TEL AVIV, FEB. 23 -- The Army's chief psychologist reported today that most Israeli soldiers putting down riots in Gaza and the West Bank consider actions they have seen or participated in "fair" to Palestinians.
Col. Shlomo Dover, who heads the Israeli Defense Force's Department of Behavior Sciences, made the assertion on the basis of a six-week survey of 800 to 900 soldiers assigned to assess effects on the military of Israel's tough campaign to put down the Palestinian uprising that began Dec. 9.
Dover announced his team's conclusions the day after disclosure of a letter by Attorney General Yosef Harish to Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin suggesting that it "no longer reflects reality" to maintain that cases of Israeli soldiers beating captured Palestinians are exceptions.
In the 10 weeks of violence, at least 61 Palestinians have been killed, most of them by gunfire from soldiers, and hundreds have been injured by gunfire or beatings. No Israelis have been killed.
Dover declared, however, that instances of unfair brutality by Israeli soldiers are exceptions and that his survey showed 70 percent of the soldiers questioned feel that way. He urged reporters at a news conference here to avoid "depersonalizing" the conflict and instead to consider the feelings of individual soldiers in the face of abuse or stone throwing by Palestinian men, women and children.
"It's not the Israeli Defense Force. It's not soldiers," Dover said. "It's Gadi and Rami and Shaul or whatever. And when he is in front of a child or a woman or a group, cursing and spitting, cursing his mother, try to put yourself in his place. What would you do?"
Asked whether his team of a dozen psychologists also sought to determine the feelings of Palestinians who have taken to the streets or who have been beaten by soldiers, he responded: "That's not our job."
Dover said Israeli soldiers have been frustrated because of what he described as an "ambiguous" situation in which some units in Gaza and the West Bank are unclear on what their goals are and how much force they should use. This ambiguity is increased by the fact that Israeli soldiers are trained to fight a clear-cut enemy rather than repress civilian populations, he added.
Dover said: "People are not happy to use force. There are reactions of frustration, anger toward the situation. There are some reactions of pity toward the population."
But, citing his survey, Dover said the Army's repression of Palestinian rioters has not brutalized Israeli soldiers or led to lack of discipline in units assigned to Gaza and the West Bank.
"This activity is not affecting the morale of the units in general," he declared. "I think we must be concerned about it. But to this point, I do not see any brutalization of soldiers. I see exceptions, but it is not the norm."
He reported, however, that some unit commanders expressed "deep concern about the possible consequences" of prolonged police duty in Gaza and the West Bank if the Palestinian unrest continues. Sixty percent of officers and soldiers surveyed said they would have problems with such duty if it went on for six months or more, he said.