Culture, Global, Israel

Israel's 60 Minutes broadcasts "Israel's Abu-Ghraib"

UVDA leading imageThis couldn’t come at a worse time with the Ashkelon rocket attacks by Hamas, but it’s important nonetheless. Last week, UVDA, Israel’s equivalent of 60 Minutes, dedicated all 28 minutes to a damning set of videoed confessions of former IDF soldiers in the Kfir Brigade who described a litany of abuses, including extorting products from Palestinian electronics shops, tossing stun grenades into mosques at prayer time, and even (Jesus) kidnapping a cab driver and executing shooting him in an abandoned warehouse. The driver was wounded but not killed. The episode features interviews with several soldiers and officers, and follows one around Hebron as he relives his stories, viewable in Hebrew online at
The testimony is so damning that Haaretz’s leading editorial on Feb 24 opened with a description of Abu-Ghraib and continued, “Last night, the investigative television program ‘Fact’ broadcast pictures of our own Abu Ghraib affair.”

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.

In a separate editorial, Haaretz opined, “But some officers say that the incident, while lamentable, is not unusual; what is different about this case, they say, is that most units involved in such incidents sweep them under the carpet.”
All this follows on the heels of an equally damning internal IDF report in December reported that 25% of soldiers at checkpoints participated in or witnessed “severe abuse”; members of Breaking the Silence claim the percentage is much higher. [Editor’s note: link to JTA article on that story here.] Concluded Haaretz,

Perfectly ordinary people, as the American psychologist said of the Abu Ghraib abusers, are capable of behaving like monsters…Something bad is happening to us, they are saying in the Kfir Brigade. That “something” is the occupation.

Watching the similar footage of “Hawara” a video taken by IDF educational corps of checkpoints subsequently leaked to the press in 2004, where 18 year olds describe how the only way to control behavior at a checkpoint is to beat someone first. They describe to their IDF videotapers the power trip which comes with absolute discretion over other people. “Some people come home really fucked up,” one soldier tells the camera. After being leaked to the press, the IDF court martialed a soldier caught on tape beating two Palestinians and sentenced him to 6 months in jail. 60 members of his unit then sent a letter to the Joint Chiefs saying that his behavior was standard practice at their checkpoint and that all 60 had committed similar abuses. If you want to arrest someone, they said, you can arrest us all.This is not a phenomenon special to Israel, this condition is universal to Americans and Israelis and all other average people given extreme power. This is an unavoidable consequence affecting directly or indirectly all soldiers in the field.
Perhaps we are approaching a tipping point of awareness. There is no way to whitewash the “context” to excuse this kind of behavior. Terrorism may exist, but so does this. Has it become this extreme before we’ve decided take action?
Come lend your support to the soldiers who are doing the important work of pushing Israeli society and American Jewry to confront these stories: The Breaking the Silence exhibit opens in Boston with IDF veterans Oded Naaman and Oded Greenvald tonight at 7 pm and is open at the Harvard Hillel on Sundays 12p-8p, Mondays-Fridays 2p-8p, and Fridays 10a-4p.
[Editor’s note: Jewschool apologizes for the error in translation above in the first paragraph, that IDF soldiers executed a Palestinian cab driver. The soldiers shot the cab driver but not kill him. Jewschool strives to be factually correct in all of our posts, please email [email protected] to bring incorrect facts to our attention. Thank you.]

17 thoughts on “Israel's 60 Minutes broadcasts "Israel's Abu-Ghraib"

  1. Kol hakavod for being the first to post on this. I know it’s easy to get slapped with labels of antisemitism and self-loathing for wanting the Jewish state to live up to Jewish ethics and properly represent us on the world stage. Thank you. And may the abuse and tongue-lashings come many many comments down.

  2. I saw the story last week in either JPost or Haaretz English.
    Don’t get besides yourselves that JewSchool is “breaking” this.

  3. Hey K-F Jew,
    You’d better brush up on your Hebrew skills. While the Kfir Brigade has been involved in some shamefull activties over the green line, the soldiers DID NOT execute the cab driver as you described. In fact, if you watch the end of the video, that’s him meeting the officer (now serving a jail sentence) who kidnapped him.

  4. I may or may not be beside myself that we broke this story in English, because I already quoted Haaretz’s english site above, but I’m definitely beside myself that Jewschool has enough integrity to put up stories like this one, whereas the American Jewish press seems to be hiding their readers from news like this.

  5. I first learned about IDF abuses in the territories while watching ABC News in December 1987.
    You are definetly beside yourself, achi.

  6. Wow. 20 years of abuses. I suppose we should celebrate that come the 60th anniversary in May, huh?

  7. Israel has been holding the territories since 1967; that is 41 years, not 20 years. Do you not know the basic history of the conflict?

  8. The real story in that UVDA piece is that this is finally no longer portrayed as rotten apples (“weeds” in Hebrew) but as the unavoidable and widespread consequence of soldiers policing such a large and hostile population for terrorists. Abuses of power are common fare — THAT’S the news here, not the individual cases.
    Stories of Israeli human rights abuses are not new. Just like stories of American soldiers abusing detainees in Vietnam, Iraq or elsewhere is not news. But (despite my pathetic Hebrew skills) something is particularly exceptional about this set of confessions when it runs on UVDA and Israeli papers compare Israeli soldiers in Hebron to American soldiers in Abu Ghraib. That’s a strong comparison, stunning and dangerous for many reasons. I trust they wouldn’t use it lightly.

  9. The situation in Abu Ghraib (and elsewhere), which, judging by internal documents issued by the office of the White House Legal Consul and by the Department of Defense, is one where the abuse of detainees by American soldiers was largely consistent with policies set by the Bush Administration.
    Judging from the story as presented here, the abuse of Palestinian non-combatants by IDF soldiers is inconsistent with IDF policies, even if it is a sociological reality of how soldiers interact with civilians during a military occupation.
    There is a nuance here, and we mustn’t lose sight of it– especially when throwing such phrases as “Abu Ghraib” around.

  10. CORRECTION: Both I (KFJ) and Jewschool apologize for the error in translation above in the first paragraph, that IDF soldiers executed a Palestinian cab driver. The soldiers shot the cab driver but not kill him. Jewschool strives to be factually correct in all of our posts, please email [email protected] to bring incorrect facts to our attention. Thank you.]

  11. Ian, if you think “the abuse of Palestinian non-combatants by IDF soldiers is inconsistent with IDF policies,” please see the exhibit or watch and read the testimonies available at their website:
    It is a core aspect of their message that Israeli soldiers operating in the occupied territories are required by IDF policies and by the orders of their commanders at all levels to abuse and do violence against unarmed Palestinians of all descriptions.

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