The Military Police began its investigation Monday against Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner, the IDF officer caught on videotape slamming his M16 into the face of a Danish activist over the weekend.
Eisner has been suspended from his post as deputy-commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade.
By Monday his actions had drawn condemnation from throughout the IDF and across the political spectrum.
President Shimon Peres said that like other Israelis, he was shocked and disgusted when he saw the videotape, but made the point that this was an isolated incident and not the policy of the IDF.
He described it as an act deserving of the most severe censure and concurred with the IDF’s decision to conduct an investigation, adding that such behavior should be rooted out wherever it exists.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned Eisner’s actions within hours of the video’s broadcast on Sunday night.
While Eisner told The Jerusalem Post he could not comment on Saturday’s incident, according to close associates he has been defending his actions. The associates said he was attacked by a number of activists with sticks and that several of his fingers were broken. He apparently thought that the blond-haired Danish activist was one of those who attacked him.
The activist, Andreas Ias, denied engaging in any violent activity and told Channel 10 on Monday that the hit to his face had taken him completely by surprise. According to the video, posted on YouTube by the International Solidarity Movement, Eisner is seen taking his M16 and slamming it into Ias’s face.
Ias is shown falling to the ground and being carried away by fellow activists.
“As I remember I was looking slightly to the other direction, so I was rather surprised,” Ias said. “I think anyone would be surprised if they were beaten during a bike ride.”
Another activist, Alex, a Swedish member of the ISM, was also at the scene and told the Post the incident happened at the start of a 20-kilometer bicycle ride by some 200 Palestinians and 20 international supporters.
They had meant to travel down Route 90 in the Jordan Valley but the IDF blocked their path.
“We asked the soldiers what the problem was; they said the road was closed to bicycles,” he said.
Instead of leaving the scene, the cyclists remained and tried to reason with the soldiers. Initially everything was very calm, said Alex.
One lane of a side road onto Route 90 was open and the other was blocked by an IDF vehicle. The cyclists formed up behind the vehicle. After a while they began chanting, he said. He denied media reports that they had stopped traffic on the main route.
“We were stopped before Route 90,” he emphasized.
After about half-an-hour, he said, the cyclists decided to push past the IDF, and that is when the violence began.
He said that aside from Ias being hit in the face, soldiers also hit a Dutch woman in the face. He said that he, too, had been beaten and thrown to the ground, and was then kicked before being handcuffed and removed from the scene.
Alex was later released. He added that the military police had been in touch with him as part of their investigation into the incident.
Officers who know Eisner said they were not surprised by the incident.
“He has a high level of motivation but it was not surprising to discover that he was involved in something like this,” said one officer who has been serving in the IDF for nearly 20 years.
Military sources have confirmed that Eisner had been questioned in the past by the Military Police over a similar complaint in which a left-wing activist claimed to have been beaten by the officer.
Based on preliminary findings from the army investigation of the latest incident, the commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade, who was on leave for the Passover holiday, had ordered units in the area to call in police forces to assist in dispersing demonstrators who block traffic on Road 90, a main artery connecting northern and southern Israel. Eisner may have decided to try to clear the road on his own with just a dozen or so soldiers.
“When units are not prepared violence tends to break out,” an officer explained.
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai denounced Eisner’s conduct and said it did not represent IDF values.
“There are various elements like anarchists and others who verbally attack and curse our soldiers in order to create a show for the media, but we have a responsibility to safeguard the IDF’s values and not be drawn in by provocations,” Mordechai said.
Meanwhile, the Legal Forum for Israel castigated Peres and Netanyahu for racing to attack Eisner.
“Relying on sections of video chosen by anarchists rewards rioters and sticks knives in the backs of IDF fighters who need to deal with these criminals and neo-Nazis,” the group said, adding that the problem was not Eisner’s response but the failure of legal authorities who allow the rioters to “run wild.”
In contrast, the Judea and Samaria Human Rights Committee criticized IDF and Border Police violence.
Although it attacked both the authenticity of the video as well as politicians and the media for racing to the defense of the protesters, it also issued a three-minute video going back seven years showing IDF and Border Police violence against settlers at demonstrations.
It also charged that when it comes to violence by security forces against settlers, the media and politicians keep silent.
“For every video clip of a violent [IDF] officer against Danish anarchists, I can show you 10 video clips of police who are no less violent [against settlers],” said committee head Orit Struck.