JERUSALEM, August 22 (JMCC) - Ripped clothes expose the half-naked body of a man lying on the ground. Rifle pointing at the seemingly dead man, a soldier in Israeli uniform poses for the camera.
This was just one of the photos posted online by Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of veteran soldiers that is opposed to Israel
’s actions in the occupied territories
. The organization published the images after a former soldier caused a storm by posting photos of herself with bound and blind-folded Palestinians on her Facebook page.
Former IDF soldier Eden Aberjil’s photo album, entitled “The army: the best days of my life,” showed both on and off-duty soldiers posing, smiling, or gesturing next to Palestinian captives. The images are reminiscent of snapshots taken by American soldiers of abuse of their captives in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2003.
But the Abu Ghraib photos caused a global scandal, and some of the soldiers were found guilty of breaking US law. In international law
, it is illegal to humiliate prisoners of war. Here in Israel, while the military has distanced itself from Aberjil’s photos, little action appears to be forthcoming.
“I don’t understand the fuss and storm in the media around these photos,” says Breaking the Silence’s Yedhua Shaul. “For us, as combat soldiers this is one of the most common things around.”
Many soldiers have these types of photos depicting their deployment in the occupied Palestinian territories, he says. Most simply have not put them on Facebook.
Breaking the Silence released a series of photos similar to Aberjil’s, says Shaul, because the Israeli military’s response was to claim that she was an isolated case.
“Don’t be surprised,” says Shaul. “That is what you see when a Palestinian angers you and you handcuff and blindfold him at a checkpoint for a few hours. She is telling the truth – this portrays the mindset of the soldier.”
As a former soldier, Shaul remembers how desensitized he became to Palestinians as human beings. “When you handcuff and blindfold people on such a daily basis, you forget that they are people and that they have a life.”
He recalls during the 2002 World Cup locking a family into a room in their home so that the soldiers could watch a match between Brazil and another team.
Louis Frankenthaler, development director for the Public Committee against Torture in Israel, says he notices a growing trend of Israeli soldiers posing with their human “trophies” after a raid.
“This represents dehumanisation,” he says, “and a lack of moral direction in tackling how to relate to Palestinians.”
“The problem,” says Frankenthaler, “is that there is a disconnect between what [the army] does and what [the army] should do.”
While soldiers go through human rights and welfare training, he wonders if they have to dust off the books every time the military has a visitor. Army officials have said the Aberjil pictures were shameful and would be investigated.
But cases are not limited to posing for photographs with Palestinian prisoners. Like in Abu Ghraib, evidence exists of torture and abuse of detainees.
The Committee against Torture is currently representing a young Palestinian man who says he had electrodes applied to his genitals while in Israeli prison.
Human rights workers speak of a general lethargy in the system when it comes to investigating and prosecuting soldiers for abuse of Palestinians.
Since September 2009, Defence for Children International has given the United Nations details of more than 100 cases in which military authorities allegedly abused minors held in detention. Nevertheless, the military prosecutors have filed no charges.
For those cases that do make it to court, human rights defenders say the result is “prosecution lite.” Frankenthaler cites a 2007 case in which a soldier broke the nose of a bound detainee. The soldier was fined 1,000 shekels.
Military service is mandatory for male and female Israeli citizens over the age of 18.
Shaul maintains that these photos, while shocking to outsiders, reflect the facts of military life.
“What do you expect when you send your son or daughter into the military,” he says. “What do you think? This is what the occupation looks like.”
The problem, Shaul believes, is wider Israeli society, which accepts that this is an ordinary rite of passage.
“The story is not the military,” he says. “It is Israeli society. Society needs to have the guts to take responsibility for what is being done in our name.”