Analysis: No Abu Ghraib photoshoot, but we should all be very concerned

Disturbing: one of the photographs of Eden Abergil with prisoners that appeared on her Facebook wall

Disturbing: one of the photographs of Eden Abergil with prisoners that appeared on her Facebook wall

The Facebook photos of former IDF Sergeant Eden Abergil's army days drew an inevitable, though ridiculous, comparison this week with the depraved scenes of sexual abuse and torture carried out by American soldiers in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

But in many ways, the images of Abergil posing, smiling, with arrested Palestinian civilians bound and blindfolded in the close background, poses a more difficult and complex moral challenge for the IDF's commanders.

In Abu Ghraib, it was relatively simple for the American commanders to point at the crimes and the culprits - a small group of military police personnel who had carried out the disgusting deeds, and taken pictures of each other during the act. They were promptly prosecuted and punished. In this case, aside from the adverse publicity, Abergil will not suffer any sanction. But there is a disturbing moral ambiguity in her case.

A junior soldier in a clerical position at a base near the Gaza Strip border, she had no active part in the arrests of the Palestinians. Nor does it seem that any crime took place. This is simply standard military procedure for suspects awaiting interrogation.

Blindfolded suspects are part of the ‘scenery’ - that’s the problem

Abergil posted 25 photos from her army days on her Facebook wall. Two of them included bound Palestinians, the rest were made in various other quasi-military surroundings.

Following the worldwide publicity of her photo album, Abergil reacted to the Israeli media with wounded innocence, saying this was simply the reality of her army service and anyone who served in similar circumstances knows exactly what she is talking about. She never humiliated anyone, she claimed; on the contrary, she made sure the detainees had food and water.

The IDF Spokesman Unit was quick to respond, saying that the "disgusting" photos did not reflect on the entire army and that they were the opposite of "the spirit of the IDF" and its ethical code. But as anyone who has served in frontline units will tell you, this kind of photography is not rare and few young Israeli soldiers, including many of those who see themselves as moral and ethical and would never dream of actively abusing a Palestinian suspect, can see what is wrong with them.

Thousands of former soldiers who served at any point in the West Bank and Gaza over the past four decades have similar snapshots. For them, this was simply part of the normal "scenery". It took Facebook, and the international exposure this week, to make this suddenly into an issue.

Those who oppose Israel's continued presence in the West Bank can see this as one more by-product of what to them is a deeply immoral policy.

But it transcends politics and should concern also those who support building more settlements. Generations of young Israelis have grown used to having bound and blindfolded suspects, the great majority of whom are released after a few hours, as part of their scenery. Blaming a 21-year-old for Facebooking is much too easy. We don't have to reach
Abu Ghraib to realise that the IDF
has to work harder in educating its soldiers that the other side are human beings too.

    Last updated: 2:00pm, August 19 2010