The main criticism of the appointment of Effi Eitam as chairman of Yad Vashem focused on his ideology. Among the critics there were even some who praised his contribution to state security. But his actions should also be considered. They are relevant to the “universal” values the World Holocaust Remembrance Center seeks to disseminate.
In December 1987, at the start of the first intifada, Eitam was the commander of the Givati Brigade, then deployed in the Gaza Strip. In February 1988 Givati soldiers beat to death a detainee from the Bureij refugee camp. They, including the battalion commander, were prosecuted in the military court of the Southern Command. It came to be known as the Givati B Trial.
In 1990 the court, headed by the judge, Col. (res.) Yoram Celkovnik, convicted the defendants of using excessive violence. Eitam was singled out for criticism. The following is taken from the testimony of witnesses, as quoted in the verdict.
One officer testified that “he saw the brigade commander ‘twist the ear’ of a local resident to the point of tearing it off.” In a different incident, “Residents lying on the ground were beaten with clubs” in the presence of both the brigade commander and the deputy brigade commander, neither of whom intervened.
According to a different officer, “The brigade commander ordered curfew violators to be placed in a seated position in the center of the village and beaten so as to leave marks, so that everyone would see and be afraid.”
Several officers testified that Eitam “ordered to carry out ‘mass evictions’ of residents from their homes and to seat them in places of assembly for hours, in the dead of night.”
The brigade commander himself said that “he doesn’t recall details of the incident clearly. He assumes that he did in fact order to seat the curfew violators in the center of the village, but did not allow them to be beaten in violation of the general directives regarding the use of force.”
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Eitam confirmed “that he allowed his subordinates ‘entry to homes’ and ‘sitting in the living room’ without giving an explanation to residents of the house,” presumably in order to instill fear.
Several officers testified that during the winter Eitam “ordered fire trucks brought to drench the residents.” Eitam confirmed that “removing the residents from their homes really was done at night … in order to instill in them the ‘concept of rule.’ He denies that he ordered to drench the residents.
A battalion operations officer testified that “He heard brigade commander Eitam say he ‘wants to see lots of broken arms and legs.’” The battalion commander, a defendant in the trial, testified that Eitam “asked the soldiers, “How many broken arms and legs do we have today?”
In response, Eitam denied “the claim ... that he ordered the ‘breaking of bones’ during beatings. However, he confirms that in response to his subordinates’ questions he said that they should not exclude the possibility that it would be a result of the use of force.”
The court did not accept Eitam’s arguments. It ruled that “According to what is claimed, the brigade commander is also directly involved in punitive beating of residents in a number of instances. His testimony regarding a specific prohibition he imposed on the use of the term ‘breaking bones’ is also concealed in the testimony.”
From that he concluded that “brigade commander Eitam, whose presence in the area of the incidents is evident ... observes the behavior of the soldiers and receives reports about it.”
But Eitam’s role was not merely passive: In his contacts with his subordinates the brigade commander makes belligerently worded statements calling on his subordinates – sometimes while turning to the lowest rank – to beat the local rioters forcefully.”
The court also stressed that Eitam was aware of the results of the beatings and the multiple broken limbs among the residents.
“He strengthens and supports those engaged in the act of beating, while specifically noting that the physical results of beating are natural and perhaps even desirable.”
All that remains is for the above testimony to be translated into German and hung in the office of the new chairman of Yad Vashem.