Israeli media cites top Israeli Army official’s crimes against Palestinians to discount women’s claims of sexual violence.
Allegations that Brigadier General of the Israeli forces Ofek Buchris raped, sexual assaulted and molested two female soldiers under his command dominated Israeli newspapers and talk shows this weekend.
News spread that Deputy Chief of Staff Major Genegral Yair Golan suspended Buchris from the army for two weeks on suspicions of five counts of rape, as well as sodomy, sexual assault, indecent acts and abuse of authority. The charges emerged from two women’s accounts, which suggest he committed these crimes against them four years ago when they were serving under his command as Israeli soldiers. Buchris’ service status will be reviewed after the two-week suspension.
Prior to his suspension, Buchris was to become the head of the Israeli Army Operations Directorate. So far, Buchris' appointment as head of the Operations Directorate has not been revoked.
Buchris, 47 years old, completed his post as commander of the Command and Staff College. Previously, he also served as a commander in the Northern Command and the Golani Brigade.
At the beginning of 2001, Buchris was appointed as the commander of Battalion 51 in the Golani Brigade. Soon after, he led Israel’s mission to reoccupy the West Bank in Operation “Defensive Shield.” Over the course of the operation, Israeli forces killed nearly 500 Palestinians.
During the reoccupation, Lieutenant-Colonel Buchris was sent to Jenin Refugee Camp, where he shelled Palestinian homes with antitank fire and ordered the extensive use of bulldozers to secure Israeli forces’ advance into the Palestinian city. By the end of the attack, Israeli forces killed 54 Palestinians.
Later, in Nablus, Buchris was severely wounded while, again, orchestrating the lethal combination of Israeli foot soldiers and bulldozers to infiltrate a Palestinian home.
His brutal tactic was later used by the army in the Gaza Strip: a bulldozer would ram the corner of a house and create a hole so that Israeli soldiers standing by on an armored troop carrier could invade.
Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz awarded Buchris for his role in the Battles of Jenin and Nablus in Operation “Defensive Shield.”
A second officer who worked under Buchris was also quoted asserting, "we are talking about a moral man, really dedicated to his service, and there is no chance that he harmed someone.”
However, the story of Buchris is not about just another decorated, licentious, high-ranking Israeli officer whose hands are also bloodied with the crimes of the Israeli occupation. Buchris is a venerated hero in the nationalist religious community.
In the last ten years, since the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, some national religious rabbinic schools have supported students reach high-ranking positions in the Israeli Army, in hopes of developing a community with enough political power to prevent any further retreat by Israel from territories occupied during the 1967 Middle East conflict. Buchris, as an awarded officer who was already in the army, became an inspirational symbol to the group. Many believe he was on the way to become the first religious Chief of Staff.
Yediot Aharonot columnist, Alex Fishman, explains “if Buchris will be found guilty it will be a spit in the face of the army and the way it chooses it's troops and presents itself as a role model.”
“For the IDF” Fishman added, “Ofek Buchris is a statement: this is the way we want the army to look like.”
Israel Hayom, a newspaper established by the Edelson family to defend the interests of Prime Minister Netanyahu, highlighted initiatives dedicated to proving Buchris’ innocence. The newspaper explained a Facebook page called “Supporting Brig.-Gen. Ofek Buchris” gained 300 followers since its launch on Thursday, while an additional 5,000 people signed an Internet petition that claims the officer is the target of a cruel scheme to thwart his career in the Israeli Army. “We don’t purport to know the truth, but we are livid at the fact that even before a thorough investigation or proper legal proceeding took place, his blood is being spilled,” the petition was reported to state.
Israeli broadcast press spent most of its airtime shaming the two women who identified Buchris as guilty of violent sexual crimes. Israeli news hosts conveyed contempt at the women for daring to complain against a national hero and framed their claims as not credible.
However, Buchris’ sexual violence is not the first stain on national religious politics: in November 2015, Jewish Home MK Yinon Magal announced his resignation from the Knesset following allegations of sexual harassment made by a former co-worker. So far, neither of these cases have had any noticeable impact on the politics of the national religious community.