When the IDF Just Doesn’t Respond: Why We Need Breaking the Silence

Thirty years ago I, along with other reservists, asked the IDF to investigate claims of grotesque brutality against Palestinians in Jericho. I’m still waiting for an answer.

Hillel Bardin
Hillel Bardin
Kol Ha’Ir 15th July 1988 'Army Ignores Reservists' Letter Concerning Brutality by 'Black Scorpion' Unit.'
Kol Ha’Ir 15th July 1988 'Army Ignores Reservists' Letter Concerning Brutality by 'Black Scorpion' Unit.'Credit: Moti Rozitzki
Hillel Bardin
Hillel Bardin

In his recent Haaretz opinion piece, “Why I Broke My Silence," Ari Shavit exhorts Israeli soldiers not to give testimony of army crimes and misdemeanors to outside organizations, but rather to: “give the system a chance to work. Not to ‘tell it in Gath,’ before the internal investigation procedures were exhausted and an authentic effort was made to correct things. As I discovered, the system can sometimes surprise you and fix things on its own.”

My own experience as an IDF reservist in 1988 during the first intifada was quite different. I served as a squad commander in a reconnaissance unit. In the course of our duty we held several arrested Palestinians in a lockup on our base. I became friends with one Palestinian family, and after we were discharged, they and I started a dialogue group in their home for Palestinians from Jericho and Israelis from Jerusalem.

Two months later they called me to ask for help concerning an army unit that was terrorizing Jericho. Nicknamed the “Black Scorpion,” they were a regular paratroop anti-tank unit that had a record of brutality. They had been filmed by a CBS-TV crew in Nablus carrying out an extremely brutal beating that shocked viewers worldwide. According to news reports at the time in the Israeli local Kol Ha’Ir, “Black Scorpion” appeared to be the unit that buried four Palestinian youths up to their waists with rocks in Arura in the West Bank in May 1988. The following month the unit was serving in Jericho, and residents of that quiet town told Israeli journalists in several publications that the soldiers brutalized them for a couple of weeks.

On June 14, 1988, nine reserve commanders who had served in Jericho, including the commander of our platoon and me, wrote to the IDF chief of staff and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to request an investigation of allegations about the draftees’ conduct in Jericho.

The letter included the following:

“We served as reservists in Jericho in April of this year. We represent the full spectrum of political opinions. ... We learned that a regular army unit is serving now in Jericho which, according to politically moderate residents there, is behaving cruelly and spreading terror in the city. Of course, we have no way of verifying these cases. The following are examples from the cases, as told to us:

“1. Many cases of soldiers tearing up ID’s of passers-by, while hitting and humiliating them.

“2. Youths were taken to the banana orchard or to Ein-Duk and beaten.

“3. Teachers were beaten in front of their pupils.

“4. An 8-year-old was forced to confess to throwing stones (even though he did not do so) with threats to bring dogs to bite him if he refused.

“5. An illiterate youth was beaten because he didn’t manage to read the graffiti for the soldiers.

“6. Soldiers called to a girl to strip off her clothes, though she managed to get away.

“We ask the IDF to investigate the conduct of our soldiers in Jericho and make certain that their behavior toward the residents will be in line with accepted norms.”

The only response was a phone call I received from the officer in command of Jericho, who gave his name as Gidi. He denied all the allegations (without any investigation), denounced the reservists for sending the letter, and stated that it is army policy to punish Arab communities that cause trouble.

Later that month we received a letter that our request had been transferred to the authorized body. And that was all we heard on the subject.

According to Yizhar Beer in Kol Ha’Ir, the “Black Scorpion” unit, after operating in the El-Amari refugee camp, returned to Arura for two days in July, and smashed villager Hassan Saleh’s head with a rock, causing brain damage that prevented him from speaking, as revenge for his having spoken to a reporter after he was partially buried alive by the same soldiers.

Why didn’t the army respond to the reservists’ request for an investigation? Was the “Black Scorpion” brutality a private initiative, or were they assigned the function of terrorizing so-called problematic communities as official army policy?

Since the army is often uninterested in examining itself, there is a great need for institutions like “Breaking the Silence” and Israel Radio’s army correspondent, Carmela Menashe, to expose unacceptable behavior and help the army heal itself. We Israelis should applaud such disclosures, since their goals are to strengthen the army by preventing repetitions of these misdeeds.

Hillel Bardin is a member of Combatants for Peace. http://cfpeace.org/

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