Three months before the end of my military service I had a moment of disillusionment. I began to think about my life. Since tenth grade I knew what I wanted to do: complete my military service, go to Canada to make some money laying shingles for my uncle, go to India and then come back and study Jewish thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I had a script. I had saved up for airfare and everything was arranged. Then came the moment to realize my dream and I started to ask myself: is this what I want to do? When I asked myself genuine questions about who I wanted to be when I grew up, I experienced disillusionment.
When I stopped thinking like a soldier and started thinking in civilian terms, things changed completely. The military frame of mind, terminology, and justifications no longer made sense. It made no sense to send a Palestinian on the street to pick up a suspicious bag. It made no sense to arbitrarily choose a person to die. Shooting into a neighborhood no longer made any sense, even though it is called "deterrence" or "retaliatory" shooting. When you're a soldier, you think that if you're shot at, you should respond - if they don't learn their lesson they should be taught one. Suddenly all this no longer made any sense. Shooting a grenade into a neighborhood made no sense, nor did entering a house and terrorizing civilians.
In Hebron, the idea was to demonstrate our presence. If the Palestinians felt we were everywhere at all times they would be afraid to attack. How? You start at one side of the city, burst into a house and wake the family up; search; run outside, knock on the doors, shoot in the air, shoot stun grenades, light fires in garbage cans, break into more homes. This demonstrated that the IDF was everywhere; this makes sense to a soldier. In Jerusalem I never broke into houses but in Hebron that's what I did every day. Why didn't I do that in Jerusalem? Because there is law and order; you walk on the sidewalk and not in the street. In Hebron you walk in the street and on roofs and break in through the window because Hebron isn't Jerusalem. Hebron is a different place. I understood the settlers weren't the focus and started to grasp what I myself had done - not just other units, but my unit. I recalled the broken glass boxes in Ramallah, computers we smashed, it wasn't only other units; it was us. I was looking in the mirror.
During my service it was easy to blame it on someone else. It wasn't easy seeing it when my unit was responsible too. In order to get up in the morning you have to feel you are okay. There's no other way, in terms of surviving the circumstances, and once I grasped what we had been doing I understood I couldn't go on with my life without doing something else. I had a hard time dealing with the fact that I was the one who did those things. It's like an ophthalmologist adjusting the numbers and suddenly everything focuses.
On a personal level it's very frightening because you're seeing someone else and asking, "Could I be capable of doing that?" What frustrates me is that people back home have no idea, they don't know anything. I started talking with the guys and I understood that we all knew something was wrong, subconsciously. I don't know whether we lacked the words or the courage, but we didn't talk about it. During the final two months of our service we started talking about it and we knew we had to do something about Hebron, because we had served there for 14 months. For me, Hebron was a formative experience, in terms of what I felt and went through, though I served in difficult places during periods that were worse. I understood that what I had done did not correspond to the values or ethics I was raised on, and that something was fundamentally wrong here. We decided to do something. We decided to bring Hebron to Tel Aviv. A friend introduced me to Miki Kratsman. I was still in uniform, I had my kipa on and I brought a photo album with me. I told him about our idea and he said, "Create a photography exhibition, you have good pictures, I'll help." I asked friends if they remembered who took pictures; more and more albums came in. Miki told me about his friend, Avi Mugrabi, a documentary filmmaker. He provided us with a camera and we filmed testimonies. It was my first time filming.
I got 64 guys to provide photos and testify. In June 2004 we opened the exhibition in Tel Aviv. It was like shell shock because we didn't grasp what we were doing. It's funny. I met with advisors on publicity who said, print this and that, and we got some money from our army grants to print the photographs. We needed to draft a media release and there I was, nothing but a soldier fresh out of military service. We were missing lots of faces because some of our friends were still in military service and some didn't want to come out. We needed faces in order to interest the media.
I think Shovrim Shtika started out as one of the most spontaneous moves I made. I didn't understand what was happening at the time. I talked to people I met and told them about what I wanted to do and they joined. That's how I got people together who were willing to be filmed. We made an appointment with Ilana Dayan, who does investigative journalism on television, and she decided to do an episode on us. The media games began. Hundreds of people came to the exhibition opening and suddenly it was a huge story on all the channels, in the news, in newspapers. We were in shock. Within a month we had nearly 7,000 visitors.