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No institution is safe from the corrupting power of occupation

The persecution of Breaking the Silence’s spokesperson is further proof that the state’s investigative bodies are not only deeply politicized, they are simply uninterested in doing their job.

Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers arresting a Palestinian man in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers arresting a Palestinian man in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Between the years 2013 and 2016, Israeli anti-occupation group Yesh Din tracked the police’s response to 289 cases of “ideological crimes” against Palestinians in the West Bank. In each of those cases, the Palestinians filed a complaint with the police; some of them included photographic material, video, and testimonies provided by Israeli civilians or soldiers. And yet, only 20 cases led to indictments. In no less than 183 of them, the police were unable to locate the criminals or find evidence; more often than not, they never truly carried out a real investigation. Of the 45 cases that were opened between 2012-2014 following violence by Israelis from the radical settlement of Yitzhar against Palestinians and their property (a phenomenon known as “price tag attacks”), only one led to an indictment.

Since the beginning of the Second Intifada, B’Tselem, another Israeli anti-occupation organization, demanded the State Attorney’s Office investigate the 739 cases in which Palestinians were killed, beaten, or wounded by soldiers, or their property damaged (as opposed to Yesh Din’s cases, which deal violence by Israeli civilians against Palestinians). In a quarter of these incidents, not a single investigation was undertaken. In half of them, the cases were closed and only 25 cases ended in indictments. When B’Tselem asked for updates on 44 cases, the state attorney was unable to even locate the files.

Three years have passed since “Black Friday,” in which the Israeli army used the Hannibal Procedure, killing (some say purposefully) hundreds of Palestinians in the city of Rafah during Operation Protective Edge. The state attorney is still debating whether or not to investigate the incident, despite the recommendations by an Israeli committee, which established that these kinds of decisions must be made within 14 months, at most.

This is the context underlying the police and the army’s investigations of violence in the occupied territories. At best, investigations are characterized by apathy, foot dragging, and negligence; at worst, they are beset by distortions, whitewashing, and cooperation with criminals.

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Everyday encounters

Those who want to gain a better understanding of the way the authorities investigate the killing of Palestinians should take a look at the “License to Kill” series, which was published on these pages by John Brown and Noam Rotem. In some of these cases, the army took a year or two to even open an investigation into the killing of Palestinians by Israeli forces. Security guards who lied during their testimony were never summoned for a second interrogation. An officer who claimed to have fired rubber bullets — when in fact he used live fire — was never put on trial. The IDF tried to avoid investigating the murder of two Palestinian teens in Beitunia two years ago, until the media pressure caused it to indict a Border Police officer, who was later given a plea bargain.

Compared to all these incidents, the story of Dean Issacharoff, the Breaking the Silence spokesperson who is now facing the wrath of the government and the media, is very minor. Issacharoff’s story can be summed up as such: he used excessive force while arresting a Palestinian in Hebron. Every soldier who has served in the occupied territories has encountered these incidents. The only unusual thing this time around is how active the police and the State Attorney’s Office have become over the past few months.

Issacharoff spoke about the incident on April 4th this past year. A month later, a hasbara group called “Reservists on Duty” published a video in which they claimed his testimony was deceitful. Eleven days later after that video aired, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman demanded Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked call on the State Attorney’s Office to investigate the incident. Shaked did so, and within a month, Issacharoff was summoned for investigation at the Kiryat Arba police station. He stood behind his original testimony, and a month later was interrogated again.

Palestinian farmers from the West Bank village of Qaryut assess the damage done to their olive trees the day before by Israeli settlers, October 20, 2013. Officials from the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture on the scene counted 60 trees damaged belonging to 12 different farmers. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinian farmers from the West Bank village of Qaryut assess the damage done to their olive trees the day before by Israeli settlers, October 20, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Last week, the state attorney announced it was closing the case, determining that the incident in question never took place and that Issacharoff had lied. According to Issacharoff, the State Attorney’s Office interrogated the wrong Palestinian the whole time. There is no way to determine who is right, but the fact that the arrest, which the state attorney investigated, was documented in Issacharoff’s original testimony to Breaking the Silence ostensibly supports his version of the events.

Joy on the right, apathy on the left

But the Issacharoff case is not the main story here. After all, these incidents are a routine part of the occupation. Far worse incidents — murder, vandalism, abuse — have begotten legal procedures that take months or years, and are often eventually closed. The urgency in Issacharoff’s case is entirely political — stemming from the desire to undermine the legitimacy of Breaking the Silence — and not a single person involved, be they Liberman, Shaked, or the state attorney, has bothered to deny it. On the contrary: the moment the case was closed, the entire Right — including the prime minister — shoved their way to the podium to claim credit for the victory over Breaking the Silence. It also served as an excuse to speed up legislative initiatives against the organization. Once again, no one is hiding the fact that they are targeting a specific organization, or that their motives are wholly political.

More than anything, however, Issacharoff’s story evinces just how deeply Israeli institutions have been corrupted as a result of the occupation. It proves that human rights organizations are right when they say that the state’s investigative bodies are deeply politicized and are unable, or simply uninterested, in doing their job.

Israeli Border Police officers seen in the Aqsa Mosque compound the day after the metal detectors were removed and Muslim worshipers returned, July 27, 2017, Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

Israeli Border Police officers seen in the Aqsa Mosque compound the day after the metal detectors were removed and Muslim worshipers returned, July 27, 2017, Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

The thought that politicians would send the state attorney to persecute Israeli citizens due to their political activities sounds terrifying. But in the context of the occupation, such a move is greeted with apathy on the Left and adulation on the Right. Just as the IDF is transforming from the sovereign whose role is to ensure the well being of the occupied population to being the Army of the Jewish People, which is supposed to act according to the rules of warfare vis-a-vis millions of Palestinian subjects. As the occupation continues, not a single Israeli institution can escape this metastasizing — not the media, not the universities, not the police, and not the security-based tech sector. Ethics and principles go out the window in favor of a national project of ruling over another nation by force. A dictatorship at the heart of a democracy.

Israelis are not the victims of the occupation — the victims are the Palestinians. But we must also say something about the persecution of Dean Issacharoff. The investigations against the Breaking the Silence spokesperson are a win-win for the government: either Issacharoff is a liar, or he can be put on trial, thus dissuading others from providing testimony to the organization.

Israel sends 18 year olds to rule over another nation. When they describe the reality of the occupation as they experienced it, the government unleashes the media, the far-right groups, and now the police and the state attorney. Beyond that, the apathy with which the Left treats these grotesque events is astounding. The center-right is all praise, and the Left is busy teaching civics classes about who is or isn’t considered a Jew. Meanwhile, the cancer of the occupation continues to metastasize.

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    1. JitKunDo

      Some foreign-funded traitor goes public claiming he beat up Palestinians. The so-called “human rights activists” came out insisting that he should not be in any way investigated or punished. Apparently there is some sort of immunity that foreign-funded leftists have from being tried for crimes that they admit to. On the one hand these people claim they want abuses investigated while on the other insisting that such investigations and prosecutions should start elsewhere. Hypocrites. There is no other word for it. Ethics and principles apparently go out the door when one accepts foreign money for the purposes of defaming his own country. I suppose that should be unsurprising from people that would stoop that low. Yet still, the level of hypocrisy is simply stunning.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @JitKunDo: http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/inside/scapegoats/

        This is the BTS response to commons questions: why are testimonies anonymous? Are you cooperating with the military police in their investigations? Etc.

        Reply to Comment
        • JitKunDo

          His testimony is not anonymous. He was recorded saying he did these things and is not denying it. A man insists that he carried out a crime and these morons here want to give him a medal for beating up a Palestinian rather than sending him to prison. This is amazing.

          BtS is a foreign-funded organization that produces reports for their foreign paymasters. Their foreign paymasters want reports that besmirch the name of the IDF and demonize the state of Israel. If these traitors don’t produce what their sponsors want they will be unemployed. I see zero reason to take any information produced by such a group of scoundrels seriously.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @JitKunDo: I really do not believe you believe what you say. Honestly I think you are disingenuous. Do you realize that you are peddling a much more defamatory message than anyone who allegedly “hates Israel” possibly could? You are selling the notion that the state of Israel produces a truly extraordinary percentage of traitorous liars among its soldiers. An extraordinary number of traitorous liars. What kind of corrupt, devious population is this that so many soldiers are willing to lie, commit treason, for venal purposes? Seriously? You defame Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @JitKundo: Morevoer, if Shaked and Netanyahu just proved, as they claim they did, that Issacharoff lied, then why on earth are they not prosecuting him for lying, for treasonous lying, a much more serious crime in their eyes than beating a Palestinian human? Because if a soldier actually lies about his own army in this way, that in fact IS treason. We can both agree on this. So, Shaked says Issacharoff is a devious, heinous liar, a traitor, lying about the most serious matters of state security and in order to defame the army and the state, and she has the evidence to prove it. So why is Issacharoff not now being prosecuted for treason? It so obviously doesn’t add up. It is so obvious that Shaked and Netanyahu and you actually know Issacharoff, and by extension, Breaking the Silence, are not lying. When are you all going to drop the charade?

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @JitKunDo: This is of course an elaborate, disingenuous straw man you are erecting. Leftists’ chief concern is not that Issacharoff not be investigated or punished, it’s that no one is ever investigated or punished. What is truly stunning is the transparent fakery, the shamelessness in Shaked singling out Issacharoff in the first place, then not questioning direct eye witness Rueben Silverstone and questioning the wrong Palestinian, pretending to be a dull-witted, bumbling keystone cop, and quickly declaring “case closed.” Wow. Utterly shameless and transparent. And even more shameless is the way the right wing Israeli masses and Israeli press are cheering on Shaked, winking and nodding and egging her on, eager, knowing participants in the charade, in this utter travesty of justice.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      For most Jews in Israel, it is liberation and not occupation.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Lightbown

        “Liberation” in the same sense that any common criminal “liberates” the assets belonging to another person.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          @Halevy: This is false. For most Jews in Israel, it is neither liberation nor occupation, it is simply out of mind and their chief response is apathy and denial. Most of them have never even been to the territories and have no substantial interest in what goes on there. They are more interested in what is on the latest reality TV program. That is hardly the behavior of people who rejoice at “liberation.” Your entire approach to this is based on carefully nurtured myths.

          Reply to Comment