Ex-Israeli soldier says Facebook photos posing with blindfolded Palestinians thoughtless

By Aisha Mohammed, AP
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Israeli says Facebook photo with Arabs thoughtless

JERUSALEM — A former Israeli soldier who posted photos on Facebook of herself in uniform smiling beside bound and blindfolded Palestinian prisoners said her actions were “thoughtless,” but she stopped short of apologizing.

Both the Israeli army and Palestinian officials condemned the young woman, Eden Aberjil, over the photographs — one of which was accompanied by an exchange with a friend including jokes and sexual innuendoes.

Aberjil called her decision to post the photos, taken in 2008 near the Gaza Strip, “thoughtless and innocent.” But she added: “I still don’t understand what wasn’t OK.”

“There was no statement in the photos about violence, about disrespect, about anything that would hurt that person. I just had my picture taken with someone in the background,” she told Israel’s Army Radio. However, “when I understood that so many people were hurt by those pictures, I removed them.”

In a separate interview, Aberjil lashed out at the international uproar over the pictures, which were reminders of the snapshots taken in 2003 by American soldiers at an Iraqi prison showing Iraqi detainees, humiliated and terrified. However, the Israeli pictures showed no signs of physical abuse or coercion.

“I did not humiliate those detainees. I didn’t hit them, I didn’t act toward them unpleasantly. It’s completely different than the American soldier some are trying to compare me to,” she told Israel Radio.

She said she was shocked by the international interest in the story, and claimed that things like this happen “every day” in the Israeli army.

Palestinians are routinely handcuffed and blindfolded when they are arrested to stop them from trying to flee.

One photo showed Aberjil sitting beside a blindfolded Palestinian man slumped against a concrete barrier, while she leans toward him with her face upturned. Another shows her smiling at the camera with three blindfolded Palestinian men behind her.

The photos, taken in 2008 near the Gaza Strip, drew sharp criticism from the Israeli military, pro-Palestinian advocacy groups and Palestinian officials.

Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli combat officers that criticizes Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, said the pictures showed how Israel’s occupation of Palestinian areas has become “so routine … you lose the ability to see them as human beings.”

Capt. Barak Raz, an Israeli military spokesman, said the pictures amount to “a serious violation of our morals and our ethical code.”

Although her former commanders have been informed of the pictures, it is not clear whether the army can punish Aberjil because she has finished her compulsory military service.

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