Human rights association “Breaking the Silence” has published more pictures of Israeli soldiers posing with shackled and blindfolded Palestinian prisoners, pointing out that the latest scandal is not an isolated incident.
Photos of an Israeli army officer posing with Palestinian prisoners can hardly be shocking to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), according to human rights association Breaking the Silence (BtS), which says such pictures are taken almost every day.
Former IDF Lieutenant Eden Abargil made headlines round the world Monday after publishing pictures of her posing with blindfolded and shackled Palestinian prisoners on Facebook. The IDF insists the pictures are an isolated incident.
Not so, according to BtS, an organisation of former IDF soldiers and veterans who collected and provided testimonies about their military experience in the occupied territories during the Second Intifada.
The association on Tuesday published a number of other pictures showing other IDF soldiers posing with blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinians on its Facebook page.
BtS director Yehuda Shaul told FRANCE 24 he was shocked by the IDF’s claim that the pictures portrayed an isolated incident.
“We have been showing these kinds of pictures for the past six years,” he says. “We even put on an exhibition in Tel Aviv in 2004.”
Breaking the Silence has been interviewing former IDF soldiers since 2000 (730 so far), and has collected “at least a thousand” pictures in that period, pictures Yehuda Shaul insists reflect the default behaviour and attitude of IDF soldiers in the occupied territories.
“What the reactions of the last few days prove is that no one is aware of the realities of the occupation,” he says. “Taking a picture of themselves in front of a Palestinian prisoner is routine for these soldiers. This kind of behaviour demonstrates the way these people are broken down when they join the army.”
Breaking the Silence gained worldwide recognition following the January 2009 “Cast Lead” assault on Gaza, when they published an account of the attack from the perspective of 25 IDF soldiers involved. One soldier reported his commander saying that “if we see something suspect and shoot, better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy.”
Perhaps this explains Eden Abargil’s ambivalence to the scandal her pictures have sparked. On Tuesday she told Israeli Army Radio: “What's wrong with that? I don't understand. There was no violence in the pictures.”
Immaturity of a conscript army
French academic and specialist in contemporary conflicts Pascal le Pautremat told FRANCE24 that this attitude has two origins: the relative youth of Israeli soldiers and the fear generated by a constant threat, which is particular to the Israeli state.
“The IDF is manned by conscripts,” he says. “Often these young people have neither the maturity nor the inclination to reflect on their actions.”
Israel imposes compulsory military service at 18, which lasts three years for men and 22 months for women.
After completing their basic training, IDF recruits go to the remains of the Masada fortress for their swearing-in ceremony. Masada is the site of a siege in 73 AD, where hundreds of Jews chose death over surrender to the Roman army which was laying siege.
“It is the symbol of national heroism in the face of adversity,” says Mr le Pautremat. “These ruins have become a symbol, but also it is complex for many Israelis, in that throughout their history they have felt perpetually threatened.”
Which is exactly what Eden Abargil said in her interview with Israeli Army Radio: “People will always find something to say against ‘Eretz Israel’ [the land of Israel] – we are not a people with many friends and people will attack us for the slightest thing.”