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Something’s Happened — That ‘Something’ Is the Occupation

Ha’aretz editorializes in response to an investigative broadcast that exposed abuse of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank:

This time, it was regular soldiers in the Kfir Brigade. They exposed their backsides and sexual organs to Palestinians, pressed an electric heater to the face of a young boy, beat young boys senseless, recorded everything on their mobile phones and sent it to their friends. One of their “mischievous acts” was to test how long a Palestinian who was being choked could survive without breathing. When he passed out, the experiment was stopped. The soldiers described activities to “break the routine” that consisted entirely of abuse. It was enough for a boy “to look at us the wrong way” for him to be beaten.

Earlier, at the trial of First Lieutenant Yaakov Gigi, officers spoke of burnout, of “something bad happening to the brigade,” of a Wild West, of a moral crisis. The commander of the brigade, Colonel Itai Virov, said “we failed on several parameters.” His words reflect a denial of the depth of the failure. This continuing routine, far from the eyes of the commanders, must lead to a series of investigations, and perhaps to dismissals as well. It is unconscionable for the head of the Hebron Brigade, the division commander, the GOC Central Command and even the chief of staff to ignore the ongoing behavior of soldiers in the brigade responsible for routine security in the West Bank. Colonel Virov admitted that there was a conspiracy of silence in the brigade – in other words, a norm of abuse and its concealment. To change norms, one has to shock and be shocked, not be satisfied with a few imprisonments and empty words about a loss of values.

Perfectly ordinary people, as the American psychologist said of the Abu Ghraib abusers, are capable of behaving like monsters when they receive a message from the top that it is permissible to abuse, beat, choke, burn, make people miserable and generally do anything that man’s evil genius is capable of inventing to others who are under their control. Something bad is happening to us, they are saying in the Kfir Brigade. That “something” is the occupation.

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