesses; not a person was talking; only great tension and fear prevailing.  But all that vanished within seconds the moment we entered the battlefield.  After a few days we were taken down to Sinai, where we fought in the Serapeum region near the Canal.   I was evacuated at the beginning of the battle because of a blast wound; I sustained injuries to my back.  I am an IDF disabled veteran and suffer from hearing loss till this day. 

 

Fuad's Intelligence Officer

After the war I went back to the university and completed a degree in Oriental Studies and Geography, while working in three different places.  As a student, I was among those who went to Sabastiya - the first settlement in Samaria.  In all the years that followed I supported the idea of the Greater Israel.  After completing my studies I returned to the army.  I was Fuad's (Binyamin Ben Eliezer) intelligence officer when he was Commander of Judea and Samaria.  I speak Arabic well - a little which I picked up in my own home and later from studies in the university, and from what I'd pick up outside.

I learned the differences between Hebron, Ramallah and Jenin.  I would meet and talk with Arabs all the time, but things weren't that straightforward because some of them were "the enemy".  Once our car was stoned near Bir Zeit, and Fuad and I sustained light injuries.  In 1980 there was a terror attack in Bet Hadassah in Hebron, in which terrorists killed 7 worshippers.  In those days we tried writing up a profile for a terrorist.  It was silly.  There is no such thing.

From the army I moved to the IPS (Israeli Prison Service).  I started off in the Hebron prison assuming the position of security officer and intelligence officer.  During my first week there, while conducting my daily patrol, a blood-soaked shirt was hurled at me: it was the blood of a young prisoner aged 16, whom I knew.  He was murdered by the other inmates because he was suspected of cooperating with the Israeli authorities, although this was not the case.  I played it tough and said to the person who had thrown the shirt at me - "This is how you will help me finish off the lot of you."

I never hated them.  Many times I would sit in their cells; we would drink coffee together and talk frankly about their worldviews and ours.  It was easier for me to sit with the prisoners than with our own wardens and officers; the prisoners' level of knowledge was higher.  In 1982 I was Deputy Commander of the Hebron prison, and it was discovered that I was on the prisoners' hit list.  They thought I was operating sources both on the outside and on the inside - among themselves. 

Rani and Meni

For years now, I have been carrying some sort of load deep inside me.  I have been a regular visitor at Beit Halochem (a leisure and sports center for IDF disabled veterans).  I keep looking at the disabled persons and think to myself that perhaps all this pain and suffering could have been spared.  My last straw was Rani, my wife's nephew.  When he was a child, I taught him how to swim.  Rani - full name being Ra'anan Komemi - was a team commander in the Shayetet  (the elite naval commando unit of the Israeli Navy).  He was killed in Nablus during an operation for the apprehension of the head of The Islamic Jihad in Samaria.  Exactly one year later a female suicide bomber exploded in the French Hill junction and killed my other nephew, Meni Komemi, Rani's cousin.

I see both their mothers all the time.  All my relatives live here on the Moshav near me.  It is heavy on the heart.  I started thinking that perhaps things can be done differently.  A relative of mine introduced me to Gadi Kani and Suliman Khatib from the group "Combatants for Peace".  I did not recognize Suliman but he recognized me and got quite a fright.  It so happens that the lad had served a ten-year sentence in the Hebron prison for stabbing a soldier. We started reminiscing and bringing up nostalgic memories from the prison, names of friends, prisoners and wardens. 

After this meeting, I organized a group of thirty disabled IDF veterans from Beit Halochem and we met up in the Dead Sea with a group of Palestinians, brought together by Suliman and his friend. Most of them had been our prisoners.  Those who recognized me came out with some tough accusations regarding excessive use of gas and violence exercised by the wardens under my care.  I have no regrets concerning these cases.  I did my job.  When we sat down with the group, I responded to these accusations with humor, and it worked.  And thus we founded the group Wounded Crossing Borders.  We became friends.  There is still a certain degree of suspicion, but the meetings are still taking place.

Three years ago we held a meeting in Bosnia and the Palestinians hoisted the Palestinian flag.  A photo of us, near the flags, appeared on Facebook and this aroused great objection on the part of Bet Halochem.  We were called traitors.  I was told: "Why are you sitting down with terrorists?"  The Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization also posed an objection to these encounters, and, at some point, the administration of Bet Halochem even kicked me out for a year and a half under some pretext or other.  In the meanwhile, I have gone back to training there every day - swimming, playing ping-pong, walking.  And every day people point at me. 

The weaker ones in the group succumbed to the pressure and left.  I remained with 20 participants, and also started recruiting to the forum those who were injured in terror attacks.  But they were unable to contain the inherent conflict present at these meetings, and left as well.  It did not break my spirit, though, and I have recruited new people since.

 

I don't forgive

We take part in a narratives project organized by the Parents Circle Families Forum.  As part of the narratives workshop, we toured the abandoned village of Lifta at the entrance of Jerusalem.  It was in this village that I underwent my first urban warfare training in the army.  I never gave the village much thought beyond that memory of the training session.  A man from the Parents Circle Families Forum gave an account of village life up until 1948.  Through the man's description, the village - which actually represents all the villages before 1948, whose residents became refugees - came to life in our mind's eye.  This is something which has been repressed in Israeli narrative. 

All I wish to do is give assistance to leaders on both sides, so that if and when peace does prevail, the leaders will have support from "down below". If we, coming from the two opposite ends of the stick - on our side there are those who have hurt and have been hurt themselves, and on their side there are those who have taken extreme measures - can conduct a dialogue, which has caused no harm to the State of Israel, then surely if and when there is peace it will be very different from the peace with Egypt.  The peace with Egypt was only between leaders and not between the people.  No agreement will bring peace.  Peace must prevail down below, among the citizens.

Sometimes I am optimistic; on occasion, a little pessimistic.  But I imagine that the very fact that I persevere in my beliefs and am always searching for people who would support this stance, means that I am more optimistic than otherwise.  If it is in our time, maybe it will be in the next generation.  I believe that I am planting the values needed for peace for future generation.  Do I feel guilty that I was their warden?  Not at all.  Because of the way in which they chose to kill citizens, women and children indiscriminately, in my eyes they are terrorists, rather than freedom fighters.  So why do I sit with them?  Because they are the enemy.  Must I forgive them?  Not an option.  I cannot forgive those who sent out the villain who killed Meni.  He was like my own child. 

 

 * Dudu Shilo participated in the "Wounded Crossing Borders" group.

* Upper photo by Oded Leshem

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