Israel's top general announced Friday that the military would investigate allegations that soldiers abused the bodies of Palestinians killed during army operations, including a case in which soldiers posed for pictures with the severed head of a suicide bomber.
Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, the military's chief of staff, responded to photographs and interviews with soldiers published Friday in an Israeli newspaper by condemning the abuses and saying that maintaining the army's ethical strength was as important as sustaining its military power.
Photographs published in Friday's editions of the Hebrew daily newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth, depicted three incidents: a soldier posing next to a bomber's blackened head with a cigarette dangling from its mouth, a soldier with his boot on the chest of a dead Palestinian and his gun pointed at the corpse's head and a dead Palestinian's body draped over the hood of a jeep.
A military spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal, said the Israeli military did not doubt the veracity of the photographs.
As the current Israeli-Palestinian hostilities move into their fifth year, soldiers and officers have become increasingly outspoken about abuse of Palestinians by soldiers at checkpoints, on urban battlegrounds and in detention. In recent months, the Israeli military has issued new ethics guidelines and has expanded ethics training for soldiers.
The Israeli soldiers' actions "testify to a moral imperviousness, and there must be action taken to prevent this from recurring," Ophir Pines-Paz, a member of the Israeli parliament from the main opposition Labor Party, said in a statement Friday after introducing a motion denouncing the abuses.
"This is a very serious phenomenon that attests to profound weakness in IDF behavior, even when its battles and acts are justified," Mordechai Baron, a former chief of military education, told Israel Radio, referring to the Israeli Defense Forces.
The outrage expressed by some Israeli officials Friday over the alleged abuses closely resembled criticism of U.S. soldiers who placed Iraqis captives in degrading positions and photographed them at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. Since the scandal broke last spring, eight U.S. Army Reserve soldiers have been charged in connection with the abuses. Three of those have pleaded guilty to some of the charges.
"When I was released from the service, I said to myself, 'Here, we are no different from the Americans abusing soldiers in Iraq,' " one soldier who said he served in the Gaza Strip told Yedioth Aharonoth, adding: "At some stage, we need to stop and ask ourselves where we have gone. When I think about it, about all those pictures of our guys partying with the bodies, it makes me feel bad."
Soldiers who spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity said that taking photographs of Palestinian corpses had been a common practice among soldiers since the current Palestinian uprising began in September 2000. One soldier said the pictures "simply became part of the album" passed around the military unit. Soldiers said it was a frequent practice to pose with the bodies.
The incident involving the suicide bomber occurred 2 1/2 years ago when a 19-year-old Palestinian blew himself up near an Israeli military road block in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, according to soldiers interviewed by the newspaper.
One soldier said that no soldiers were injured in the explosion and that afterward, they collected the attacker's body parts. The soldier said that one of his officers helped assemble them, stuck the head on a metal pole and "turned him into a scarecrow."
Dallal, the military spokesman, said: "No matter how difficult the circumstances, that behavior is inexcusable. We have to draw a very strong line between stopping a suicide bombing -- which the soldiers did -- and, after the fact, acting in a way that shows disrespect to the body."