The Culture of the Occupation Is a Hothouse for Inhumanity

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IDF soldiers from the Kfir Brigade's Netzah Yehudah Battalion detain a Palestinian protester following clashes near Ramallah in the West Bank, in 2015.
IDF soldiers from the Kfir Brigade's Netzah Yehudah Battalion detain a Palestinian protester following clashes near Ramallah in the West Bank, in 2015. Credit: REUTERS

“I have difficulty understanding how, although they were aware of the detainee’s physical and emotional state, they failed to see and understand the distress of a human being created in God’s image, and left him, just like that, in his condition, in the middle of the night, on a dark road … as though he were a useless object.”

This is not a citation from the investigation conducted by the Israel Defense Forces regarding the death of 80-year-old Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad, who died in very similar circumstances. These are the hair-raising words of Judge Haim Liran, who sentenced policemen Baruch Peretz and Assaf Yekutieli, who abandoned the prisoner Omar Abu Jariban on the side of the road, dressed in hospital pajamas with a urine catheter attached to his body.

Abu Jariban died that same night from dehydration. The ruling was handed down in 2012, four years after the incident. The policemen were not combat soldiers in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion and did not belong to the hilltop youth and Haredim (ultra-Orthodox men) who were expelled from their yeshivas.

Four years later saw the eruption of the Elor Azaria affair, involving a soldier in the Kfir Brigade who confirmed the kill of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif. He was not a member of Netzah Yehuda, and his act was also perceived as a severe deviation from “IDF values.” “That’s not the IDF, those are not the values of the IDF and that is not the culture of the IDF,” asserted then-Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

Another four years passed, and as though in some cosmic cycle, then came the turn of the next victim of the betrayal of values. This time it was Eyad Hallaq, a young man with autism, who fled in fear from Border Police forces and was shot seven times. At the time, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “What happened with Eyad Hallaq is a tragedy. This is a person with disabilities, with autism, who was suspected – unjustly, as we know – of being a terrorist in a very sensitive place.” And here (will the bad luck never end?) the Border Police is not a part of Netzah Yehuda either.

This lethal cycle is getting shorter, apparently due to climate change, and two years later Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad was murdered. This time the investigation was swift and once again it turned out that the victim was not an 80-year-old Palestinian but rather IDF values. “The incident pointed to a moral failure and to an error in judgment of the troops, while seriously undermining the value of human dignity,” according to the IDF spokesman.

The lead editorial in this newspaper and the op-ed by Yagil Levy, a political sociologist who researches the army, demanded that the Netzah Yehuda battalion be disbanded immediately, as though it were the one and only pus-filled abscess that systematically undermines IDF values. Get rid of it and the IDF will be purified.

As though they have already forgotten the principles of the culture of violence spelled out by the former commander of the Kfir Brigade, Maj. Gen. Itai Virov. In his testimony on behalf of 1st Lt. Adam Malul, who was accused of assaulting Palestinians, he said, “Resorting to violence and aggressiveness that will prevent an escalation and the need to use greater violence is not only allowed, it is sometimes necessary. A punch, a shove, even when the [Palestinians] are not involved in a [confrontation] – if this can advance the success of the mission, it is definitely an option.”

Units of the Border Police, the Israel Police and the Shin Bet operate according to those principles. These organizations have contributed more than their share to undermining the principles, which always, amazingly, fall victim to “exceptional cases.” But nobody has demanded or will demand the disbanding of the Israel Police, the Border Police or the Kfir Brigade and its ilk. It’s easier to shoot at a dummy target.

The fire that is now being directed with precision at Netzah Yehuda may or may not lead to the elimination of this malignant tumor, but it won’t suppress the secondary growths created by the culture of free-for-all violence on the lawless battlefield, where hunting season is open all year round. Ousting the officers or reprimanding the brigade commander will not cause a reappraisal of the culture of abuse and killing in other IDF units, the Israel Police or the Border Police. That’s a sleight of hand designed to solve what can’t be solved. Occupation is not a hothouse for values, it’s the breeding ground for inhumane mutations.

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