Israel Police interrogated the spokesman of the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence on Thursday in what the organization's legal advisor called a targeted move.
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Dean Issacharoff was questioned two weeks after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked asked the attorney general to open an investigation into an incident he testified about for Breaking the Silence, an organization of former Israeli combat soldiers dedicated to fighting the occupation.
In a video that surfaced two months ago, Issacharoff talked about how he beat up a Palestinian stone-thrower while serving in the Israel Defense Forces in Hebron. The video was released by Reservists on Duty, a group that came out against Issacharoff's testimony.
Michael Sfard, Breaking the Silence's legal adviser, called the investigation hypocritical. "There's no real attempt here to investigate and account for the violent actions of soldiers. If [Issacharoff] was not the spokesman for Breaking the Silence, he would not be under investigation."
"This is a very dangerous phenomenon of exploiting the process of enforcing the law for the persecution of opponents of government policy," Sfard added.
The state prosecution said that the military advocate general had asked that Issacharoff be investigated even before Shaked lodged her complaint with the attorney general. Shaked, for her part, said that this is "either a case of a liar slandering the IDF, or a case of violence that needs to be investigated."
Issacharoff was questioned under caution, meaning he is suspected of committing a crime.
"In light of the great importance I attach to upholding the good name of Israel and of IDF soldiers, I felt it proper to ask you to examine the veracity of this matter," Shaked wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. "If the reports turn out to be true, immediate steps should be taken to try Issacharoff."
A few days ago, the police contacted Issacharoff and informed him he was being summoned for questioning. During the hour-long questioning on Thursday, Issacharoff provided the police with the unedited footage of his testimony and said that he stood by his remarks. He said that such violent incidents are routine.
Issacharoff's attorney, Gabi Lasky, described him as a "former combat officer who decided to break the silence in order to expose the occupation's lack of morality and that military control of millions of people cannot be maintained without force, violence and the trampling of human rights." Lasky called Shaked's actions "disturbing."
Breaking the Silence criticized what it called the "improper motivation" behind the investigation. "The fact that the appeal to open an investigation was made to the relevant authorities a few days ago and he has already been summoned for investigation is unprecedented in terms of law enforcement and investigations of events that occurred in the military," said Sfard.
In most cases, he said, the IDF does not open investigations. Either they deal with such incidents through disciplinary means or they don't deal with them at all. "Certainly not when there is no complainant," he added. "It's exceptionally rare. Who actually thinks that Shaked is worried about the Palestinian who was beaten?"
Sfard criticized Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan for not rebuffing Shaked's attempts to influence the law enforcement authorities for political purposes.
Breaking the Silence called on Shaked to "not to make do with the investigation of just one activist from Breaking the Silence, but to also investigate the hundreds of combat soldiers, men and women, who broke the silence openly, in order that we can tell what we did in the territories and about the daily violence used against Palestinians."
"The justice minister doesn't want to open the Pandora's Box of the occupation that will expose the violence and injustice," the organization said, adding that Shaked does not really care about the Palestinians, justice or morality and only wishes to harm Breaking the Silence. "All the government's attempts to silence us have failed so far, and this investigation too will not deter us. There is only one way to shut us up and it is to end the occupation," said the group.
The state prosecution insisted that the decision to investigate Issacharoff was made "in response to a request from the military advocate general," and that only later did the attorney general receive additional requests to probe the incident, including from the justice minister. "The decision to investigate was made after an examination of all the legal aspects, after Mr. Issacharoff himself talked about an incident when he used harsh violence against a Palestinian, without a reason, causing him injury."
In response to a query from Haaretz, the prosecution later clarified that the military advocate general did not ask for an investigation but rather transferred a request he had received for a probe, seeing as Issacharoff is no longer a soldier. The IDF Spokesperson's Unit confirmed the army received a complaint about the video but then transferred it to the prosecution since Issacharoff is a civilian.
Shaked said in response that "this is either a case of a liar slandering the IDF, or a case of violence that needs to be investigated."
"The state as sought in the past will continue to insist that it be given the testimonies received by the organization in order to investigate the truth," she added. "The IDF is the most moral army in the world, and incidents of violence are investigated and addressed."