Rights Groups: Controversial Photos Are 'The Norm'

The photos posted on Facebook and showing Israel Defense Forces soldiers next to handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian detainees represent the norm, not the exception, human rights organization Breaking the Silence said yesterday. The IDF has said the photographs do not reflect common practice.

Photographs depicting humiliation of Palestinian detainees by soldiers.
Breaking the Silence

The photographs that Eden Abergil posted on her Facebook page this week, under the title "IDF - the best time of my life," sparked massive public outrage in Israel. The photos show a smiling Abergil sitting next to Palestinian detainees in wrist restraints and blindfolds.

When they realized the potential for damage to the army's image, the IDF posted a video to YouTube in which an officer explains, in English, that they do not reflect the daily lives of IDF soldiers, whose conduct is guided by a code of ethics.

The video showed humanitarian activities carried out by the IDF, such as the aid mission to Haiti after the earthquake in January and the daily passage of 250 supply trucks into the Gaza Strip, which the officer said was the "real face" of the IDF.

Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem yesterday published photographs taken by soldiers that showed them near handcuffed Palestinians and even dead bodies as well as abusing prisoners, in order to emphasize that Abergil's photos did not reflect an unusual situation.

Yehuda Shaul is one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, which was formed by soldiers who chose to speak publicly about the abuses they witnessed during their service. "This may be a small and unimportant incident, but it encapsulates precisely the feeling among soldiers serving in the territories," Shaul said yesterday. "At some point," Shaul continued, "they stop seeing these handcuffed people as human beings."

On the Facebook page, Breaking the Silence described the norms the photos allegedly expose as the "necessary result of long-term military control of a civilian population."

Meanwhile, Abergil says that she does not feel the need to apologize.

"I do not regret anything I have done, I am not apologizing. I did not harm anyone," she told Haaretz. "There is nothing in these photographs that is problematic, there is no violence, no insults, no blows, there is nothing there. Anyone who serves in the territories takes pictures near Palestinian prisoners, so stop taking things out of context," she added.

Abergil said yesterday that she felt she was being victimized. "I don't know how to deal with the comparison [of photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghreib prison], this is terrible and I do not deserve this. Why don't they compare me with Gilad Shalit or Ron Arad?! Why are they comparing me with those American soldiers?"

In a radio interview Abergil said that she had made a mistake in putting the photographs on Facebook, but refused to consider the act as immoral.

"When you show handcuffed prisoners on television, is it with their permission?" she asked interviewer Ilana Dayan on Army Radio yesterday. "I really do not understand what is wrong. There was no political statement in this photograph, just part of the military experience."

Abergil was also critical of the IDF for discharged her from reserve duty immediately after the story broke. "The army's response is terrible, this is not a response for the State of Israel and the IDF."

Mocking the statement Monday by the IDF spokesman, who described what she did as "crude" Abergil said: "Instead of shaking off responsibility and behaving like preachers, they should give proper backing to their soldiers who are serving and receiving NIS 300 per month."

"After your response, I would not bother to come serve in the reserves," she said.