Israel will imprison soldier, 19, for publicly criticizing the occupation

Israel/Palestine
on 37 Comments

The Israeli government is imprisoning Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier Shachar Berrin for criticizing its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.

In the Q&A session during the public filming of a television program on May 14, the 19-year-old soldier spoke about the widespread racism he has seen among Israeli occupation forces. He recalled an incident in which an Israeli soldier told fellow IDF troops to stop harassing Christian tourists because “come on, they are people, not Palestinians.”

Haaretz reports that less than 12 hours after speaking, Berrin was ordered back to his base and was promptly charged with “taking part in a political meeting and in an interview the media, without permission from the army.” He is to serve a week in prison, Haaretz says. Author Gideon Levy notes, however, that “Berrin did not take part in any sort of ‘political meeting,’ nor did he give an interview.”

Rather, Berrin was a member of the audience in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim conference center during the filming of a segment of the German TV program “The New Arab Debates.” The premise of the debate was “The occupation is destroying Israel,” and it pitted Uri Zaki, a human rights activist and member of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party, against right-wing businessman Dani Dayan, a pro-settler activist who opposes Palestinian statehood and, in the segment, refers to Israel’s annexation of the Palestinian territories—which every leading international legal institution, including the International Court of Justice, UN Security Council, UN General Assembly, and more, deems illegal—as “the so-called occupation.”

Berrin’s comments can be seen from 42:58 to 44:08 in the following Deutsche Welle (DW) video.

When the program asked for questions from the audience, the young man, an Australian-Israeli who was wearing his IDF uniform, stood up and said the following, in English:

My name is Shachar Berrin and my question is for Dani Dayan. It was mentioned that Israel is the 11th happiest country in the world. Other organizations and institutions put it at the mid-30s or different statistics, but it doesn’t matter. I propose that what makes a country good isn’t whether it is happy or not, it’s about the ethics and morality of the country.

When soldiers, when we, are conditioned and persuaded on a daily basis to subjugate and humiliate people and consider other human beings as less than human, I think that seeps in, and I think the soldiers, when they go home … they bring that back with them.

Former BBC journalist Tim Sebastian, who was moderating the debate, inquired if Berrin was speaking “from personal experience.” Berrin replied:

Sure. Definitely. Just the other week, when some border police soldiers were rough with some Christian tourists, another soldier of mine, a colleague, said she couldn’t believe what they were doing: “Come on, they are people, not Palestinians.” And that, I think, resonates throughout much of the soldiers in the occupied territories.

I personally serve in the Jordan Valley, and we can see it every day how soldiers talk about what they’re doing, how they act, how they look at these people not as other human beings, not as someone who is equal, but as someone who is less than them.

And to think that, oh no, we can just leave that racism there, we can leave that xenophobia, they will only be racist, they will only humiliate Palestinians, of course not. What this motion [“The occupation is destroying Israel”] is is how it will affect Israel. They will bring it back to Israel.

A few weeks ago there was a border police soldier who was caught on camera beating up an Ethiopian Israeli in uniform. To say that we can just leave this all behind, is nonsense I think. I think that once you are conditioned to think something, you bring it back with you and that it deeply affects Israeli society and causes it, as our president says, to be more racist.

Dayan and the audience immediately accused Berrin, who was born in Israel, of being a liar and a “jobnik” (a derogatory Hebrew word for a soldier who has a desk job).

Sebastian asked, “You think he’s lying? On the basis of what? Because you don’t like it?”

Dayan replied, “I challenge him to bring one example in which a [commanding officer] gave him an order to treat Palestinians inhumanely.”

Sebastian said “You’ve never seen the reports from [the Israeli veterans organization] Breaking the Silence?”

Dayan appealed to conspiracy and claimed “Breaking the Silence is also one of those groups that are part of an orchestrated effort against Israel.”

A Breaking the Silence report, issued three weeks ago and based on interviews with over 60 soldiers and officers from Israel’s army, air force, and navy, found that during the Gaza onslaught last summer, IDF officers ordered soldiers to “shoot to kill” “anyone you spot that you can be positive is not the IDF,” even if they are civilians. Israeli soldiers also recalled shooting innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza because they were “bored.”

At 48:45 in the segment, Berrin returns to the mic. He speaks of Israeli soldiers’ and officers’ “general attitude of” racism toward Palestinians. He says the IDF only addresses Palestinians in “grunts, short sentences, and yelling” and that this racism “happens everywhere; I hear this from all sorts of other units.” “It’s not in isolated instances,” Berrin explains. “This is something that happens throughout the occupied territories.”

The man sitting next to Berrin is the next to speak on the program. He can be seen at 50:25 in the DW video. He corroborates Berrin’s testimony and says that, during the six months he served as an officer in the infantry of the Israeli army in the West Bank

I was a witness of systematic violence towards an unwilling population who did not want us to police them. I joined the army to protect my country, and what I found myself doing was mainly arresting Palestinian drug dealers, oppressing protesters, and being a part of a violent system.

And when the violence does reach a red line, then it is usually just covered up, and not court martialed.

Dayan interrupts to ask if the man reported the violence he observed to Israeli authorities. He replies “Yes, I reported it many times.”

After the debate ended, the producer of the TV program asked Berrin if he would like his face to be blurred in the show. He said no, insisting that he had nothing to hide.

Less than 12 hours after the filming of the show, authorities ordered Berrin to return to his base. He was tried and convicted before the episode even aired on TV.

Gideon Levy contacted the IDF for an official statement. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told him Berrin “was tried for expressing himself in the media without authority or permission, as called for by army orders.”

Levy, a leading Israeli journalist, explains:

This whole incident shows that when rapid, determined action is called for, the Israel Defense Forces knows how to act. When soldiers kill Palestinian children, the investigation is stretched out over years, gathering dust before usually going nowhere. When soldiers are filmed holding abusive slogans, or when they identify publicly with “David Hanahalawi” – the soldier from the Nahal Brigade who threatened a Palestinian youth with his rifle and roughed him up a year ago, prompting hundreds of soldiers to express solidarity with him on the social networks – no one considers putting them on trial. But if a soldier dares to attest publicly that his fellow soldiers are humiliating Palestinians, the IDF mobilizes rapidly to trample, punish and silence. That’s what happened to Shachar Berrin.

Haaretz also reports another scene witnessed by Berrin, in which an IDF commander told a soldier to “kick” Palestinian children. When she replied “I can’t kick them. They’re kids,” the officer said “So what? Every one of them will throw a Molotov cocktail at you when he grows up.” The soldier insisted “Not every one.” The commander firmly told her “Yes, every one.”

Berrin said he approached the soldier afterward and asked about the exchange. She told him “I hate Arabs, but they’re just children.”

About Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer based in New York City. His work has been featured in a variety of publications. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton. His website is BenNorton.com.

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37 Responses

  1. pjdude
    May 24, 2015, 12:11 pm

    So much for being for self reflection and debate

  2. echinococcus
    May 24, 2015, 2:37 pm

    The Only Democracy in the World

  3. Les
    May 24, 2015, 2:44 pm

    Guess who got sent to prison? Rep. Jane Harman for sharing classified information with Israel or Shamai Liebowitz, the FBI translator who discovered and then revealed the treason of Harman when the FBI did nothing to prosecute her.

    • Kay24
      May 25, 2015, 11:50 am

      It is mind boggling that American leaders can turn into little weasels and go against their own country, all to please those they really serve. It is a shame they are not held accountable for their actions. Imagine the outrage if the same weasels gave info to the Iranians.

      • RoHa
        May 25, 2015, 8:32 pm

        And now you are insulting weasels.

      • Kay24
        May 26, 2015, 7:13 am

        Good point RoHa. Sorry little Weasels.

    • RockyMissouri
      May 26, 2015, 1:20 pm

      Hugely disgusting!!

  4. Blownaway
    May 24, 2015, 3:28 pm

    All anyone needs to know about israel is that he got a stiffer sentence than if he had killed a Palestinian

    • oldgeezer
      May 24, 2015, 3:51 pm

      Well that’s an understatement since a sentence frequently does not occur.

  5. michelle
    May 25, 2015, 12:05 am

    .
    why should Israel see ‘them’ as people
    why should Israel be expected to do what the world doesn’t
    .
    G-d Bless
    .

  6. DaBakr
    May 25, 2015, 12:50 am

    I believe the US military has similar laws barring soldiers (in uniform especially) from engaging in certain forms of political speech. He was an idiot if he didn’t understand that he was subject to censure. he’ll survive a week in prison.

    • justicewillprevail
      May 25, 2015, 11:44 am

      He wasn’t engaging in political speech. He was giving an honest eye witness account of his own experiences, when asked. Corroborated by the guy sitting next to him. You are the idiot here, trying to hide behind laws drafted for entirely different purposes. Which is beside the point, anyway. It is obvious he is being punished for offering an honest account of the occupation forces. There have been hundreds of similar accounts, all of which are denied and brushed under the carpet by armchair experts like you.

    • John O
      May 25, 2015, 12:00 pm

      Ah, the old “I had to obey orders” defence.

    • irri
      May 28, 2015, 4:39 pm

      +100

    • amigo
      June 2, 2015, 3:24 pm

      “He was an idiot if he didn’t understand that he was subject to censure. he’ll survive a week in prison.” dabakr

      No wonder Israel is in deep poo-poo.Hiring idiots for their officer corp.

  7. justicewillprevail
    May 25, 2015, 7:44 am

    Truth is a disaster for Israel, and how they know it. This is what they are compelled to do in order to keep a lid on it. The disbelief belies an indoctrinated and policed society. Like the old Soviets and other closed regimes. JVP or similar should institute an annual award for services to truth and justice, and give this guy one. In order to show their support for people prepared to stand up to the thought police, and demonstrate that zionism doesn’t speak for Jewish people, but only for israeli zealots and propagandists.

  8. Citizen
    May 25, 2015, 8:07 am

    “The most moral army in the world.”

  9. justicewillprevail
    May 25, 2015, 8:59 am

    And just to reinforce the point: Palestinians are jailed for posting on Facebook comments which Israel doesn’t like, and frames as subversion:

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/05/israel-jails-palestinians-facebook-comments-150521082135363.html

    Oh, the perils of israeli-style ‘democracy’ and ‘free speech’.

    • just
      May 25, 2015, 12:08 pm

      Wonder what kind of “punishment” was given to the girls/guys of the IOF who did these things (there are too many to list, btw):

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/02/female-israeli-soldiers-photos_n_3375581.html

      On another note, from a Haaretz editorial this morning:

      …”Instead of listening to the content of Berrin’s words and appreciating the courage and morality he showed, his commander charged him with “participating as a soldier in a political meeting, in uniform and in the presence of the media, against army regulations.” The fact that this was not a political meeting – and that Berrin had not really been interviewed – did not deter the army. When the supreme goal is to shut critics up, discretion gives way with dizzying speed to procedures of silencing and punishment.

      The Israel Defense Forces probably doesn’t recognize the irony in the story: that same damage from the occupation, against which Berrin warned, pursued him to a conference hall in Jerusalem and then sent him to prison for a week. In the words of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, “The soldier was tried for speaking to the media without authorization and approval, as required by army orders.” Or, put more simply, the soldier was tried and jailed for telling the truth, contrary to the army’s orders.”

      http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.657936

  10. eljay
    May 25, 2015, 10:06 am

    Kudos to Mr. Berrin for speaking out. I hope this first step away from Zio-supremacism is not his last one.

  11. truth2power
    May 25, 2015, 2:57 pm

    This video is truly, truly, truly shocking. The body language of both Shachar Berrin and Dani Dayan (despite the difference of what comes out of their mouths) is the same … MASSIVE GUILT – as is also Dina Zachov’s (if I got his name right?). How can any country live with itself when it is making all of its subjects feel this guilt for what is being done it it’s name? This video should be shown in every house in Israel – particularly those whose occupants sit in the Knesset – Mr Netanyahu, are you watching? – and around the world. This is SO dreadful – that a political belief/abomination is making its citizens, both those in support and those who object, feel such anguish about what is happening in their name. This is truly the face of wickedness, most assuredly. Messrs Berrin & Zachov should be applauded for their courage! Mr Berrin is a hero and being made a prisoner for his truthfulness, shames the Israeli cause one thousand times more. Mr Berrin – I salute you!

    • a blah chick
      May 25, 2015, 5:16 pm

      No more charging up Ammunition Hill. You now get your medals by liquadating families or destroying neighborhoods. Oh, and threatening stone throwers with rape.

      Can you blame these guys for take their separation bonuses and get stoned in India?

      • a blah chick
        May 25, 2015, 5:53 pm

        Wow, that’s what happens when you don’t use the edit button.

    • RockyMissouri
      May 26, 2015, 1:22 pm

      Well said!

  12. a blah chick
    May 25, 2015, 5:10 pm

    I’ve heard a story about Ariel Sharon and how he knew he would go far in the IDF after he got his MAPAI party card. Then there is Isser Harel who, as head of the Mossad, use to sit in on party discussions. So this idea that the IDF or the security people are apolitical is an illusion. I think that the reason Ben Gurion held both the PM office and the Defense portfolio for a time was because he wanted to control the officer corps and see that most of them were good party members.

    The military there has always been political.

    • justicewillprevail
      May 25, 2015, 6:21 pm

      It’s a one party state: the military party. Israel is governed by the military. Civil government is simply a rubber stamp for their policies.

  13. sharonsj
    May 25, 2015, 6:09 pm

    Waleed Al Husseini, Daily Beast, December 8, 2014:
    “I used to run a blog in Arabic called “Nour Alakl” and ran a satirical Facebook page under the pseudonym “Allah.” But in October 2010, Palestinian security forces stormed into an Internet cafe and arrested me. Until then, I had been under the impression that I had a right to freedom of speech and to the freedom of belief. But in jail, I was told that my online statements about religion and Islam were illegal. I was told that society didn’t accept such criticisms.
    “I was beaten by prison guards who demanded to know who had made me write against Islam. In their minds, I could only say these things as the result of some plot, some conspiracy. The idea that I might simply want to express my independent thoughts was alien to them.
    “The 10 months I spent in Palestinian prison were the worse of my life. I faced constant pressure to retract my statements. I was told they had removed my blog and that I must apologize for publishing it. Even once I was freed, I was told I should never again use the Internet, nor meet with the media.
    “For months after my release, I was harassed by the security services, who further interrogated me and detained me without cause. I received letters from people saying they wanted to kill me.”

    I wonder if Mondoweiss ever runs any articles detailing what happens to Palestinians in Gaza who criticize Hamas?

    • Giles
      May 26, 2015, 7:33 am

      I wonder how those who pretend to be so worried about what Hamas does to the Palestinians can be so supportive of the frequent mass slaughters of those same Palestinians by Israel.

      • a blah chick
        May 26, 2015, 8:48 am

        If you listen to the Hasbarists Hamas is responsible for killing collaborators, Israelis and their own people. Israel drops tons of ordnance on the place and is responsible for killing no one. Amazing.

  14. Bornajoo
    May 25, 2015, 6:56 pm

    I’m surprised they didn’t give him a longer sentence. Nothing worse for the Zionists than a solder coming to his senses, being honest and telling the truth.

    • a blah chick
      May 26, 2015, 8:50 am

      I’d be very interested to see the statistics correlating rates of domestic violence and military service in the WB.

  15. justicewillprevail
    May 26, 2015, 9:00 am

    One of the founders of Breaking the Silence explains how Israel systematically dismembers Palestinian society, with the object of controlling the population through fear and punishment.

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/05/conflict-gaza-part-israel-s-indirect-system-control-over-palestinians

  16. irri
    May 28, 2015, 4:36 pm

    Excuse me, but the title of the article is manipulative. “Sadir” (and some other categories)
    MUST NOT give public interviews, make public statements
    or public speech without IDF permission, and the speech must be conformed according to the LAW. That is the reason (law violation) of his being arrested, but not his views or opinion.

    • gamal
      May 28, 2015, 7:23 pm

      “the speech must be conformed according to the LAW.”

      “That is the reason (law violation) of his being arrested”

      Ok thats clear

      “but not his views or opinion”

      Ok I am confused again. (is confusion legal?), what does “conformed according to LAW” mean, not opinions? should it rhyme? ask your turn?

      what ever anybody else says I liked “the speech must be conformed”, I may steal that.

  17. just
    June 2, 2015, 3:45 pm

    wrt Breaking the Silence, this newly appointed and frightening nut just did this:

    “Deputy FM instructs Israeli embassy in Switzerland to stop ‘Breaking the Silence’ exhibit

    The leftist group is scheduled to hold an exhibition in Zurich in June, which will include testimonies by IDF soldiers on alleged human rights violations.

    Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has instructed Israel’s embassy in Bern, Switzerland to try and cancel an exhibition by the NGO group ‘Breaking the Silence,’ scheduled to open in June in Zurich. In an announcement she made, Hotively emphasized that “the Foreign Ministry will continue to act against groups that operate against Israel from within the country and from abroad.”

    The leftist group has planned an exhibition which will include testimonies by IDF soldiers regarding alleged human rights violations in the West Bank. Two weeks ago, the Israeli news website NRG reported that the Swiss foreign ministry supports holding the exhibition and that it contributed 15,000 Swiss francs to that end. The Zurich municipality contributed a further 10,000 francs. …”

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.659279?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

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