What Eden Abergil did wrong

She forgot that Palestinians deserve respect.

facebook loves eden 311 (photo credit: Screenshot.)
facebook loves eden 311
(photo credit: Screenshot.)
Eden Abergil, the former IDF soldier who posted photographs of herself posing with bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainees on her Facebook page, truly cannot understand what all the fuss is about.
“I didn’t physically hurt anyone,” she said, accurately, on Tuesday, in a series of media interviews after the photographs were republished in newspapers around the world and prompted coverage on international TV networks.
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“There’s no violence,” she said, correctly, and, more dubiously, “There’s no contempt.”
She stressed that “I actually took care of the detainees. We always treated the Palestinians well, we always provided them with food and drink and would laugh with them. We never cursed, spat on or touched them. The few photos I put on Facebook are part of my military experience. It was innocent. People blew it way out of proportion. I have respect for all human beings… I served the country.”
Lots of soldiers have themselves photographed with Palestinian detainees, she added. And she seems to have been right about that, too. Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, two Israeli organizations that seek to draw attention to what they consider the evils of the occupation, were quick to produce numerous other examples of snapshots taken by and of Israeli soldiers alongside Palestinian captives, some of them showing the detainees in poses far more humiliating than those that Abergil posted in the Facebook album she labeled “The army… best time of my life.”
Until the storm over the pictures broke publicly, they were visible on Abergil’s page to all Facebook users, and attracted a range of responses. Although some viewers posted shocked criticisms, others found the pictures amusing, and Abergil still didn’t see a problem. One friend’s posting that Abergil looked “super sexy” in a snap alongside one of the detainees elicited a response from her about, “What a day that was. See how he completes my picture. I wonder if he’s on Facebook. I have to tag him in the photo! Ha ha.”
The IDF, however, was not amused. In a statement, the IDF Spokesman’s Unit described Abergil’s behavior as “shameful,” and another spokesman called the photographs “a serious violation of our morals and ethical code.”
It has now been reported that Abergil is being stripped of her military rank and excluded from reserve service, to which she has responded that the IDF has let her down and that she is “sorry that I served in such an army.”
SOME CRITICS have attempted to draw comparisons between Abergil’s photographs and pictures of laughing American soldiers posing with tortured detainees at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
The comparison is superficial and misplaced. The Abu Ghraib pictures revealed a despicable culture of torture at the American detention center; Abergil’s document the all-too-unfortunately-familiar banality of widespread arrests of suspected Palestinian militants in the fraught climate of the West Bank – until recently the dispatch zone for waves of Palestinian suicide bombers targeting Israeli civilians.
Nonetheless, the episode also highlights the dangerous ease with which Israel’s regrettable need to deploy soldiers in the West Bank – involving relentless interaction with the Palestinian civilian population – in order to keep our populace safe, can breed a routine in which respect for those civilians is lessened or lost.
That’s what Abergil did wrong – in the posting of her photographs, in the taking of her photographs and in the nature of her poses in the photographs: She lost sight of the fact that the Palestinian detainees in her charge, whatever their suspected crimes, must be afforded fundamental respect as fellow human beings.
Israel, as the prime minister can be heard saying almost every week, has no desire to rule over the Palestinians. It seeks a viable compromise with their leadership that would enable Israel to live in peace and security alongside an independent Palestinian state. Thus far, largely because of a Palestinian reluctance to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel’s sovereign presence here, such an accord has proved elusive.
And since, in its absence, Palestinian extremists have exploited the intermingling of our populations to carry out murderous acts of terrorism against our people, the Israel Defense Forces have been deployed, including in and around Palestinian areas, to thwart further such acts.
That vital protective soldiering must be done by the IDF with absolute professionalism, humanity and morality, while the politicians work toward creating a reality in which it will not be necessary. Eden Abergil’s photographs constitute far from the most egregious conceivable breach of those standards. But a dismal breach they most certainly are. And the IDF is rightly instituting a new educational effort within its ranks to underline why.