The notes published below occurred to me on May 11, 2012 while I was flying with my colleagues in a military helicopter from Vienna to the Austrian Army Training center in Mautern, a small town in the district of Krems in Lower Austria. The beautiful town is situated on the southern bank of the Danube opposite to Krems and about 60 kilometers north of Vienna. The tour was organized by the Austrian Defense ministry. It was part of the Defense Minister’s Nobert Darabos visit to EU-Battlegroup Army Training center in the city. Austria will support the EU Battlegroup (EUBG) from July 1, 2012 with 350 soldiers and take over the command of a Combat Service Support Battalion (CSSBn) of the unit.
The visit aroused in me thoughts and memories of what I experienced during my journalistic work under the Israeli military occupation. In Vienna it seems to me that I will have a new experiment in journalism with the troops of Austria, the new homeland which I received and after I was expelled from Palestine. An experience free of persecution, oppression, murder, terrorism and violation of human rights.
I never dreamed to fly in military helicopter in the company of people wearing military uniform. Simply said, I lived a bitter experience with the Israeli military, and I strongly hated to hear the roar of military helicopters, to watch, see and observe the soldiers. I still suffer the trauma of the israeli occupation. The occupation soldiers dealt with me as a human being, a journalist, a peace activist and human rights defender, as a terrorist enemy who deserved ONLY arrest torture and insults.
Nine years ago, I was forced to flee my homeland by the Israeli soldiers who vandalized and stole my house in Hebron and turned it into a military post. The Israeli soldiers simply stole everything from me. They stole my homeland, my work, my identity, my family, my love and my feelings as a human being, just like before me they stole from my parents and my grand-grandparents lands and cities and houses.
Luckily, in August 2002 I found myself in Austria, the beautiful, quiet, green and peaceful country which later turned out to be gift and a new homeland. I feel deeply grateful for Austria and the Austrians and I am proud that this quiet and peaceful country is becoming a new home for me. I wish that I will be able to do more than journalistic work for this kind state and nice people.
In my new homeland Austria, I started liberating my thoughts from the horror of the harsh memories under the Israeli occupation; I although still suffer the fear of seeing the soldiers in military uniform. Despite the fears and my memories of the military and the tragedies which I witnessed, I am insisting to challenge my awful memories and tress over all what hidden inside me, and exercise my journalistic work in a normal way in Austria.
To write about Austrian issues and the Austrian military working for peace and humanitarian missions in very different from reporting about the occupation military and their endless terrorism, completely the opposite of the Austrian peace-keeping soldiers stationed around the world to help others to live in peace.
Last Friday, together with colleagues, I was able to accompany the Austrians Minister of Defense, Norbert Darabos during his visit to EU-Battlegroup at the Army Training center in Mautern. During this event I met Maj. Michael and his brother Peter. Both work as spokespersons of the Austrian defense ministry. The brothers, as everybody else, were very kind in dealing with the journalists on the trip, they wore military uniforms, but they did not carry assault rifles.
From the Defense Ministry we were brought to a small military airport where some military helicopters were waiting for us. A group of soldiers were here and there. No soldier was carrying an assault gun, and ready to shoot. Everybody was smiling, relaxed. The soldiers were all normal persons in first place, nobody was paranoid. At the airport, I could not believe that I was standing in front of all these military helicopters.
I looked left and right to be sure that I was not dreaming. There I saw Major Peter and Michael standing with big smiles. The brothers looked the same. It is difficult of the person who sees them for the first time to identify who is who! Perhaps one of the brothers had longer hair or the other one had a rounder face, but in all cases they look like one person with the same impression, smile, kindness and power. The army sent these two brothers to take care of us. Major Michael gave us some instructions about the helicopters. He read the names of the participants in the tour.
During all the procedure, Major Michael did not threaten in any way to harass the attending journalists with breaking their cameras and equipment; he did not mention anything about so-called “military zones” where photography is prohibited even while we were heading to a military training base. The only focus of the two brothers was our safety during our flight and wished us all the best.
While Maj. Michael was talking, I noticed the big difference between these two spokesmen of the Austrian army and Maj. Peter Lerner, the Israeli military spokesman at the military administration of colonization at the occupation headquarters in Beit Il. There is a vast difference between Majors Peter and Michael and the Israeli military spokespersons, Colonel Yarden Vatikai, Col. Sharon Grinker, and Col. Dannor Mizrahi.
Yarden Vatikai instructed the Israeli soldiers to arrest me wherever they saw me in the street. He told the occupying soldiers that “the only affective measure in Salam’s case is to exclude her from photographing and filming by transferring her to the police”.
Colonel Grinker (Grenker) distributed my picture to all military camps in the southern towns in the occupied territories. Some Israeli journalists, who entered the Israeli military camps easily, were surprised to see my pictures everywhere at the IDF military bases in and around Hebron. Under my picture was written in Hebrew “Makhashifa”, what means witch. IN all fairness I have to say that I was not the only journalist harassed by the Israeli military. All Palestinian journalists live the same situation of constant and systematic harassment by the occupiers.
The Israeli soldiers carrying the automatic weapons were afraid of what I was reporting in the daily newspapers. Major Lerner and Col. Vatikai were following my writing and considered it as more dangerous than the weapons which they carry. Because of that, I deserved in their opinion to be arrested and insulted instead of allowing me free movement to do my work as journalist and military correspondent documenting the horrors and the crimes of his soldiers.
When the Israeli TV Channel 2 showed my documentary film “Hebron City without Mercy” in which I filmed Israeli soldiers urinating in empty bottles of Coca Cola and then giving this to the Palestinian children to drink (as “Coca Cola”), when Major Lerner (now a spokesperson at the Israeli Defense Ministry) and Col. Vatikai (now working at the office of the Prime minister) saw my documentary, they recommended their soldiers to exact revenge from me. I do not want to remember what they did. I feel harmed by all those awful memories.
Now I am happy to be far away of Maj. Peter Lerner, Col. Vatikai, Grinker and their psychopath soldiers. How happy I am in my new homeland Austria, where I can visit the troops instead of the having to deal with IDF soldiers. In Austrian military press conferences I only hear about peace-keeping and humanitarian missions of the Austrian soldiers in the Middle East and the areas of conflict.
In the Israeli press conferences, I only heard about justifying the crimes of the military namely murdering, assassinating, blockading, demolishing houses and grabbing agricultural lands. Daily a new horror was born, most of the victims were pregnant women, the children, the sick people who suffer of cancer and kidney diseases … those people were not able to receive medicine at the right time, and they were facing death from completely curable medical conditions due to the occupation.
These painful memories all passed by me as a video tape while I was listening to the Major reading the names of journalists participating in the tour to visit Mautern.
I told the Major that I had experienced horrors from the military in the past. I only told him that in Austria I gradually got rid of some of my harsh memories and that I am insisting to see the Austrian soldiers and to break the silence of my scare and the hidden fears of military inside me. After that we went to the helicopter.
In the military helicopter I sat next to an Austrian colleague who works at a magazine published by the ministry of Interior. He was a very nice guy. He asked me if I am from Iran because of what I asked during the press conference. Each helicopter carried four journalists next to its team. In our helicopter Major Michael joint us together with another officer, the pilot and his assistant.
The helicopter flew low over the Danube, and we saw and photographed the beautiful green of the landscape under us. It was the first time that the military did not break my cameras, threaten to hit me against a wall or just beat me up. This time I was not called obscene words as I was accustomed from the Israeli soldiers.
We walked meters between the flowering weeds and then some cars brought us to where Minister Darabos would meet the officers of the EU Battlegroup (EUBG). At the entrance of room there was no “security” checking, there were no wild dogs jumping over our cameras and smelling everything in a paranoid way. Nobody asked us to take off our clothes and to stay nacked in small dirty rooms until they finish the military checking!! Inside the room I did not see one soldier pointing a gun towards us and stand above our heads. These and worse “security” measures I experience under the Israeli occupation and the dictatorial Arab regimes. They, the israelis and the Arab dictators, only feel themselves important when they humiliate the dignity of others.
I saw some military vehicles on one side of the military camp but I was afraid to look at them. I thought that I was in a military close zone and that somebody would arrest me if I looked right or left. Under israels military occupation law even your house is a military zone. I only remember that every place I entered in my own city was declared a military zone. The rooftop of my house was a military zone and occupied by IDF soldiers. A heavy machine gun was placed on my roof. The soldiers made my life hell, a real catastrophe.
At the Austrian military base, Colonels Langthaler and Platzer briefed the Minister, visiting officers and the journalists about the EU Battlegroup (EUBG) and presented a report about the current and future situation of the participation of the army.
Inside the room I was scared, I saw somebody who looks like a soldier who caused me trouble 13 years ago in Hebron. When we came out I told the Major about my fears. He told me that nothing bad would happen to me, and told me to not scare and to take pictures just like the colleagues.
A Female Soldier At Mautern Training Center
At the yard of the barracks in Mautern, members of the EU-Battlegroup were waiting for the Defense Minister. I noticed a young, blonde and short female waiting among them. She was Corporal. Tatjana Z., the only female soldier who I saw among the troops. She was standing in front of an armored military vehicle together with a colleague, in heavy-looking military equipment, but she made the impression as if she was carrying no weight, even with a gun almost her size.
Z. was standing to attention, looking straight and unblinking. Looking hard like this must be difficult for women, but she was obviously on par with her male colleagues, or even better.
When Defense Minister Darabos and Col. Langthaler came to inspect Cpl. Z. And her colleagues she still looked like frozen. The colonel was smiling, obviously proud of his soldier Z. Only when the minister shook her the hand did Cpl. Z. break in a wide smile.
The friendly Cpl. Z. let me remember an Israeli female soldier who enjoyed stealing my shoes and often forced me to return home at late without shoes. She also reminded me of other Israeli female soldiers, who insisted each time I passed their checkpoint to check my underwear, leaving me for long time naked in a small dirty room until the officer above them made the “necessary” experiments with the only purpose of harassing me. The difference between Cpl. Z. and all her colleagues, and the Israeli psychos is as comparing day and night, here are normal human beings, there were sadistic psychos in uniform. When I arrived in Austria I ran in terror to hide myself from the boys doing military service who sometimes can be seen on the streets in uniform, but with the visit to Mautern I have learned to change my opinion, that not all soldiers are like the israelis.
Jerry At the Mautern EU Battlegroup Training Center
A military dog called Jerry was standing with his handling officer, Cpl. Friedrich K. Jerry immediately aroused the attention of all the journalists on the tour. According to Cpl. K., Jerry has operated very successfully in his unit.
In front of military dog Jerry, all journalists knelt to the ground taking pictures non-stop of every movement of Jerry. Jerry the dog, who turned his face toward journalists, was well aware of what was going on around him. He was somewhat provoked by the journalists, raising his right hand as if in doubt of what to do, ready for any signal from his handler Cpl. K. Even when minister Darabos shook hands with the special operations officer, Jerry remained alert, fixing his eyes on the cameras of the journalists and raising his right hand. He did not pay any attention to anything else. The activity of the photographers around him was obviously felt as a provocative act by the dog.
Jerry stayed that way, alert and ready to attack, until officer K. gave him a signal to be quiet; after that he touched the dogs neck and praised him. With this signal, Jerry left his alert state, calmed down and put his raised paw on the ground.
This well-trained and much disciplined Jerry also called the attention of the defense minister. He stopped in front of the dog, smiling and watching his demeanor which showed that the dog was very well trained well by officer K.
Jerry reminded me of the dogs used by the Israeli army, a pack of wild, dangerous street curs trained to attack at will. He reminded me of the Israeli “Duvdovan” unit wild dog that attacked me while I was passing through the narrow footpath at the so-called Gilo checkpoint at the entrance of Bethlehem, the “city of peace” where Jesus (peace upon him) was born. The dog forced me to escape him by jumping over a wall in direction of moving vehicles on the public street, where I fell to the ground bleeding of my wounds. Jerry also reminded me of several tragic attacks by israeli dogs which I documented with my camera and of which I still have the images.
Our nice tour eventually ended and I was very satisfied. It was a great opportunity to visit the Austrian army and to have a positive experience with the Austrian military. I am sure the Austrian military are using their excellent training in peace group missions, to defend their homeland Austria and the EU and not to occupy other nations and causing disasters for the civilians of those countries.
Many thanks to Major Michael B. and his brother, Major Peter. Thanks to minister Darabos, and many thanks to all the officers and soldiers who I met in Mautern. I am very grateful and I wish you all peace and much success in your new missions in the EU Battlegroup (EUBG).