Detainee Photos Spark Digital Backlash

A soldier poses for a photograph with a bound and blindfolded Arab detainee. Human rights groups cry foul, noting that the offending soldier hails from a leading Western democracy. The army issues a response, stripping the soldier of her military status and publicly apologizing before a room full of international journalists.

While this story may sound eerily familiar, it is not a rehashing of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal that rocked the United States Army in 2004. It’s the tale of Eden Abergil, an Israeli soldier who posted on Facebook an album of images of herself beside bound Palestinian prisoners.

The young woman at the center of the controversy is a prime example of someone who “forgot that Palestinians deserve respect,” according to the editors of The Jerusalem Post. Israeli newspapers across the political spectrum are echoing The Post’s sentiment. Critics on the right refer to her actions as “alarming,” claiming that Abergil’s photographs only fuel an ever-growing anti-Israel fire within mainstream media worldwide. While bloggers on the left argue that Abergil is now “the Israeli patron saint of bad taste, myopia, and tactlessness.”

Even the Israeli military has issued a particularly strong statement condemning Abergil’s actions. Military spokesman Barak Raz stated,  "These are disgraceful photos. Aside from matters of information security, we are talking about a serious violation of our morals and our ethical code, and should this soldier be serving in active duty today, I would imagine that no doubt she would be court-martialed immediately.”

Though criticism from the Arab world is to be expected, a common theme across Egyptian and Jordanian blogs has emerged—one in which Abergil’s story is the rule, rather than the exception. Haitham Sabbah, at the Sabbah Report, writes, “Pictures of this kind reflect the norms accepted among Israeli soldiers at checkpoint, and the treatment meted out to innocent Palestinians. This sick girl is no better than all Israeli soldiers serving the occupation of Palestine.”

Nassan Taranwah, of the Black Iris, wonders: If such abuse is so flagrant within the Israeli army, why has Abergil’s story created such media uproar. “Is it the Facebook element? The digital, viral element? Is it a ‘caught red-handed’ moment?”

While there may not be an immediate answer to Taranwah’s questions, it is likely that the images and the imbroglio surrounding them will play a role in the upcoming peace negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, both of whom have thus far remained silent on the incident. Talks are set to resume in Washington on Monday.

Yaffa Fredrick

Photo courtesy of the Sabbah Report

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