Disenchanted Israeli army veterans have turned into guides to one of the bleakest places on the West Bank, the Israeli-held part of Hebron, to highlight what they say is the ugly face of occupation most Israelis never see.

Over the past 20 months, former soldiers have led some 2,500 people, in small groups of around a dozen, mostly Israelis, on grim show-and-tell excursions meant to explain the brutalising effect of daily routine in an occupied city.

Stops on the tours include the positions from where former squad commander Yehuda Shaul says he fired his grenade machinegun, night after night, into a densely populated neighbourhood from where Palestinians, night after night, fired on Jewish settlements.

“A grenade machine gun is an awesome weapon, but it is inaccurate,” he says. “The grenades kill everything within a radius of eight metres, injure anyone within a radius of 16. So, at first you worry about hitting innocent civilians. After a while, you shrug off the worries and get used to it. In the end, you look forward to blasting away.”

Burly, bearded and from an ultra-orthodox background, the 24-year-old Shaul was one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers who shocked Israel in 2004 with an exhibition of photographs and video testimony on harassment and abuse of Palestinians.

The exhibition, which ran for weeks in Tel Aviv and was briefly on display at the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) spawned the tours of Hebron, where many of the soldiers in the group served during the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising.


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