A Palestinian man whom the spokesman for the controversial Breaking the Silence group said he assaulted in March 2014 in Hebron confirmed Tuesday that he was beaten by a group of Israeli soldiers, but couldn’t say whether the spokesman was one of those responsible.
Hadashot television news, formerly Channel 2, said it located the man allegedly beaten by Dean Issacharoff when he served as an IDF soldier in the city.
Issacharoff’s confession at a Breaking the Silence rally in April that he had beaten a Palestinian “in the face and chest until he was bleeding and dazed” during an arrest in the Palestinian city stirred controversy and prompted a criminal investigation into the case.
Last week, the prosecution announced it was closing the case, saying Issacharoff’s alleged Palestinian victim, whom it identified as Hassan Julani, denied that he had ever been beaten. While Julani confirmed that he was indeed arrested in February 2014, as Issacharoff had told police, the Palestinian insisted that no violence was employed in order to apprehend him.
But on Monday, Breaking the Silence said Julani was not the Palestinian involved in the 2014 incident that Issacharoff had spoken out about, and published a photo and video of another Palestinian man.
Hadashot identified the man as Faisal el-Natche, a Hebron resident. A day later, Natche was tracked down by the TV channel and interviewed for the network’s Tuesday night broadcast.
“There was rock throwing,” Natche recalled in the interview, saying he was simply watching from the sidelines. “Soldiers came, they shouted, ‘Stop, stop.’ They hit me, with their hands and legs. There were ten soldiers. They attacked me and those who were with me.”
Asked if Issacharoff was among the soldiers who beat him in the 2014 incident, and shown stills from the footage featuring Issacharoff, Natche replied that he didn’t know, and that anyway, many of the soldiers had their faces covered.
“I didn’t see who was hitting me. If I saw him [today], I wouldn’t recognize him,” he said.
Natche said that hadn’t been questioned by police in recent weeks, apparently confirming that he was not part of the investigation into Issacharoff’s claims.
According to Hadashot news, the state prosecution said it was not familiar with the incident and said it did not fit with the description of the events as supplied by Issacharoff during questioning.
Breaking the Silence accused prosecutors of prejudging the outcome of the investigation.
“The conduct of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and deputy state prosecutor Nurit Littman proved that, in breach of all professional standards, they formulated an opinion that proved today to be false, and that there is a real suspicion that they allowed political considerations to permeate the law-making process,” said the group’s attorney, Michael Sfard. “This, at the expense of a 25-year-old combat officer. Nitzan and Litman must recuse themselves from this case and apologize personally to Dean and to Breaking the Silence.”
Hadashot news was able to identify Natche after the B’Tselem rights group uncovered from its archives footage of his March 2014 arrest. The video showed a man, apparently Natche, being led in handcuffs by Issacharoff, his face bruised. The alleged beating was not captured by B’Tselem, which gives cameras to Palestinian activists in Hebron to record the actions of IDF soldiers.
According to the Palestinian B’Tselem photographer, the soldiers beat the Palestinians before he started filming.
“I saw them hit them but the incident happened fast,” the photographer told Channel 10 news on Tuesday. “Only after the beating did I start filming.”
“B’Tselem has full confidence and deep appreciation for our colleagues in Breaking the Silence — and no confidence whatsoever in the cover-up being conducted by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan,” the organization said in a statement on Tuesday.
The B’Tselem clip also showed Ruben Silverstone, Issacharoff’s assistant. Silverstone had released a video Friday corroborating Issacharoff’s account of the arrest.
Another soldier seen in the video, Ori Brachia, said Issacharoff was lying when he said he had beaten Natche.
“I just saw myself in this clip,” he said on Monday. “Everything he’s saying is nonsense. Nothing of the sort happened. It’s all one big lie.”
In separate statements broadcast on Tuesday, two other soldiers who served with Issacharoff at the time, and who were visible in the B’Tselem clip also said that Issacharoff had made up the story.
Breaking the Silence, which publishes the testimonies of former Israeli soldiers who report on alleged human rights abuses by the IDF in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, has raised the ire of Israeli officials and drawn criticism from those who challenge the authenticity of its mostly anonymous claims.
The initial probe was launched after Issacharoff told a Breaking the Silence rally in April that in 2014, during his army service in the West Bank, his commander ordered him to handcuff a man who had thrown rocks at Israeli soldiers as part of a protest and was passively resisting arrest.
Issacharoff said that in front of his platoon, with other soldiers observing, he “began to knee him in the face and chest until he was bleeding and dazed,” and then dragged the Palestinian to detention.
The decision to open the probe in April was also derided at the time as politically motivated.
On Monday, deputy state prosecutor Litman announced that her office would not be reopening the probe, despite repeated requests from Breaking the Silence and a host of other left-wing NGOs. In a letter explaining the decision, Litman labeled as “baseless” Issacharoff’s allegation that the investigation had been politically motivated.
Responding to Issacharoff’s criticism of authorities for failing to interview Silverstone, Litman wrote that it was due to the NGO spokesman himself refusing to supply the names of comrades who may have witnessed the incident.