Will Israel investigate the beatings of Palestinian detainees?

A new video in which soldiers beat a handcuffed Palestinian detainee poses a challenge to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked: will she call to investigate this incident, or are investigations reserved solely for persecuting political rivals?

By Yariv Mohar

A video of IDF soldiers beating a young Palestinian man in handcuffs, filmed earlier this week, puts Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked’s moral commitments to the test. Not long ago, Shaked publicly called for an investigation into an incident involving Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff, who claimed to have beaten a Palestinian as a solider in Hebron. “The IDF is the most moral army in the world; violent incidents must be investigated and dealt with,” Shaked declared, calling on the state attorney to investigate Issacharoff’s claims.

Recall that Isacharoff had testified that he “kneed in the face” a Palestinian in order to handcuff him.

In a video filmed last Thursday by the International Solidarity Organization and published by blogger John Brown, soldiers are seen beating, kicking, and knee in the face a Palestinian who is already handcuffed — a more severe incident of misconduct and a challenge to Shaked, who called for an investigation in the similar case of Issacharoff.

On Tuesday, December 19, 2017, Rabbis for Human Rights sent Minister of Justice Shaked a letter, calling on her to denounce this violent incident as well, which also took place in Hebron, and involved soldiers kneeing in the face Palestinian who was already handcuffed while being beaten.

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Rabbis for Human Rights’ appeal to Shaked is important on two levels: to send a principled, moral message — beyond any issue of politics — that beating a handcuffed detainee who presents no immediate danger is a fundamental ethical violation; and to prevent the growing impression that the justice minister is acting in manner reminiscent of history’s darkest regimes. In other words, that Shaked has allowed the legal system to be used to repress political activists. The erosion of both ethical norms in the occupied territories and democratic norms in dealing with ideological rivals has the potential to greatly damage the country.

Rabbis for Human Rights has requested that the army also investigate the incident. The beating of a handcuffed man, when clearly documented on video, is a severe ethical violation that is likely to endanger the safety and security of Israeli citizens. Unfortunately, from our experience and the experience of our fellow human rights organizations, the chances that the army will take the brave and necessary steps to identify the soldiers involved and hold them accountable are slim. And though important details, like the time and location of the event are known, in previous cases where similar information was available, soldiers were not tried for misconduct.

Though Shaked is not defense minister, her public ethical stance carries significant weight. Her expressed commitment to prevent violence against Palestinian detainees must not be selective. And if Shaked’s office does proceed in its selective investigation of violent incidents, the impression that her interest in the rights of Palestinians stems from a desire to humiliate Breaking the Silence will be strengthened.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a Jewish Home meeting at the Knesset on December 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a Jewish Home meeting at the Knesset on December 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Let it be clear: this is a test not just for Shaked, but for the entire system of government. The current governing coalition has repeatedly engaged in damaging conduct with regard to both Palestinians and human rights activists. It appears now that the operation of the entire legal system — which is supposed to be the most equal and unbiased mechanism — has been harnessed to persecute political activists and stifle dissent. When it comes to the Palestinians, the situation is far graver: not a matter of an investigation, whether there will be one or not, but a matter of serious, ongoing, and widespread violation of human rights.

Recent videos of protests in the occupied territories in the wake of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration raise serious warning signs about the conduct of the security forces. There are undoubtedly numerous incidents that require an investigation into whether there was a misuse of force. To ensure that these investigations are carried out with the appearance of minimal procedural propriety, those responsible for overseeing the justice system—the minister of defense and the minister of justice — must adopt an entirely different approach.

Equality before the law can obviously not be achieved within the framework of a regime that denies Palestinian civil rights. But at the least, we must take documentation of violence seriously without compromise. At the least, we must protect legal procedure for the sake of attaining justice and from being harnessed for political manipulation.

Yariv Moher is director of the communications department at Rabbis for Human Rights. The views expressed in this article are his own. This article first appeared in Hebrew at Local Call. Read it here.