The death of Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad demands nothing less than for the Netzah Yehuda battalion to be disbanded. This time it’s not enough to give the appearance of drawing conclusions and learning lessons in the pro forma way the Israel Defense Forces traditionally does it. After the army’s investigation is completed, a probe by the military police must ensue and the accused be brought to justice.
It’s appropriate that steps are taken against the battalion commanders, but that isn’t enough because this is not a case of officers, ordinary soldiers or low-level commanders disobeying orders. It’s about people who embody the potentially dangerous mix of army and religion – this is the raw material from which the Netzah Yehuda battalion is made, both by definition and staffing.
Netzah Yehuda is made up of former ultra-Orthodox Jews who have left the yeshiva, others who have rebelled against their parents, hilltop youth, young men from the so-called Hardal (Haredi-national religious) camp who demand to do their army service without women present, and others from low-income families.
The soldiers who detained As’ad, an 80-year-old Palestinian, late at night at a checkpoint did so as part of a routine random check, without any intelligence alert.
Senior IDF officers who have spoken to Haaretz say the soldiers who detained As’ad “didn’t see a human being in front of them. They detained him during a routine operation, without sufficient reason. After that, they laid him down, cuffed, in the freezing cold, almost zero degrees. When the other Palestinians warned of his condition, the soldiers told them to leave and didn’t allow them to approach him. Then the soldiers simply left. It’s not murder, but it’s a horrific incident. These weren’t just any soldiers here. There was a platoon commander, and above him a company commander.”
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As’ad’s body was subject to an autopsy by three Palestinian doctors, who determined that the cause of death was a heart attack caused by psychological tension due to “external violence” that was used against him (Amos Harel, Haaretz, January 31). The shock and astonishment of these officers isn’t convincing. The ongoing occupation involves the policing and the repression of Palestinians, which will inevitably harm innocent people.
But when you mix religion, politics and the army in such a blatant fashion, the IDF is harvesting what it has sown. This isn’t the first time that soldiers from Netzah Yehuda have engaged in such criminal behavior. Over the years, there have been numerous complaints regarding their conduct toward Palestinians while they were engaged in missions in the West Bank and Jordan Valley.
This time, there’s no middle road: If Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi doesn’t order Netzah Yehuda disbanded, he will have made himself a partner to the continued abuse of human beings.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.