Corporal Shachar Berrin, an immigrant from Australia and a religiously observant lone soldier – he has no family in Israel – is waiting to be sent to military prison. Berrin is a member of the rescue unit of the Home Front Command, and is stationed in the Jordan Valley.
The punishment, delayed for the time being, was meted out by his battalion commander. The charge: taking part in a political meeting and in an interview the media, without permission from the army.
But Berrin did not take part in any sort of “political meeting,” nor did he give an interview. Last Thursday, the 19-year-old soldier was in the audience in the hall of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim conference center, in Jerusalem, for a taping of “The New Arab Debates” – a program of the German television network Deutsche Welle that’s broadcast around the world, moderated by former BBC interviewer Tim Sebastian.
The proposition debated by the panel appearing on the show was: “The occupation is destroying Israel.” The speakers consisted of the settler-activist Dani Dayan and a member of the left-wing Meretz party, Uri Zaki. Berrin, who was in uniform, stood up to address Dayan. The settlers and right-wing activists in the audience filmed him, and in less than 12 hours he was ordered to return to his base, where he was tried and convicted – even before the program was broadcast. (It aired this week.) Berrin makes his comment at minute 43 of the hour-long show.
This whole incident shows that when rapid, determined action is called for, the Israel Defense Forces knows how to act. When soldiers kill Palestinian children, the investigation is stretched out over years, gathering dust before usually going nowhere. When soldiers are filmed holding abusive slogans, or when they identify publicly with “David Hanahalawi” – the soldier from the Nahal Brigade who threatened a Palestinian youth with his rifle and roughed him up a year ago, prompting hundreds of soldiers to express solidarity with him on the social networks – no one considers putting them on trial. But if a soldier dares to attest publicly that his fellow soldiers are humiliating Palestinians, the IDF mobilizes rapidly to trample, punish and silence. That’s what happened to Shachar Berrin.
In the question-and-answer segment, after Dayan remarked that the fact that Israel is in 11th place in the World Happiness Report demonstrated that the occupation is not destroying it, Berrin asked for the floor and said (in English): “My name is Shachar Berrin and my question is for Dani Dayan. It was mentioned that Israel is the 11th happiest country in the world… I propose that what makes a country good isn’t whether it is happy or not, it’s the ethics and morality of the country. When soldiers are conditioned and persuaded on a daily basis to subjugate and humiliate people and consider other human beings as less than human, I think that seeps in, and I think that when the soldiers go home… they bring that back with them.”
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