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Israeli Soldier's Facebook Photos Spark Controversy

A handout picture from Israeli human rights organization Breaking the Silence, 18 Aug 2010, shows an undated photograph of an Israeli soldier posing near a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian detainee at an undisclosed location

A former Israeli soldier is defending herself against charges of insensitivity after posting pictures of her posing with handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian detainees on the popular social networking site Facebook. Eden Abergil, who has completed her service and is out of the army, says she did nothing wrong and did not intend to offend anyone.

The photos were posted on Abergil's page under the heading the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces): the best years of my life. In one photo Abergil is shown sitting next to a bound and blindfolded man who is leaning against a cement wall. In another photo, she is smiling while sitting in front of three bound and blindfolded men.

The photos were taken in Gaza in 2008 and Abergil said in an interview that they were thoughtless and innocent. She told Israel radio that she did not humiliate the detainees. The former IDF soldier said the photos are in no way similar to photos taken at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, where U.S. soldiers were shown with Iraqi prisoners in humiliating poses.

The Israeli Army has condemned Abergil for posting the photos. Barak Raz, an IDF spokesman, says, "The IDF strongly condemns these disgraceful photos, they in no way reflect the spirit of the IDF, our ethical standard to which we all aspire."

Raz said those standards guide members of the IDF from the time they are drafted in basic training, "they're posted on every single office wall, these are our guidelines, that is IDF policy, the spirit of the IDF and not these shameful photos that were posted by a released soldier who if she were on active duty I would imagine that she would be court-martialed right away."

A pro-Palestinian Israeli group called Breaking the Silence says the photos reflect a norm throughout the army that is a result of military rule over a civilian population over a long time.

On its Internet site, Breaking the Silence says it collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the West Bank and discusses cases of abuse of Palestinians. The organization posts video testimonials from former soldiers and photographs taken during the conflict.

Ishai Menuchin is the Executive Director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. He told Reuters News Agency that the situation is a symptom of a larger problem, "The problem is that they condemn her [Eden Abergil], but they need to work and educate these soldiers that Palestinians are civilians with human rights and they should treat them as human beings, not as a background for a pose."

Palestinian groups said the images are "humiliating," and "show the mentality of the occupier."

A Facebook spokesman replied to our question by e-mail saying that the website takes its Statement of Responsibilities seriously and would react quickly to remove content that violates that statement. In its bylaws, the social media website says users agree they will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else's rights or otherwise violates the law.

Facebook also has users agree not to post content that is hateful, threatening or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.

Whether those rules apply in this case is a matter of debate. Eden Abergil has since removed the photos from her Facebook page, but the photos can be viewed on the Internet on various news websites and blogs.