The army on Wednesday said it was probing the allegations raised by "Breaking the Silence: Soldiers Tell About Hebron" - a display of photographs and videotaped accounts collected by the four former conscripts in the flashpoint city.

   

But exhibition organisers accused authorities of hushing up criticism of Israel's action to suppress a 3-1/2-year-old Palestinian uprising.

   

"I think there is an attempt here to prevent other soldiers from breaking the silence," said Giora Salmi, director of the Tel Aviv gallery staging the exhibition.

   

One picture from Hebron, where troops guard 500 hardline settlers who live ensconced among 150,000 Palestinians, shows soldiers lounging near a blindfolded detainee.

 

Hate graffiti

   

In another, a Palestinian is caught in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle. Several photographs are of anti-Arab graffiti scrawled by settlers on Hebron homes.

   

The confessions also contain serious allegations.

 

Israel's military is under fire for
mistreatment of Palestinians

In one video, a soldier whose face and voice are obscured recalls a comrade firing teargas into Palestinian crowds in Hebron, unprovoked. "He got a big kick out of it," the soldier says.

   

Salmi said the four organisers were being interrogated by military police, who confiscated one of the exhibit's videotapes on Tuesday.

  

A military spokeswoman said they had been called in to testify in a criminal investigation of the allegations.

 

Moral issues

   

"The Israel Defence Force (IDF) sees in the exhibit a need for continued concern with moral issues," she said.

   

 

"There were a lot of people there - the next generation of IDF commanders - who weren't open at all to questions of ethics"

Yehuda Shaul,
ex-officer in Israel Defence Force

One of the organisers, Yehuda Shaul, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that his superiors in Hebron showed little interest in keeping soldiers to the army's code of conduct.

   

"There were a lot of people there, the next generation of IDF commanders, who weren't open at all to questions of ethics. For them, the slogan 'war is war' was a satisfying answer to everything," said Shaul, a former non-commissioned officer.

   

Palestinians and human rights groups have frequently accused the Israeli army of using excessive force and overlooking abuses by troops and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

  

Israeli officials contend security forces have been strained by Palestinian human bombings and that infractions are rare.