My last post identified the senior IDF officer responsible for the rape of a Palestinian female detainee in 2015. He is Col. Yariv Ben Ezra, then commander of the Hebron Brigade and now defense attache in South Korea. Ben Ezra ordered a battalion commander to conduct an invasive full-body search of the vagina and anus of a young Palestinian woman suspected of being in some way associated with Hamas. The battalion commander then directed a female doctor and another female soldier to conduct the sexual assault on the victim, who protested vehemently against her abuse. The entire operation was originally devised by a Shin Bet district coordinator, “Yossi,” who ordered an “intimate” search of the woman.
Previously, they had interrogated the woman and not discovered any useful intelligence. But Yossi determined that they needed to find her SIM card to discover if she had been communicating with any Hamas operatives.
Soldiers ransacked her house and bedroom without finding the card. That’s when Yossi told the IDF to engage in an act of sexual assault.
The only reason this case was investigated at all was due to the perseverance of Jana Modzgvrishvily, a former IDF prosecutor General, who worked as a justice ministry prosecutor for police internal affairs. Despite the opposition of her colleagues in the ministry, she cajoled them into agreeing to open a case. She also persuaded the Palestinian woman to file the complaint that led to the investigation.
But Modzgvrishvily lost out in the running for the top prosecutor’s job in her office and her replacement, Keren Bar Menachem, had no interest in pursuing it. Eventually, it was closed “for lack of evidence.”
But Haaretz ran a disturbing account of the incident and investigation. Then I published Ben Ezra’s name. I also contacted Physician for Human Rights-Israel and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), which published statements criticizing the role of the IDF physician and demanding accountability.
Today, a follow-up story noted that the PCATI statement went further, demanding that Attorney General Mandelblit overrule his deputy and reopen the investigation and file charges against all the Shin Bet and IDF personnel involved:
The fact that such a serious case was closed without indictments indicates the incompetence of police internal affairs, the military prosecutor, and the State Attorney’s Office. They were obligated to take criminal action against all those involved in the attack. Equally serious is the fact that the case was closed because none of the suspects took responsibility, including all the senior commanders in the incident, who chose to pass the blame on to each other, as the last of the criminals. If the prosecution maintains its decision not to prosecute anyone, they should at least be fired immediately from the public service, in order to send a clear message: sexual assault, torture and war crimes are not acceptable to Israeli society, and those [IDF and Shin Bet] commanders involved are no longer fit to serve in state institutions.”
Though the statement is laudable, it errs in one major part: the acts of which these individuals stand accused do represent the State. Its military and intelligence apparatus have been engaged in similar acts since the Founding of the nation; and continue them to this day. In other words, while in some ways this act of sexual brutalization crosses boundaries in terms of heinousness; it is by no means an aberration.
Despite the righteous words of these NGOs, this does not mean that justice will be done. Israeli authorities only want to look as if they are behaving appropriately. They do not necessarily want to actually do their jobs as they would in a genuine functioning democracy under the rule of law.
So Mandelblit will make a calculation whether he can get away with dropping the case; or whether the price he will pay in doing so would be too high and his reputation damaged too severely by inaction.
So it’s possible that justice will be done, though unlikely. There are almost no cases in which senior IDF or Shin Bet officers have been charged with similar crimes, let alone prosecuted and convicted. But one can hope.
I have not been able to identify the battalion commander or the IDF medical officer who played key roles in the rape. The physician would have been the chief medical officer for the Hebron Brigade in 2015. If anyone knows more on this subject please be in touch in total confidence.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.