Police opened an assault probe on Thursday against Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff after a video of him describing how he brutally beat an unarmed Palestinian protester in Hebron went viral.
The investigation follows Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s request of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate the Israeli NGO’s spokesman on suspicion of war crimes.
However, the state prosecution denied its decision to probe Issacharoff had anything to do with Shaked’s request and said it had come from the military attorney general.
Issacharoff was questioned under caution on Thursday.
Shaked told Army Radio earlier this month that she sought to clarify if Issacharoff was telling the truth when he described an alleged incident in the West Bank city of Hebron, or if he was lying to discredit the IDF.
“The spokesperson of Breaking the Silence stands up and says that he himself committed a crime against a Palestinian and pounded him with blows,” Shaked said. “If that is really what happened, he should be investigated and punished. If it didn’t happen, the state needs to officially declare that it didn’t happen.”
Breaking the Silence — an Israeli NGO that publishes the testimonies of former Israeli soldiers who report on human rights abuses in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — has raised the ire Israeli officials and drawn criticism from those who question the authenticity of its mostly anonymous testimonies.
Issacharoff was filmed two months ago at a Breaking the Silence rally giving a public confession in which he described beating the Palestinian.
Issacharoff, an officer who served in the IDF between 2011 and 2015, recounted how his Nahal Brigade infantry unit was deployed in Hebron and would regularly confront stone-throwing Palestinian protesters.
On one occasion, he related, his company commander ordered him to handcuff a Palestinian who was passively resisting arrest.
He described how, with his soldiers and commanding officer watching, he grabbed the Palestinian by the back of the neck and “began to knee him in the face and chest until he was bleeding and dazed,” before dragging him off to be detained.
“As a soldier I never knew how to deal with someone who resists non-violently,” Issacharoff told the rally.
Issacharoff’s version of the events was disputed by members of his own platoon, who last month published a video response via Reservists on Duty, an organization that campaigns against Breaking the Silence and to defend the reputation of IDF soldiers.
In the video the soldiers, including Issacharoff’s former commander, repeatedly call him a “liar” over the story.
Upon the approval of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan earlier this week, police reached out to Issacharoff — the son of Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff — letting him know that an investigation had been opened into the incident. On Thursday, he was brought in for questioning, during which he stood by the authenticity of the story he had shared at the rally.
According to the Haaretz daily, Issacharoff told police that the incident was a matter of routine when a soldier is forced to police a civilian population.
Responding to the probe against its spokesman, Breaking the Silence slammed Shaked in a Thursday statement. “She does not really care about Palestinians, justice or morality. All she wants is to hurt Breaking the Silence and to turn the Justice Ministry and the State’s Attorney into tools for political persecution.”
The NGO went on to recommend that investigations be opened into the hundreds of soldiers who gave testimony, by name, regarding human rights violations they said they committed while serving in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The justice minister does not really want to open this Pandora’s box which would expose the violence and injustice of the occupation,” the group said.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.