A study by an Israeli psychologist into the violent behaviour of the country’s soldiers is provoking bitter controversy and has awakened urgent questions about the way the army conducts itself in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Nufar Yishai-Karin, a clinical psychologist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, interviewed 21 Israeli soldiers and heard confessions of frequent brutal assaults against Palestinians, aggravated by poor training and discipline. In her recently published report, co-authored by Professor Yoel Elizur, Yishai-Karin details a series of violent incidents, including the beating of a four-year-old boy by an officer.
The report, although dealing with the experience of soldiers in the 1990s, has triggered an impassioned debate in Israel, where it was published in an abbreviated form in the newspaper Haaretz last month. According to Yishai Karin: ‘At one point or another of their service, the majority of the interviewees enjoyed violence. They enjoyed the violence because it broke the routine and they liked the destruction and the chaos. They also enjoyed the feeling of power in the violence and the sense of danger.’
In the words of one soldier: ‘The truth? When there is chaos, I like it. That’s when I enjoy it. It’s like a drug. If I don’t go into Rafah, and if there isn’t some kind of riot once in some weeks, I go nuts.’…
Yishai-Karin concluded that the main reason for the soldiers’ violence was a lack of training. She found that the soldiers did not know what was expected of them and therefore were free to develop their own way of behaviour. The longer a unit was left in the field, the more violent it became. The Israeli soldiers, she concluded, had a level of violence which is universal across all nations and cultures. If they are allowed to operate in difficult circumstances, such as in Gaza and the West Bank, without training and proper supervision, the violence is bound to come out.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli army said that, if a soldier deviates from the army’s norms, they could be investigated by the military police or face criminal investigation.
She said: ‘It should be noted that since the events described in Nufar Yishai-Karin’s research the number of ethical violations by IDF soldiers involving the Palestinian population has consistently dropped. This trend has continued in the last few years.’
The idea that these sorts of actions derive from ‘lack of training’ is absurd. They derive from hatred and from being able to act with impunity. They are a burden of the strong who have the opportunity to abuse the weak.
The US political elite and media that conceals the brutality of the Israeli occupation for sectional political gains are accomplices to this sadism, and their silence endangers the security of the United States. When we cannot understand why Arab audiences, who are perfectly aware of what the Israeli army has been doing to Palestinians for decades, are outraged, it leads us into policy mistakes in dealing with the Middle East. No one in the US media ever talks about Zionofascism, and the campus groups who yoke the word ‘fascism’ to other religions and peoples are most often trying to divert attention from their own authoritarianism and approval of brutality.