Cases of Soldiers' Abuse of Palestinian Detainees on the Rise

Rise in troop deployment in the West Bank and large number of detainees since the wave of terror erupted two months ago could explain the surge, IDF says; army general raises issue during talk with soldiers.

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Israeli soldiers fire tear gas to disperse Palestinian protesters during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Hebron, last month. Friction between Palestinians and army forces has been exacerbated in the last two months.
IDF soldiers firing tear gas at Palestinian demonstrators in Hebron, November 2015Credit: AFP

Since the violence began to escalate in Israel two months ago, there have been a number of incidents in which soldiers beat Palestinians after they were detained, and were already handcuffed and blindfolded. An Israel Defense Forces source confirmed that there has been an increase in the number of incidents of this type recently. The IDF has thus far investigated at least four cases in which soldiers are suspected of abusing Palestinian detainees.

Two cases involved members of the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda infantry battalion; in one, a soldier apparently shocked a Palestinian with an electrical device, while another soldier filmed him. Another incident took place in an IDF Home Front battalion, when soldiers allegedly beat a Palestinian detainee, and there was also another case in which a soldier in the Artillery Corps was accused of attacking a Palestinian who had been arrested, after throwing a stone at him, hitting him in the back of the neck and calling out “Death to the Arabs.”

These incidents all occurred since the wave of terror erupted on October 1, according to the defense establishment, when Israelis Naama and Eitam Henkin were murdered near the settlement of Itamar in the West Bank.

Talks among IDF Central Command staff have recently focused on the relatively large number of instances of violence perpetrated by soldiers. Command chief Maj. Gen. Roni Numa raised the issue during a conversation last week with battalion commanders who are deployed in his sector. He explained that the soldiers must be “morally suited” to their tasks and are expected to behave according to proper, binding rules.

The IDF notes that the large number of forces deployed in the sector – about 20 battalions – in addition to the large number of Palestinians detained in the last two months (approximately 1,000) were responsible for the rise instances of violence by soldiers.

The ruling handed down two weeks ago in the case of the above-mentioned Artillery Corps soldier stated: “It has often been said that the IDF’s military power is intertwined with its morality. In times of combat and security tensions, like now, IDF soldiers must display a greater degree of restraint and maintain the values of ethics and decency.

“An act of this kind [i.e., that perpetrated by the artilleryman], in addition to being non-normative and in contradiction of IDF values, is liable to lead to a weakening of the moral strength of the IDF and even of the State of Israel,” the ruling said.

This soldier, the first to be sentenced during this recent period, was slapped with a 60-day prison sentence, 30 days of community service (military tasks) and demotion in rank, within the framework of a plea bargain. The military judges apparently agreed to this because they thought his violent behavior had not been too extreme, and because the accused had expressed regret for his acts during his investigation and in the courtroom. He said he acted as he did because he had suffered an anxiety attack, in the wake of a knifing incident in which a friend of his had been involved a few days earlier.

With respect to the Netzah Yehuda soldiers, who have been accused of inflicting abuse under aggravated circumstances, one of the suspects also claimed during his investigation that he had perpetrated the acts due to "nervousness about the wave of terror attacks.”

An army source said that, “In light of the large number of detentions, there has been an increase in the instances of friction [between Palestinians and soldiers], and occasionally exceptional incidents have occurred. However, these incidents do not conform to the values of the IDF and every incident of this type is investigated in depth.”

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