JERUSALEM – An Israeli lawmaker who survived the Nazi Holocaust expressed outrage Tuesday over Israeli troops writing identification numbers on the foreheads and forearms of Palestinian detainees awaiting interrogation during an army sweep of a West Bank refugee camp.
Yugoslav-born Tommy Lapid said he told army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer that the practice must cease immediately.
"As a refugee from the Holocaust I find such an act insufferable," Lapid said, adding that Mofaz and Ben-Eliezer also were displeased with the practice and that both had pledged action.
During World War II, concentration camp inmates, most of them Jews, had numbers tattooed on their forearms.
Mofaz later said in a radio interview that he had ordered an immediate halt to the numbering, which the army said was done to identify and keep track of prisoners last week in the Tulkarem refugee camp.
In a statement, Ben-Eliezer said he viewed the matter gravely and the issue would be investigated.
One photograph showed a detainee who had just been released with a large number written across his forearm. Other detainees said they had three-digit numbers written across their foreheads.
The army has said the marking, in ink that could be washed off, was a one-time occurrence and not military policy. Television footage of detainees in another West Bank camp on Monday showed no such markings.
Still, Col. Gal Hirsh, a regional commander in the West Bank, conceded the numbering of prisoners at Tulkarem was a mistake.
"I don't think that putting numbers on the [arms] of Palestinians that were arrested is a good idea," Hirsh said.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Monday equated the action with the treatment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps.
"Did you see them put [numbers] on people they've arrested in the Tulkarem refugee camp?" Arafat said on Abu Dhabi Television. "Isn't this the sort of thing they used to say the Nazis did against the Jews? So what do they say about these things? Isn't this a new Nazi racism?"
Hirsh said the incident had been blown out of proportion and he condemned the comparison between Jewish soldiers and Nazis. "This makes me sick," he said.
Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, acknowledged that numbering prisoners in such a way did not create an attractive media image.
"If the idea was to convey a message of deterrence, clearly it conflicts with the desire to convey a public relations message," he told Israel Army Radio.
Israeli military commentator Ron Ben-Ishai said commanders in the field often scribbled on their own arms, to note down such things as radio frequencies and call-signs, but acknowledged that to do so with Palestinian prisoners was insensitive.