Published: July 12, 1990
Israel’s Parliament decided today not to investigate charges that former Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered soldiers to break the bones of Arab militants at the beginning of the Palestinian uprising.
The house rejected a motion submitted by two Parliament members to set up a special commission to investigate whether Mr. Rabin had given soldiers orders to club, kick and hit arrested Palestinians as a form of punishment.
The proposal was prompted by testimony in recent courts-martial of several soldiers charged with beating Palestinians and breaking their bones. The soldiers have testified that they were simply following orders, and many Israelis have been saying they believe the men are being abandoned by the army’s top commanders.
Defense Minister Moshe Arens, Mr. Rabin’s successor, said he opposed the commission because he believed ”the political echelon has to account to the Knesset and the voters only during the elections.”
Mr. Rabin has steadfastly denied issuing ”an illegal order or one which went against the decision of the Government.” He did say, however, that soldiers were encouraged to subdue violent Palestinans with ”the use of clubs while trying as much as possible to avoid using live ammunition” at the beginning of the uprising.
The debate over Mr. Rabin’s role in the affair comes as the former defense minister is trying to wrest leadership of the Labor Party from his longtime rival, Shimon Peres.
A nationwide survey published in The Jerusalem Post today indicated that Mr. Rabin is more popular with Israelis than Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, Mr. Peres or any other senior politician.
‘Force, Might and Beatings’
There is no indication that the controversy over the beatings has harmed Mr. Rabin politically.
At the start of the uprising, Mr. Rabin attracted wide attention when he said that Israeli soldiers would use ”force, might and beatings” to quash the Palestinian revolt.
Mr. Rabin and senior military commanders have maintained that the beatings were allowed only while soldiers were trying to overpower and arrest Palestinians throwing rocks and firebombs. Once an arrest was made, they said, no further hitting or clubbing was permitted.
But his account has been contradicted by testimony at the trial of one officer, Col. Yehuda Meir, who is being court-martialed for reportedly ordering his troops to arrest Arabs and then break their arms and legs.
Soldiers testifying at Colonel Meir’s trial said Mr. Rabin and other senior commanders told them privately that beatings should be used to punish Arabs known to be troublemakers.
Lieut. Eldad Ben-Moshe, a company commander under Colonel Meir, testified in April that he was told by Colonel Meir to ”break the arms and legs” of Arabs ”because the detention camps are full.”
Early this month another officer, identified only as Lieut. Col. Zvi, testified that in January 1988, Mr. Rabin ”told me to lash into them forcefully and beat them,” without restricting the beatings in any way.
In Parliament today, Mr. Rabin said, ”To the best of my memory, I never once said anywhere that bones should be broken.”
In calling for the Parliamentary investigation, Yossi Sarid, a legislator from the left-wing Citizens’ Rights Movement, said, ”The testimony from dozens of soldiers has made one thing clear: The soldiers and officers in the field heard the Defense Minister and top-ranking officers instruct them to beat Palestinians in a policy of punishment and deterrence.”