The Goldstone effect

For taking a picture with a bound man suspected of terrorism, my son, suspected of insensitivity, was paraded in handcuffs before a lineup of TV cameras for the evening news.

nahal haredi arrest 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
nahal haredi arrest 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
My son and two of his friends from the Nahal Haredi unit stand accused of abusing an arrested member of Hamas. While the IDF pursued its investigation, they sat in jail for 14 days.
The three were accused of taking a picture of themselves standing next to the blindfolded Hamas terror suspect in Jenin eight months ago.
This event occurred after a vigorous year of training and active duty, when they were on their first mission to successfully arrest a terror suspect whose actions, if left unheeded, could have resulted in the loss of innocent life. Like many fresh recruits on their first successful mission, they were excited and wanted to memorialize this first arrest.
I would like to state unequivocally that what they did was morally incorrect. It was childish, insensitive to the prisoner and potentially damaging to Israel. They fully deserve to be reprimanded.
However, the arrest and subsequent accusations seems to have lost all sense of proportion. This is not Abu Ghraib, where prisoners were humiliated and tortured in shocking ways as part of an established pattern of abuse. This is not even Eden Abergil, who posted her photos on Facebook for all to see and reveled in her notoriety.
These photos were never intended to be publicized and were merely in the cellphone memory, largely forgotten by my son and his comrades.
The soldiers have admitted that their actions were inappropriate and immature, but it is also vital to note that they never abused the prisoner in any way, shape or form. The photos themselves do not reflect any abuse, and although the IDF prosecutor claims that a couple of pictures appear to show the soldiers’ rifles pointed at the prisoner, the photos are entirely ambiguous. The rifles appear to be hanging from their shoulders in the manner typical of IDF soldiers, and certainly not in a threatening way.
As part of the investigation, the IDF prosecutor interviewed the Hamas member in the pictures. He was asked if the soldiers’ actions were humiliating, and although it must have been very tempting to do otherwise, he replied in the negative. He unequivocally stated that he suffered no threats or ill-treatment other than the embarrassment of the arrest itself.
The IDF prosecutor’s written statement to the court states that the “importance of the case... is in the context which we live in. After the Goldstone report and the Mavi Marmara [flotilla], in a period when we as a military and a state are under a so-called moral siege, we... are being examined under a magnifying glass. The severity of the actions is beyond the specific incident.”
LET ME reiterate. What the boys did was wrong and the army cannot tolerate such conduct. They deserve reproof for their insensitivity. In a state of law we must extend respect even to terrorists, and even when the prisoner is not aware of the disrespect being shown him. Nevertheless, insensitivity is not a crime. To subject them to the humiliation of arrest, hold them in jail for 14 days with barely any contact with their family and to accuse them of serious felonies reflects an absurd lack of perspective.
There is something cruelly ironic in this: For taking a picture of a handcuffed person suspected of terrorism, my son, suspected of insensitivity, was paraded in handcuffs before a lineup of TV cameras for the evening news. Unlike the Hamas member, however, my son was painfully aware of his degradation. And now, he may spend up to a year in jail.
However, the prosecutor’s statement indicates that these soldiers were not being punished for their crimes, but for Israel’s current international image. Consider that before the Facebook fiasco, the IDF soldier who was videotaped shooting at a manacled prisoner – a much more heinous crime – served only two days in jail before his trial. It is unconscionable that these imprudent boys should bear the brunt of the distorted view of Israel that is currently spread around the world.
BY PUNISHING our soldiers for perceived crimes, minor errors of judgment, or to avoid the world’s hypocrisy is handing a victory to our enemies, and to those, like Justice Richard Goldstone, who have denied our right to self-defense.
Secondly, we will undoubtedly once again need our soldiers to fight be prepared to lay down their lives in our defense. This type of overreaction and punishment will be massively damaging for morale.
They need to know that the authorities will show them empathy and understanding.
Anyone who has served in the army understands the challenges. These are good kids from good homes with parents who encouraged them to serve their country. They literally risk their lives to enter places like Jenin and arrest terrorists. They pass countless sleepless nights so we can sleep comfortably in our beds.
This episode has had a demoralizing effect on the Nahal Haredi, a unit meant to serve as an example for others. In fact, the effect has passed far beyond their unit, to the larger IDF where many are incensed at this overreaction.
Our government refused to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission, and our best legal minds have proven that the Goldstone Report is flawed, distorted and, as the US Congress overwhelmingly voted, “irredeemably biased.” However, by applying the Goldstone Report as a measure for our soldiers, we give our delegitimizers success.
As lawyer Shlomo Tzipori said, “It is not right to take pictures next to a Palestinian with handcuffs, but these soldiers do not need to be hung out to dry. They are paying the price for the Goldstone report and the Mavi Marmara. By indicting the soldiers and handcuffing them, the IDF is the one causing the real damage.”
We cannot permit the “Goldstone effect” to take root in our army’s culture. Giving our enemies the power to influence how we judge our soldiers is a very dangerous precedent. While we must always prosecute real criminal activity in the IDF and educate to the highest moral standards, when our fighting men feel the system will offer them up on the altar of Goldstone, we will all pay the price.
The writer is the father of one of the arrested soldiers. His name has been changed to protect his identity.