The highly charged debate over Thursday’s incident in Hebron in which a Kfir Brigade soldier was caught on film shooting an already neutralized Palestinian terrorist spilled into the cabinet on Sunday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling Education Minister Naftali Bennett not to preach to him about how to support soldiers.
“I gave support to soldiers, and I led soldiers into battle more than you,” said Netanyahu, who served in the same elite unit as Bennett, the General Reconnaissance Unit, Sayeret Matkal.
On Saturday night, Netanyahu wrote a Facebook post saying: “The IDF is a moral army that does not execute people. IDF soldiers have absorbed with their bodies the terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens and deserve support.” He said he trusted that the IDF would conduct a thorough and fair investigation “as it always does.”
“Why was it necessary to jump so fast against the soldier Thursday when the commanding officer’s probe took until Friday? What is the message to thousands of soldiers when they see that their comrade was handcuffed? Have we gotten confused between the good guys and the bad guys?” Bennett asked.
The education minister accused some politicians of not giving the soldiers the necessary support, and asked if Israel’s leadership was dancing to the flute of B’Tselem, known in English as the Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. The organization videotaped the Hebron shooting incident.
Netanyahu and Bennett’s comments come in the midst of a public debate over the issue that has led some to call the soldier a “murderer” and others to say the IDF’s top brass and the country’s political leaders have abandoned a soldier acting under extremely difficult conditions.
When Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan asked whom Bennett was referring to when he said that politicians were not providing sufficient support to the soldiers, Bennett replied: “You know very well.”
Hours after the incident on Thursday, Netanyahu issued a statement saying the occurrence did not “represent the values of the IDF,” and that the IDF “expects its soldiers to behave with composure and in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
After Netanyahu said in the cabinet that he knows very well the meaning of backing up the soldiers, Bennett retorted that this is done through “actions, not words.”
Erdan and Interior Minister Arye Deri called on Bennett not to use the Hebron incident for political gain, with Deri noting that the Palestinians are waging a campaign to depict IDF soldiers as murderers.
“We must back the IDF and its independent investigation,” Deri said. “I may be seen as a leftist who does not back the soldiers, and you, Bennett, appear as someone who fights for them. But that is a lie. We all support the soldiers, and it is forbidden to turn what happened in Hebron into a political issue.”
At the outset of the meeting, Netanyahu characterized as “unacceptable and infuriating” attempts to call into question the IDF’s morality following the incident.
“The IDF soldiers, our children, are preserving moral norms while they are fighting courageously against blood-thirsty murderers in very difficult conditions,” Netanyahu said at the start of the cabinet meeting.
“I am sure that in all cases, and in the current incident, the investigation will take all of this and other conditions into account. We must all support the chief of general staff, the IDF and the soldiers who are protecting us,” he said.
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) told reporters before the cabinet meeting that he was sure the IDF would carry out a full, serious and proper investigation of the incident, which he said on the face of it looks “very grave.”
“The IDF is a strong and moral army that does not kill prisoners, not in battle, nor in the struggle against terrorism,” he said.
Science and Technology Minister Ophir Akunis, also from the Likud, said it was unfortunate that commentators, journalists, public figures and some politicians have already tried and convicted the soldier.
“This is not acceptable to me,” he said. “There are no summary courts martial. There is a court, and that is where things need to be clarified. In any event, dead terrorists are preferable to dead soldiers.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who attended the funeral of IDF Brig.-Gen. Munir Amar and was not at the cabinet meeting, blasted unnamed ministers and MKs for what he called the “irresponsible and unprecedented incitement campaign against the IDF, the chief of staff and senior officers.”
Ya’alon was taking to task those who criticized the IDF top brass for publicly coming out strongly against the actions of the soldier.
“The criticism of the army is being made to gain political points, even at the cost of damage to the IDF,” Ya’alon charged in a Facebook post.
Ya’alon, coming to the support of Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, said Eisenkot is leading a determined and uncompromising fight against terrorism.
“When we need to investigate, we do so, and all the cynical political involvement in an operational inquiry or investigation of rules of engagement is destructive to the IDF and harms – first and foremost – the soldiers and commanders,” he wrote.