A picture is worth a thousand lives

It seems only visual materials can break through the Israeli indifference to human rights violations against Palestinians.

Facebook detained Palestinians 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Facebook detained Palestinians 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The picture of a female IDF soldier, who photographed herself smiling with a bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainee, and posted those photos on Facebook, has provoked outrage in some Israeli quarters, and drawn attention abroad.
This story has all the makings of a sensation. It has echoes of former US army reservist Lynndie England, one of 11 people convicted in 2005 of torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq – the fact that it was a woman, and the crude sexual implications the officer and her friends associated with the pictures. But the most important element was the picture itself.
It seems only visual materials can break through the Israeli indifference to human rights violations in the Palestinian territories. In July 2008, Ashraf abu-Rahme was detained by soldiers during a demonstration in the village Ni’ilin. He was handcuffed and blindfolded, much like the detainee in the Facebook pictures. The Israeli battalion commander said to one of his soldiers “What do you say, shall we fire a rubber [bullet] at him?” The soldier said “no problem” and fired a bullet at Abu-Rahme’s feet.
The organization that reported the incident, B’Tselem, has reported much worse over the past few years. On most occasions, the soldiers involved simply deny the report, and the event is quickly forgotten.
But this time, the incident was captured on video.
The case still had to go through a petition to the Supreme Court, but following the court’s intervention, the battalion commander and soldier were indicted on serious charges and, a month ago, convicted.
THE ACCOUNTABILITY demanded of the soldiers who shot Ashraf Abu Rahme was all too exceptional.
According to information analyzed by the human rights organization Yesh Din, between September 2000 and the end of 2009, less than six percent of nearly 2,000 investigations opened against IDF soldiers suspected of crimes against Palestinians ended in indictments.
During the same period, according to various estimates, thousands of Palestinian civilians were killed as a result of IDF activities. How many of these fatalities resulted in convictions? Four.
Not four percent – just four.
No one knows what happened to the Palestinian in the Facebook picture. If, like many detainees, he was transferred to the Shin Bet for interrogation, he would have faced investigators who have an even higher level of impunity than soldiers.
Since 2001, shortly after theSupreme Court banned the use of torture, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel had documented more than 600 complaints by Shin Bet detainees. Not a single one of these complaints resulted in a criminal investigation, let alone an indictment or conviction. All of them were handled internally by the Shin Bet, with the State Attorney’s endorsement.
These statistics are much less compelling than pictures and videos. But they shouldn’t be.
They show that the incidents captured on film are not isolated.
These incidents occur in an environment where the authorities who should be enforcing the rules seem not to care about human rights violations against Palestinians.
When this is the atmosphere, is it really any wonder the former soldier who posted those pictures on Facebook was shameless enough to post them in an album entitled “The army – best time of my life”?
The writer is the executive director of Human rights group Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights.