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IDF Police Interrogate, Gag Blogger, Demand Whistleblower’s Identity

Before beginning this post, I want to note that there is a great deal we don’t know about this case thanks to the Israeli police’s pressure on the victim to maintain silence.  But here, I’ll say what I know and then speculate about what I don’t know when I think there’s enough independent evidence to do so.

We know that an anonymous Israeli blogger calling himself Eishton (“Newsman” or “Paperman;” perhaps also a play on “Bibiton,” a derisive reference to Yisrael HaYom) was “invited” by the Israeli military police for interrogation, at which he was presented with unspecified “violations” of the law he’s alleged to have committed.  At the end of his first interrogation there was debate among the authorities about whether to continue his remand or release him.  He was released, but not before he was forced to sign a statement promising not to divulge the content or nature of his interrogation or the charges against him.

For that reason, he has been unable to comment in any detail on what happened to him.  Haaretz’s Barak Ravid has written about this.  Since Ravid is usually a conduit for the Israeli political establishment, I’m guessing he was leaked this story by someone in the PM’s office or the like:

…I am now under investigation by the Military Police and the Israel Police.  In the past two days, several posts have been written about this in the blogosphere, and now in Haaretz too, with speculations about my situation.

1.         I’m not in custody. I was detained for questioning, at the end of which the policemen had an argument about whether or not to release me. I was released with an “invitation” for another interrogation and…

2.         I was made [ed., or “forced”] to sign [an agreement] prohibiting me from speaking about the content of the interrogation. If I violate this (illegal) demand, the list of things I am accused of at the moment will have another offense added, and in addition (it says on the page I signed) the state will confiscate money/property from me, and that is something that I cannot afford at the moment (this, in addition to the financial damage that has already been caused to me, and about which I also cannot talk.)

2.         I wish to apologize if what I said left too large an opening for interpretations (beyond the sock that’s currently shoved in my mouth). Beyond several humiliations, the financial damage, and the stress, I have not been physically hurt and I am not currently in custody. I thank everyone for their concern, and the two journalists who set up free initial consultation with Jacques [or Jack] Chen for me, and I want to thank him for the this initial direction.  (To journalists – there’s no point in pestering him. This was only an initial consultation and he does not represent me. Beyond that, there’s attorney’s privilege, and beyond that – he also doesn’t know whom he was advising.)

My anonymity is important to me. In the past it was also important to me in order to prevent what I’m going through right now, but our State is light on the trigger with orders – and the [web host] companies providing us with services do not fight to protect our information. But other than that reason, which has become a thing of the past, there are other reasons that make me prefer anonymity.

The blog tends to update every few days. If this pace of updating is not interrupted, I ask that you do not investigate further nor try – at the moment – to understand the nature of the investigation, because I do not want the police to use this opportunity (on purpose or by chance) to leak or expose my name, especially as I have not yet been charged and there is not, in fact, any public interest in doing that. If and when this becomes possible, I will explain the subject of the investigation myself. Even so, if their demand for a gag has any foundation (and we’re arguing about that right now), even if someone does investigate the subject, they will not be able to write about it in the media (and if the police sees fit to leak information while gagging me, I will see that as a signal that there is no foundation for the gag and it will not remain unilateral.)

The police want something more.  They will not get it from me. Excessive exposure will only make it harder for me to do so [tell them what they want], and beyond hurting me (more interest in the matter might turn the barks into bites), it would substantially harm others.

Thanks again for the interest and concern, but my intention was solely to set up an insurance policy in the event I’d be arrested or the site shut down, and not to try – at the moment – to open the subject. This is not the first time Eishton has been detained, and interrogations – stressful as they may be – are something I know how to handle.

I will try to resume writing…tomorrow.

(translation: Dena Shunra/Richard Silverstein)

idf suicide victims

An initial review of the material in Eishton’s blog and Facebook page reveals much that would annoy the police.  One of his fortes is selecting quotations from Nazi era figures about Jews and comparing them to latter-day Kahanist rhetoric against African refugees in Israel.  If one were to look for a possible legal violation, one might say this could be viewed as incitement using Holocaust-era rhetoric, which is against Israeli law.

I’m troubled by the fact that the military police and civilian police have taken up this case.  It means that the charge likely involves the IDF in some way.  In his blog, Eishton has published an exposé (Hebrew) graphically noting the high number of suicides yearly in the IDF and the fact that the IDF is deliberately lied about much of this information.  Here is what Eishton wrote in an interview he gave Haggai Matar in an Israeli publication a few months ago, which would tend to confirm that this is probably the reason he was arrested:

An IDF soldier passed me information that ranges from confidential to problematic. From that moment, maybe because of how much of a novice I am in this field, I experienced several hours of anxiety. I was holding documents with the names of IDF soldiers that died in the last year and the reasons for their deaths. As part of the investigation, I revealed to the IDF Spokesperson and the Defense Ministry that I was holding these documents, which contradict their official positions. I was sure I would get a knock on my door.

It appears that holding information that reveals the defense ministry is a bunch of liars who wish to conceal that soldiers are offing themselves in the line of duty, will get you arrested.  I’m also concerned that the military police have arrested an Israeli civilian who is not under the jurisdiction of the IDF in an attempt to pressure him into revealing which soldier had the courage to reveal his or her bosses were liars and hypocrites.  Or as Barak Ravid, not known for being a champion of the underdog or those bucking the establishment, writes (Hebrew):

Because this is not a security matter, it’s troubling that the IDF, using the Israeli [civilian] police is trying to identify soldiers who leaked sensitive information that’s embarrassing to the military authorities and exposes their failings.  The military and civilian police hope that their “invitation” to the blogger will exert the necessary pressure to make him disclose his sources.  This troubles me and I hope you too.

What does whistleblowing get you in Israel?  Thrown in jail.

A just-published Haaretz story (only in Hebrew and not online yet) reveals that the military police have leaked a defense of their actions.  They claim that families of the suicide victims have complained about publication of personal details concerning their loved ones on the internet.  It was this “complaint” that caused them to open an investigation.

I can certainly understand the pain of a family who’s already suffered knowing their child killed himself, having to read about it in a public forum.  This just amplifies their suffering.  But we have to weigh their suffering against the cover-up of the defense ministry, which tried to prevent the public knowing the extent of this serious public health issue.  The IDF is the national army in which most of the nation serves.  The fact that so many kill themselves is a deep stain the ministry preferred to hide rather than address and acknowledge.

Thanks to Dvorit Shargel for making me aware of the intricacies of this aspect of the story.  She notes that there may have been ways for Eishton to publish his story while doing a better job of protecting the privacy of the victims.  Though this is a fine line since he would want to publish enough personal information that the army couldn’t accuse him of lying or making his evidence up.

This is somewhat similar to what Haaretz did by publishing some of the actual secret documents Kamm gave Uri Blau.  The physical memos proved that Haaretz had what it claimed.  But they also helped a former Shin Bet agent to identify the office from which they came, which led back to Kamm.

At least in Eishton’s case he hasn’t exposed the identity of his own IDF source as Haaretz indirectly did regarding Kamm.

The accompanying graphic is a highly charged representation of this serious social and public health issue.  He has criticized the IDF for refusing to release the names of those who’ve taken their lives during military service.  Eishton apparently has them and is publishing them.

Is that enough for the military police to go to war with a blogger?  Frankly, I don’t know.  If this weren’t Israel, I’d say No.  But it is, so who knows how petty and insular they could get in such matters?

The IDF’s treatment of Eishton is a shandeh.  S/he is a journalist and demands the same respect any journalist receives from State authorities.  No one can compel him to reveal his sources.  In fact, the Knesset is considering a law to strengthen such protections.  It would be laughable for the security services to take away with one hand what the other hand is offering.

Israel wishes to be considered a democratic state.  Yet we can see that freedom of the press is a value that receives scant respect.  Journalist Anat Kamm is in jail for leaking IDF secrets to another journalist, Uri Blau.  The latter copped a plea that forced him to accept a four-month sentence and guilt for a crime of which he was not guilty.  Such is the status of democratic values in latter-day Israel.

Note above, that the Israeli blogger’s blog host (or ISP) divulged his personal information, allowing the police to identify him.  Can someone tell me what duty if any does an Israeli web host or ISP owe to a client in the event of a police request.  Can they proffer the information without informing the customer they are doing so?

NOTE: This post originally hosted an image by Gideon Rimmer, an Israeli student at Israel’s Bezalel Academy.  I saw his powerful image featuring suicide notes of IDF victims at Eishton’s blog.  He has taken issue with my interpretation of his image and demanded that I remove the image.  This is the second time an Israeli has demanded that I remove such images for political reasons.  This again seems to be part of Israelis’ limited conception of artistic and political freedoms.

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{ 45 comments… add one }
  • shmuel December 15, 2012, 11:06 PM

    I hope he is suspected of things much more serious than revealing names of military suicides in order to warrant this apparent harassment.

    If he did reveal names of suicide victims, then this is apalling journalism – there’s no public interest to know the names of the suicide victims, numbers, yes, but name-giving is pornography not journalism!

    • Richard Silverstein December 16, 2012, 2:47 AM

      Not true. He needed to reveal that he had real, legitimate evidence or the IDF would attempt to hide their fraud by claiming he didn’t have authentic information. How do you propose that he do that short of revealing some of the personal information? Perhaps he could have somehow revealed less. But he had to violate the victims privacy in some way in order to perform a larger public good. The problem with Israelis is that they don’t understand the concept of the public good since there is virtually no “public” except the State.

      • shmuel December 16, 2012, 3:47 AM

        And if he would reveal the victims’ names of female soldiers that were sexually harrassed or abused that would be ok for the “larger public good” if it would prove the cover-up of abuse? Ask a victim what she thinks of that?

        Have you no feeling for the pain and anguish that a suicide victim’s family is going through without some anonymous journalist publicising their beloved’s identity.

        And if you dicover the blogger’s name will you reveal it “for the public good” – or will you defer to his request of anonymity?

        • Richard Silverstein December 18, 2012, 1:48 AM

          I would want to know from him why he decided to do what he did. I don’t make decisions about outing people lightly & without considering all the moral considerations involved. Certainly there are considerations to the suffering of the family.

          But if the IDF is deliberately presenting false information to the Knesset and Israeli public (which it IS) by minimizing the reporting of suicides, then in most democracies that’s a crime. Should Eishton stay silent protect the privacy of these poor families, but allow a major social/public health issue to be swept under the rug? An issue which, if discussed fully, might save the lives of future IDF conscripts?? Sorry, but I know where I fall on this one.

  • mary December 15, 2012, 11:50 PM

    The entire world seems to be becoming increasingly Orwellian as governments fight the freedom the internet gives journalists to tell the truth.

    Shmuel, “appalling journalism” still should not be censored. The public can censor itself when given the choice of what to read or not read. Tacking the word “pornography” onto sensitive information doesn’t change information into something else despite your wish for it to do so.

    • yankel December 16, 2012, 1:29 PM

      I suspect you’ve hit the nail right on its head here and I’m not talking about Israel whose democratic pretence is far thinner than most democracies’.

      Freedom of information and the growing transparency of government have long been (justly!) touted as essential ingredients of living democracies. This functioned reasonably well as long as rulers could keep the actual praxis of these principles at bay, allowing their glow to distinguish the enlightened “us” from the uninformed “them” yet keeping whatever info that could really hurt the rulers well under wrap. The few exceptions – Watergate-style glitches – merely underscored the unwritten rules.

      The popular explosion of the net really tests the boundaries of these – and other – freedoms we’ve long taken for granted.

      I guess one needs not look any further than London’s Ecuador embassy to feel these boundaries being wretched back.

  • Fred Plester December 16, 2012, 12:09 AM

    Look for cancers and other long-term toxicity effects, including depression and suicide, especially amongst former special forces personnel.

    Then draw your own conclusions: I cannot direct you further.

  • Rain December 16, 2012, 10:49 AM

    This is a tiny country. I find it difficult to believe that the army is able to systematically cover up suicides within the army ranks to the extent where people don’t know about them. There is little need for him to print names for any public good or otherwise. Unfortunately details about these things pass around quickly here – by word of mouth, by someone who knows someone, all supported by short newspaper stories that leave it obvious to everyone that suicide was involved.

    Sounds like a non-story to me.

    • yankel December 16, 2012, 1:36 PM

      While the immediate circles of fellow soldiers, friends and relatives would sooner or later get exposed to the circumstances of each individual case, the expanding extent of the phenomenon is what the authorities work hard to keep away from the public eye and what Eishton was trying to expose.

    • Richard Silverstein December 18, 2012, 1:44 AM

      The IDF reports officially on military deaths. It deliberately miscategorizes suicides as training accidents so as not to arouse undue scrutiny or pressure from MKs or victim’s families. How little you know about your own country!

      For other readers, anyone care to count how many hasbarists have said about a post I’ve written that was clearly an important story: “Sounds like a non-story to me.” One of the clearest indication a story IS important is some knucklehead like Rain coming along & telling us it’s nothing, just move along, etc.

      • Rain December 18, 2012, 5:01 AM

        Still don’t buy it. Can you give us some examples of press coverage for deaths that have been reported in the press as training accidents that are actually suicide? There must surely be a fair number if the phenomenon is as wide spread as you claim?

        Knucklehead? – what rich language you use to describe those who fail to agree with you…

        • Richard Silverstein December 18, 2012, 10:08 AM

          Read Eishton. He’s already done the work and other Israeli media have reported on this too.

          “Knucklehead” wasn’t for failing to agree with me, but for espousing a line that anyone who reads the Israeli press and follows issues related to the IDF would know wasn’t true.

  • mary December 16, 2012, 12:53 PM

    What, pray tell, is the justification for punishing a blogger for publishing information that is not security-related or classified material? Has the IDF become the “that’s not very nice” Police?

    • shmuel December 16, 2012, 11:29 PM

      Punished? I’d didn’t read that bit. He was detained for a few hours for questioning and released.

      But I do hope he’ll get his “punishment” in the guise of the suicide victim’s families revealing his identity. Quid pro quod

      • Richard Silverstein December 18, 2012, 1:40 AM

        Have you ever been questioned by a battery of military and civilian police? Have you ever watched this happening to someone else? If so, what would you call this? A picnic? Being subject to hours of interrogation repeatedly is punishment enough for a journalist who should not be subject to questioning at all for what he did.

  • Arie Brand December 16, 2012, 8:34 PM

    Shmuel if you are so concerned about the “pain and anguish” of the nearest and dearest of those recruits that have committed suicide you should also worry about the reasons for this state of affairs. And how can anything be done about these without the whole sorry mess being revealed in detail? My hunch is that you care more about the reputation of the IDF than about that “pain and anguish” of the victims’ relatives.

    Ever since I read Gideon Levy’s interview with ex- Sergeant Furer I have been aware that serving in the IDF can lead to serious mental health problems.

    • shmuel December 16, 2012, 11:36 PM

      I do worry about the state of affairs that led to these suicides. one can publicise it here for instance without names or with initials only (AB, YZ, etc)

      Your “hunch” is completely and utterly unfounded, I have no idea where you get this from. I don’t give a s**t about reputations of armies, and all armies have suicides and soldiers with psychological problems after and during service. It proves the humanity of the soldiers that they suffer from killing and other violence. One ought to be shocked more if there were no suicides!

      • mary December 17, 2012, 12:26 AM

        I imagine it can be horrible to be forced to kill unarmed civilians and to be told they’re terrorists. That would mess up anyone’s mind, for certain.

        Perhaps it is also time to remove the stigma from mental illness.

  • Dr Ezer Haim December 17, 2012, 12:07 AM

    Thanks for the information. If this is correct, it is a serious blow to our so called democracy. I have never heared of a civilian interrogated by the military police, and am not sure it is legal.

    Another thing, Richard, aren’t you interested in what happened to stop the strike on Iran? There were talks and talks, and it seems as though everyone has suddenly stopped talking about this issue, which seem a lot more troubling.

    Could you share your insight on the subject?

    Thanks

    Dr. Ezer

  • Arie Brand December 17, 2012, 3:38 AM

    Shmuel wrote “all armies have suicides and soldiers with psychological problems after and during service”. Yes, but it is obvious that some have them more than others. I suspect that that is the case with the IDF (for good reasons) and what it is trying to hide. It must be a shock, of which the full realisation often only comes afterwards, to be told that one is joining the most moral army in the world and then to be compelled by a “group culture” and peer pressure as much as by specific orders to do totally immoral things. As Furer said, in many Israeli households there are now several generations of criminals sitting around the table remaining quiet about these matters in an inter-generational conspiracy of silence.

    • shmuel December 17, 2012, 3:46 AM

      Strange, Arie, I never did that in my service – did you?
      Are you part of the conspiration of slience? I’m not.
      So tell us what immoral things you did and how it affected you and why you didn’t hold up a moral stance?
      Or is it only “others” that do these things?

      • Richard Silverstein December 18, 2012, 1:37 AM

        I really don’t think that’s fair. Arie has pointed to precisely the sort of story he’s talking about in Gideon Levy’s new Haaretz story. If Arie wants (or doesn’t want to) write about his military service, I don’t think it’s fair to goad him into it in the way you have. These are very personal, even traumatic issues that should be exposed only when someone is ready to do this. That’s presuming he has such stories to tell, which he may not.

        Whether he does or not, I don’t want a dare/taunt like yours to be considered a serious question requiring response.

  • Anyn. December 17, 2012, 4:43 AM

    A few comments:

    1. There’s a good chance that the blogger was arrested in order to force him to reveal his source. This is exactly what happened with Uri Blau who gave in and provided the shin beth with documents that allowed them to identify her. It is very likely the real target is the whistleblower here, not just Eishton.

    2. The IDF has always tried to conceal the extent of suicides within its ranks, classifying them as training accidents. This may be due to the fact that it sometimes recruits people who are not mentally healthy enough to serve in the army. Add to this that members of minorities are probably committing suicides in higher numbers. There have been some highly publicised cases of Ethiopians who were discriminated against and humiliated until they took their own life. All in all, a deeply embarassing issue for the IDF.

    3. Concealing suicide rates is not only the interest of the IDF. Many political figures have spoken against “mishtamtim” – people who were exempt from army service for unstable mental health. If it turns out that this pseudo-patriotism leads to the recruitment of people who shouldn’t be, it could be highly embarassing for some powerful politicians.

    4. Concerning Israeli ISPs – they are notorious for not opposing police requests. They have no obligation to their customers in this regards and they find it easier to give in than to fight. In fact, it seems almost improbably that a blogger wishing to conceal their identity would host a site with one of them.

    • marc b. December 17, 2012, 6:39 AM

      “it sometimes recruits people who are not mentally healthy enough to serve in the army.”

      really, let’s do away with this nonsense as quickly as possible, anyn. the military is looking for a very specific behavioral type to serve, and they have developed personality tests to weed out the unfit. ‘mental health’ in the context of the military and in the civilian world is not synonymous. is the inability or unwillingness to follow the screaching ravings of a military superior ordering you to kill a sign of mental illness? well, yes, in that context psychologists have determined it is. as the US military learned, it is probably more ‘normal’ to avoid killilng others, and avoid circumstances where you are subject to the physical and mental abuse of military authorities or the threat of being killed yourself, so they have to come up with inventive ways of helping young soldiers get over their sqeamishness. see ‘on killing’ by lt.col. dave grossman on the development of tactics to increase the shot to kill ratio among US soldiers.

      • Anyn. December 17, 2012, 7:18 AM

        Marc, you may be 100% right about the US military, but we were talking here about the IDF.

        In Israel there is a forced draft, and the army will draft every 18 year old non-religious person who is Jewish, Bedouin, or Druze. Drafting is the default, there is no “weeding out of the unfit”.
        Each Isreli citizen will be tested at 17 for physical health and fill out some questionnaires. If the person has a history of mental problems, or is undergoing treatment, they will be interviewed by an army psychiatrist who decide if they are fit to serve or not. There is much discussion about this process and the risks taken or not by the army in deciding to recruit someone despite a history of mental health. So there is a discussion and different views of the subject, but it is definitely not viewed as “nonsense” by the army, politicians or the general public.

  • Arie Brand December 17, 2012, 11:54 AM

    I Punched an Arab in the Face, Gideon Levy

    Haaretz Weekend Magazine – 21/11/2003

    Staff Sergeant (res.) Liran Ron Furer cannot just routinely get on with his life anymore. He is haunted by images from his three years of military service in Gaza and the thought that this could be a syndrome afflicting everyone who serves at checkpoints gives him no respite. On the verge of completing his studies in the design program at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, he decided to drop everything and devote all his time to the book he wanted to write.

    The major publishers he brought it to declined to publish it. The publisher that finally accepted it (Gevanim) says that the Steimatzky bookstore chain refuses to distribute it. But Furer is determined to bring his book to the public’s attention.

    You can adopt the most hard-line political positions, but no parent would agree to his son becoming a thief, a criminal or a violent person,” says Furer. “The problem is that it’s never presented this way. The boy himself doesn’t portray himself this way to his family when he returns from the territories. On the contrary – he is received as a hero, as someone who is doing the important work of being a soldier. No one can be indifferent to the fact that there are many families in which, in a certain sense, there are already two generations of criminals. The father went through it and now the son is going through it and no one talks about it around the dinner table.”

    Furer is certain that what happened to him is not at all unique. Here he was – a creative, sensitive graduate of the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, who became an animal at the checkpoint, a violent sadist who beat up Palestinians because they didn’t show him the proper courtesy, who shot out tires of cars because their owners were playing the radio too loud, who abused a retarded teenage boy lying handcuffed on the floor of the Jeep, just because he had to take his anger out somehow. “Checkpoint Syndrome” (also the title of his book), gradually transforms every soldier into an animal, he maintains, regardless of whatever values he brings with him from home. No one can escape its taint. In a place where nearly everything is permissible and violence is perceived as normative behavior, each soldier tests his own limits of violence and impulsiveness on his victims – the Palestinians.

    His book is not easy reading. Written in terse, fierce prose, in the blunt and coarse language of soldiers, he reconstructs scenes from the years in which he served in Gaza (1996-1999), years that, one must remember, were relatively quiet. He describes how he and his comrades forced some Palestinians to sing “Elinor” – “It was really something to see these Arabs singing a Zohar Argov song, like in a movie”; the emotions the Palestinians aroused in him – “Sometimes these Arabs really disgust me, especially those that try to toady up to us – the older ones, who come to the checkpoint with this smile on their faces”; the reactions they spurred – “If they really annoy us, we find away to keep them stuck at the checkpoint for a few hours. They lose a whole day of work because of it sometimes, but that’s the only way they learn.”

    He described how they would order children to clean the checkpoint before inspection time; how a soldier named Shahar invented a game:”He checks someone’s identity card, and instead of handing it back to him, just tosses it in the air. He got a kick out of seeing the Arab have to get out of his car to pick up his identity card … It’s a game for him and he can pass a whole shift this way”; how they humiliated a dwarf who came to the checkpoint every day on his wagon: “They forced him to have his picture taken on the horse, hit him and degraded him for a good half hour and let him go only when cars arrived at the checkpoint. The poor guy, he really didn’t deserve it”; how they had a souvenir picture taken with bloodied, bound Arabs whom they’d beaten up; how Shahar pissed on the head of an Arab because the man had the nerve to smile at a soldier; how Dado forced an Arab to stand on four legs and bark like a dog; and how they stole prayer beads and cigarettes – “Miro wanted them to give him their cigarettes, the Arabs didn’t want to give so Miro broke someone’s hand, and Boaz slashed their tires.”

    The most chilling of all the personal confessions: “I ran toward them and punched an Arab right in the face. I’d never punched anyone that way. He collapsed on the road. The officers said that we had to search him for his papers. We pulled his hands behind his back and I bound them with plastic handcuffs. Then we blindfolded him so he wouldn’t see what was in the Jeep. I picked him up from the road.

    Blood was trickling from his lip onto his chin. I led him up behind the Jeep and threw him in, his knees banged against the trunk and he landed inside. We sat in the back, stepping on the Arab … Our Arab lay there pretty quietly, just crying softly to himself. His face was right on my flak jacket and he was bleeding and making a kind ofpuddle of blood and saliva, and it disgusted and angered me, so I grabbed him by the hair and turned his head to the side. He cried out loud and to get him to stop, we stepped harder and harder on his back. That quieted him down for a while and then he started up again. We concluded that he was either retarded or crazy.

    The company commander informed us over the radio that we had to bring him to the base. `Good work, tigers,’ he said, teasing us. All the other soldiers were waiting there to see what we’d caught. When we came in with the Jeep, they whistled and applauded wildly. We put the Arab next to the guard. He didn’t stop crying and someone who understood Arabic said that his hands were hurting from the handcuffs. One of the soldiers went up to him and kicked him in the stomach. The Arab doubled over and grunted, and we all laughed. It was funny … I kicked him really hard in the ass and he flew forward just as I’d expected. They shouted that I was a totally crazy, and they laughed … and I felt happy. Our Arab was just a 16-year-old mentally retarded boy.” …

    Furer is out to prove that this is a syndrome and not a collection of isolated, individual cases. That’s why he deleted a lot of personal details from the original manuscript, in order to underscore the general nature of what he describes. “During my army service, I believed that was atypical, because I came from a background of art and creativity. I was considered a moderate soldier – but I fell into the same trap that most soldiers fall into. I was carried away by the possibility of acting in the most fear of punishment and without oversight. You’re tense about it at first, but as you get more comfortable at the checkpoint over time, the behavior becomes more natural. People gradually test the limits of their behavior toward the Palestinians. It gradually becomes coarser and coarser.

    The more confident I became with the situation, as soon as we reached the conclusion – each one at his own stage – that we are the rulers, we are the strong ones, and when we felt our power, each one started to stretch the limits more and more, in accordance with his personality. As soon as serving at the checkpoint became routine, all kinds of deviant behavior became normal. It started with ‘souvenir collecting': We’d confiscate prayer beads and then it was cigarettes and it didn’t stop. It became normative behavior.

    After that came the power games. We got the message from above that we were to project seriousness and deterrence to the Arabs. Physical violence also became normative. We felt free to punish any Palestinian who didn’t follow the ‘proper code of behavior’ at the checkpoint. Anyone we thought wasn’t polite enough to us or tried to act smart – was severely punished. It was deliberate harassment on the most trivial pretexts. …

    At the checkpoint, young people have the chance to be masters and using force and violence becomes legitimate – and this is a much more basic impulse than the political views or values that you bring from home. As soon as using force is given legitimacy, and even rewarded, the tendency is to take it as far as it can go, to exploit it much as possible. To satisfy these impulses beyond what the situation requires. Today, I’d call it sadistic impulses …

    We weren’t criminals or especially violent people. We were a group of good boys, a relatively ‘high-quality’ group, and for all of us – and we still talk about this sometimes – the checkpoint became a place to test our personal limits. How tough, how callous, how crazy we could be – and we thought of that in the positive sense.

    Something about the situation – being in a godforsaken place, far from home, far from oversight – made it justified … The line of what was forbidden was never precisely drawn. No one was ever punished and they just let us continue.

    Today, I feel confident saying that even the most senior ranks – the brigade commander, the battalion commander – are aware of the power that soldiers have in this situation and what they do with it.

    How could a commander not be aware of it when the more crazy and tough his soldiers are, the quieter his sector is? The more complex picture of the long-term effects of this violent behavior is something you only become conscious of when you get away from the checkpoint.

    Today it’s clear to me that that boy whose father we humiliated for the flimsiest of reasons will grow up to hate anyone who represents what was done to his father. I definitely have an understanding of their motives now. We are cruelty, we are power. I’m sure that their response is affected by elements related to their society – a disregard for human life and a readiness to sacrifice lives – but the basic desire to resist, the hatred itself, the fear – I feel are completely justified and legitimate, even if it’s risky to say so.

    • Richard Silverstein December 18, 2012, 1:31 AM

      Do you have a link, Ari? Wonderful stuff.

      • Arie Brand December 18, 2012, 2:00 PM

        This is one possible link to Gideon Levy’s interview with Sergeant Furer:

    • Deïr Yassin December 18, 2012, 3:41 AM

      The documentary “Checkpoint” (2003) by Yoav Shamir is really worth a look: the daily humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoint throughout the West Bank. I don’t know whether the entire documentary is on the net in English but here’ a short clip:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QorJMPtz1Fw
      Min 5:03: “Animals. Animals. Like the Discovery Channel. All of Ramallah is a jungle. There are monkeys, dogs, gorillas….”. When you listen to those thugs for 90 minutes (the full version), you realize that this must be a general attitude.
      The Border Police soldier who killed a 17-years old in Hebron last Wednesday with 6 bullets at a checkpoint (on his birthday, going out to buy a cake) said she was proud of it.

    • mary December 18, 2012, 4:57 AM

      Good reading if one is truly puzzled about such things as why there is resistance to this occupation.

      The name escapes me, but there is also a group of Israeli women who position themselves at checkpoints and document the abuse of Palestinians by the occupation forces.

      I have to wonder at the thoughts of the air force pilots who drop bombs on civilian homes in Gaza.

      • Andy December 18, 2012, 11:35 AM

        You are thinking of Machsom Watch, who in a just world would be running Israel.

  • dickerson3870 December 18, 2012, 2:39 AM

    ● RE: “The IDF is the national army in which most of the nation serves. The fact that so many kill themselves is a deep stain the ministry preferred to hide rather than address and acknowledge.” ~ R.S.

    ● MY COMMENT: And apparently it’s not just a matter of suicides! Former Israeli Avigail Abarbanel wrote back in 2009: My brother who lives in Israel described to me how soldiers who spend their military service in the Occupied Palestinian territories implementing Israel’s brutal occupation, come home on weekends only to get involved in drunken armed brawls and murders.”

    ● SEE: “Israel’s Trauma Psychology and the Attack on Gaza”, By Avigail Abarbanel, 1/04/09

    [EXCERPT] . . . Israel has been itching for a ‘good war’ for a while now. The botched attack on Lebanon in 2006 was a psychological disappointment that did not fulfil its purpose, and only led to a deepening chasm between the political and military arms in Israel. An Israeli friend told me in disgust the other day, that there is an atmosphere of ‘national orgasm’ in Israel about the prospect of attacking Iran. While people are being bombed in Gaza, all Israelis can talk about is the coming attack on Iran. But there is a link between the two.
    Israel’s social problems have grown exponentially over the past 15 years. It’s a very different Israel now than the one I grew up in. There is more violent and organised crime than ever before, and more domestic violence and abuse of children than ever. There are more drugs and drug use, and they have drunk-driving, something I have never encountered while I was still living there. This is reflected in official reports as well as in the daily newspapers.
    My brother who lives in Israel described to me how soldiers who spend their military service in the Occupied Palestinian territories implementing Israel’s brutal occupation, come home on weekends only to get involved in drunken armed brawls and murders. This was unheard of in my time.
    Israelis have never been particularly kind to each other. It’s one of the reasons I left actually. In my late twenties I started to grow weary of the unkind, harsh and unforgiving atmosphere around me. It was a tough place to live in not because of our ‘enemies’ but because of how people treated one another. You would believe that we were all enemies rather than people who have some kind of a shared heritage. The only thing that could unite people and temporarily brought out more kindness and a sense of cooperation was a feeling of being under collective threat, and in particular a ‘good wholesome war’ . . .

    SOURCE – http://www.avigailabarbanel.me.uk/gaza-2009-01-04.html

    ● P.S. AVIGAIL ABARBANEL’S SITE - http://www.avigailabarbanel.me.uk/

    • Richard Silverstein December 18, 2012, 3:47 AM

      It’s also well-known that many who leave IDF active duty go on treks to find themselves in various places. Among those they often choose is India, where they can get drugged or blissed out relatively inexpensively. If you’d seen what these kids have seen (or done what they’ve done) you might want to blot it out of your consciousness as well. The drugs and everything else they experience in India, on top of whatever they went through in the IDF, can get them quite f(#ked up, in more ways than one. In case anyone chooses to dismiss this, I learned this from Israelis. It is not something I made up.

      • mary December 18, 2012, 5:01 AM

        I heard it too, along with stories of how belligerent they are, harassing the locals and sometimes causing damage. A lot of anger, problems with impulse control, and disrespect for authority.

      • Deïr Yassin December 18, 2012, 11:39 AM

        It’s not that I’m Yoav Shamir’s agent or something :-) but he also made a documentary on young Israelis going off to India after military service: “Flipping Out” (2008). It was shown at Sundance Festival. He claims that around 90% of them are using drugs, some completely lose their mind (there’s a Chabad House around looking for souls to save), and there’s an interview with a guy who never returned to Israel. It’s a while ago that I saw it, but I remember a young guy comparing the Indians to the Palestiniens, claiming they are just like retarded kids…..
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrB2tB_EEWA
        There’s a 80-minute full version in either German or French on the net too (Shalom India).

        • Arie Brand December 18, 2012, 2:46 PM

          When a columnist of the respected Melbourne paper The Age, Michael Backman, wrote a few years ago that Israeli tourists in Nepal are loathed by the locals for their arrogance, their questioning of bills and their penny pinching, The Age was immediately attacked by the Australian Jewish Community, for having published this “vile”, “disgusting” and “anti semitic” piece. The then editor-in-chief, Paul Ramadge, issued an apology, said that the piece had been published in error and had it deleted from the paper’s archives. Backman apologised as well. I read that his own web site was cyber attacked and that there too the column can no longer be found.

          Ramadge’s apologising for this and other pieces mildly critical of Israel didn’t help him very much. The Australian Jewish community, particularly its self appointed watchdogs, Leibler and Rubinstein, were not happy with him. In June this year he took “voluntary” redundancy. I suspect that there is some link here.

      • Nimrod December 19, 2012, 3:17 AM

        @Richard,

        What you wrote about IDF veterans using drugs in India to get the quiet is more that amusing.
        I wonder if you guys actually believe that, or this is just some kind of an anti-Israeli circle jerk.

        Its clear that you know very little about Israelis and their culture. At least not the extreme leftists that you’re in contact with. Just for your information, India is not in fashion for fresh veterans for more than 10 years – South America is.

        • Richard Silverstein December 20, 2012, 4:20 AM

          Just to be clear, are you saying I know very little about the “extreme” Israeli “leftists” I’m in contact with or something else? Cause that’s what you wrote & I somehow don’t think it’s what you meant. Poor Nimrod, try again. You’ll do better next time.

  • Arie Brand December 18, 2012, 11:28 PM

    This thread is, among other things, about limits to Israeli press freedom. I cannot resist giving an example of what some elements in the Australian Jewish community feel that the limits should be here as far as Israel is concerned. The quality Australian paper The Age has, under the editorship of Paul Ramadge (and also under that of his – Jewish – predecessor Andrew Jaspan), consistently been accused of an anti-Israel bias and even anti-Semitism. It is instructive to learn what constitutes part of the evidence for these charges:

    “…Frankly, our community has simply just had enough of The Age’s lack of balance. Despite our best efforts to present Israel’s case, there have been too many instances of anti-Israel statements to count …An example of the latter includes a recent article reprinted from The UK’s The Daily Telegraph which stated “Netanyahu will come under fierce pressure from Obama to extend a 10-month freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank”. The Age’s version made the following insertions “illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank” (The Age, 070710). Such changes make a world of difference.”

  • Deïr Yassin December 19, 2012, 2:20 PM

    Though it wasn’t the initial topic on this thread, there’s been various comments on the IDF, and there is news concerning the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmah in Bil’in (and the lying of the IDF on that case too) in a new testimony given to Breaking the Silence.
    “The guy who shot him….was kind of pleased with the whole thing, he had an X on his launcher”

    Sarit Michaeli from B’Tselem posted on her Facebook that on one occasion she had personally heard an Israeli soldier threatening a Palestinian youth to “give him the Abu Rahme”
    http://972mag.com/testimony-soldier-fired-directly-at-bilin-demonstrator-killed-in-2009/62306/

    • mary December 20, 2012, 12:41 AM

      The irony is there. A blogger cannot write about the dark side of the IOF because even as it concerns suicides, the culture of impunity must be preserved.

      Several members of the Abu Rahme family have been murdered by the Israeli armed forces and also have been imprisoned. They are a well known family so it doesn’t surprise me.

    • Richard Silverstein December 20, 2012, 4:13 AM

      If I’m recalling the right killing, I have a picture of the IDF murderer featured in the blog post about his killing, along with a Wanted! caption.

      • Deïr Yassin December 20, 2012, 8:19 AM

        Thank you, Richard. I found your article:
        http://www.richardsilverstein.com/2009/05/19/wanted-idf-murderer-of-bilin-protester/
        Yep, the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmeh was well-documented, and if the IDF wanted to, they could easily have convicted the assassin.

        Emad Burnat has a beautiful portrait of Bassem Abu Rahmeh – a childhood friend of his – in his wonderful documentary “Five Broken Cameras”. This is really one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It was shown recently on French television – of course after protests from the lobby which name we don’t have to mention – and to compensate the ‘subjective’ narration as the journalist said, three super-Zionists and only one French pro-Palestinian were invited to a debate afterwards, and not Emad Burnat but his Israeli co-producer Guy Davidi was interviewed, but no hasbara can ever stand up to Burnat’s portrait of Bilin and their fight for justice.

        Concerning Bassem Abu Rahmeh, I read some time after his death that he was engaged to and was going to marry a young Jewish Israeli. I’d read about that but thought it might be ‘revolutionary romanticism’, but then I came across an article by her father, a peace activist from Tel Aviv who wrote about his meeting with Bassem Abu Rahmeh, and how he went to Bilin with his daughter to get introduced to his family, and that he felt confortable with his daughter settling down in Bilin. They really killed more than a man that day…..

  • baruch spinoza December 20, 2012, 12:37 PM

    As the Israeli official, Arnon Soffer, forecast back in 2004 in the Jerusalem Post, after having to “kill and kill and kill, all day, every day, the only thing that concerns me, is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing, will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.”

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