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NGO calls investigation of Breaking the Silence spokesman 'ideological persecution'

June 27, 2017 9:58 P.M. (Updated: June 28, 2017 12:54 P.M.)
Israeli soldiers hold a position in a street, east of the West Bank city of Nablus, 2015 (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israel-based Rabbis for Human Rights released a statement on Tuesday, stating that Israeli leaders’ calls to prosecute the spokesperson for Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence was a move that “smacks of ideological persecution,” amid an ongoing Israeli investigation over an assault he carried out on a Palestinian protester during his service in the army, which he provided as testimony to the group.

Dean Issacharoff came under investigation after a video was released when the former soldier is heard admitting to beating an unarmed Palestinian protester in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron.

Breaking the Silence provides anonymous testimonies from Israeli soldiers and veterans recounting their experiences serving in the occupied Palestinian territory in order to shed light on human rights abuses committed by the Israeli army and the need to end the half-century occupation of the West Bank.

Rabbis for Human Rights said that the investigation was “a cynical move that smacks of ideological persecution.”

The group highlighted the irony of the investigation, as Issacharoff had admitted to guilt and expressed remorse for his actions, which is typical for any former soldier involved in Breaking the Silence, while the Israeli army routinely closes cases of abuse committed by Israeli soldiers on Palestinians despite clear evidence of violence or excessive use of force.

After the video went viral and several Israeli soldiers who claimed to have been with Issacharoff during the incident accused him of lying in his testimony, Israel’s ultra right Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked demanded that the police open up a probe on the incident.

Issacharoff's commander during his Israeli army service has also set out to defame him, and reportedly said that the assault incident “never happened.”

Rabbis for Human Rights noted that the investigation was meant to convey to other Israeli soldiers that “they will pay dearly for public confessions of any wrongdoing committed in the framework of their military service.”

“The eager interrogation of Issacharoff sharply contrasts with so many other incidents, many of which ended not in a few blows but in the death of a Palestinian, which were never properly investigated or brought to trial,” the group added.

In response to the investigation, Breaking the Silence released a Facebook statement on Sunday.

“Ayelet Shaked, why are you settling for investigating only one member of Breaking the Silence?” the group asked. “Come and interrogate us as well, hundreds of other soldiers, men and women, who broke their silence publicly. We'll tell you what we did in the occupied territories and about the daily violence we used against Palestinians.”

The group said that human rights abuses of Palestinians were “the last thing that bothers Ayelet Shaked,” but that she instead intended to “intimidate and silence anyone who opposes the occupation and is preventing her and her friends from advancing their dangerous policies.”

Right-wing Israeli leaders have “turned the various government offices into tools of political persecution of citizens who believe in human rights and democracy, and oppose the occupation,” the group added.

Breaking the Silence also pointed out that since 2004 the group has published thousands of testimonies outlining incidents of violence used against Palestinians, and added that it would be “delusional” to believe that Israel maintains its occupation of the Palestinian territory without the routine use of violence.

Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett previously claimed that it was hypocritical to defend the Breaking the Silence spokesman, but demand the prosecution of Elor Azarya, an Israeli soldier who was filmed shooting and killing a wounded Palestinian at point-blank range last year.

Azarya was sentenced in February to 18 months in prison for the execution-style shooting. Prior to the sentencing, the case had already been denounced as a “show trial” for aiming to distract from a wider culture of impunity for Israeli forces.

We see here someone who comes from the extreme left’s Breaking the Silence, and he claims that he conducted awful war crimes against innocent Arabs. Why wouldn’t we open an investigation against him?” asked Bennett on his Facebook page. “And if Elor Azarya was called Dean Issacharoff and was also a member of Breaking the Silence, would he be immune from investigation?”

However, rights groups have repeatedly accused Israeli forces of supporting a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinians, while Human Rights Watch has meanwhile documented “numerous statements” made by senior Israeli politicians and religious figures “calling on police and soldiers to shoot to kill suspected attackers, irrespective of whether lethal force is actually strictly necessary to protect life.”

In a statement released Sunday, 18 Israeli human rights organizations expressed their solidarity with Breaking the Silence.

Breaking the Silence was also accused of “treason” in March 2016 for releasing accounts by soldiers reportedly containing classified information -- a charge the group has consistently denied.

The group said at the time that the move was a government attempt to shut down the organization and prevent it from continuing its work, which is dependent on maintaining the anonymity of soldiers.

The investigation also came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would seek to push forward ever more stringent regulations which would block foreign funding for Israeli NGOs, a move that has been denounced as another attempt to stifle human rights organizations in Israel.
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