Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 February 2005
Issue No. 728
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

From Israel: Playing with the dead

Israeli soldiers are desecrating Palestinian corpses. Emad Gad relates one gruesome tale

The international community has developed laws to protect civilians in armed conflicts, as well as a legal system to bring to account those responsible for genocide or torture. With the increase of such acts over the past decades, the courts created to try such cases by the UN Security Council have not been an effective deterrent to war crimes. In consequence, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established specifically to provide protection for civilians in wartime or during armed conflicts, particularly those in areas torn by ethnic or religious conflicts in which murder and torture are carried out as part of a systematic policy. Such conflicts often involve crimes of genocide, considered crimes against humanity.

There is still a problem, however, since a great many countries have not signed the agreement creating the ICC, and some countries that signed the original agreement have yet to ratify it. More problematic is that those nations that have not signed the ICC charter are those most involved in armed conflicts in which their forces or leadership may face charges of war crimes. At the same time, the United States has worked to limit the authority of the ICC by signing bilateral agreements with several states stipulating that neither will take recourse with the court, which only contributes to human rights violations in conflict zones like Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Israeli media has addressed this issue in light of the publication of several reports and documentary evidence of crimes committed by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians, including incidents of abuse and the desecration of corpses. The Israeli public is split on the issue: while some defend the violations with the justification that the Israeli army is one of the most moral in the world -- more moral than the US army, for example -- segments of the media and rights organisations have been working against such acts and demanding investigations into these crimes and the conviction of their perpetrators.

Eyal Gonen wrote a lengthy article discussing such crimes, entitled "When your enemies fall," published in Yediot Aharonot 's "Seven Days Magazine" on 19 November.

"[Soldiers] put cigarettes in their mouths, take souvenir photos with severed heads, and sell the photos to their comrades," writes Gonen. "Where are the commanders? Sometimes in the photos. One soldier says: 'When the commanders want corpses full of holes, they get a lot of them.'"

Under the subtitle "An unofficial IDF photo album," Gonen writes, "On 12 May, Y turned on the television, and the world went black before his eyes. Six soldiers in a Givati Brigade reconnaissance unit were killed in the armoured carrier disaster. The explosion destroyed everything. Body parts flew in the air as Palestinians celebrated. Later, Hizbullah's television channel broadcast footage of civilians celebrating with the body parts. Y heard these reports, which enraged and disgusted him, saying to himself, 'animals'. Later, he was wracked by feelings of impotence, as if he stood before a mirror and wanted to punch and shatter it.

"He remembered two years ago, when he was a junior commander in the Nahal Brigade. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the Hamra checkpoint. There were no injuries; there was only one corpse on the ground -- that of the terrorist. Not a corpse in the traditional sense of the word, but body parts. Y's friends were happy and screaming with joy. They took one of the bomber's hands and pinned it to his leg. Later they told him how they had played 'Complete the Picture'. Then the cameras appeared. G, another junior commander, took a photo with the bomber's severed head. His comrades laughed. They put the head on an iron spike, making it look like a scarecrow. Later, or perhaps before -- he has now forgotten -- a cigarette was put in the corpse's mouth.

"'This was a very funny scene for the squadron,' Y says. 'I tried to tell them, Have you gone mad? You're disgusting. They didn't know what I was talking about. A little while later, I felt that it was even worse than it seemed at the time. You see that all of a sudden and you say to yourself, what is this? We want to think we're better than them -- the Arabs -- but we're exactly like them. They're our enemies, and we're their enemies. They have no standards of conduct, but where exactly are our ethics? How is our behaviour any different from theirs when the armoured carrier blew up? How are we any different than when they desecrated the corpses in Ramallah? How are we different?'

"We can look for differences and we can find them. While it appears that brutality is ingrained in many Palestinians, we see it on the Israeli side in only a few incidents. But we can also look for reasons to worry, and we can find those as well. We can ask, for example, why the celebration with the body parts of the Palestinian -- even if it is an isolated incident -- was not met with the necessary measures by the leadership, although most individuals in the unit knew of the incident. We can ask why in many IDF units -- these are not isolated incidents -- the latest fad is to take photos with a Palestinian corpse in funny positions. These have become standing orders in a state of war. We can ask why it is that the body of a terrorist, clearly dead, becomes a sieve, just so that some soldiers can shoot it for a memory. Perhaps this is all not very important; when there are some incidents in which soldiers abuse living Palestinians, we shouldn't be too upset by the few cases in which they have a little fun with the bodies of dead Palestinians. Nevertheless, maybe the saying -- when your enemy falls, immediately pull out the camera -- is an expression of pure brutality. It is confirming the kill of moral standards."

The remainder of the article is filled with dozens of stories from soldiers about killings of Palestinians and the desecration of their corpses in raucous parties. The article is an indictment of Israeli soldiers and army commanders, all of whom must be held accountable under international law. If not, who will be held accountable and who will prevent a repetition of these crimes?

To read more about this issue, please visit the website of Arabs Against Discrimination www.aad-

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