The IDF on Monday condemned an officer filmed striking a pro-Palestinian activist, but stated that the incident should not be taken out of context to misrepresent the values of the Israeli army.
According to a video, posted on YouTube by the International
Solidarity Movement, Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner, deputy commander of the
Jordan Valley Brigade is seen taking his M-16 and slamming it in the
face of a blond-haired activist. The demonstrator, a Danish national, falls to the ground and is carried away by fellow activists.
The protester, named as Andreas Ias, was treated in a
Palestinian hospital for light injuries and told Israeli media
on Monday that he was well.
"We were just walking slowly towards the soldiers, we were chanting Palestinian songs calling for the liberation of Palestine. I don't believe that is a provocation," he told Israel's Channel 10 television.
Speaking to Israel Radio, IDF Spokesman Brig.- Gen. Yoav Mordechai said that "these are harsh pictures, but I still can't divorce the filmed episodes from the incident that lasted over an hour and which included violence by the anarchists and Palestinians." At one point there were over 200 demonstrators, he said, indicating that the video was being taken out of context.
Nevertheless, Mordechai called the event "grave" and said it could not be taken as a representation of the values of the IDF.
The IDF's OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon ordered the opening of an investigation into the incident. Upon receiving the preliminary results of the investigation Sunday night, Alon suspended Eisner until the completion of the probe.
In addition, the Military Advocate-General's office decided to open a criminal investigation into the incident, which IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Sunday evening was not representative of the IDF's ethics and morals and would be fully investigated and treated with the utmost gravity.
Yesha Council chairman Danny Dayan on Monday condemned what he termed an "overwhelming hysteria" in Israel over the incident. Speaking to Israel Radio, Dayan said that the officer who struck the activist should not have been judged by a 7-second video from an incident that lasted two hours. Moreover, the fact that the IDF had already condemned the officer just hours after the incident displays a loss of control on the part of the IDF and an irresponsible course of action taken by Israeli political leaders.
Dayan called the pro-Palestinian activist an enemy of Israel and implied that the Jewish state is more concerned with its image abroad than protecting its soldiers.
Dayan also condemned the Israeli political and military establishment for its "hysteria" over the incident, saying there was no reason for the prime minister, the defense minister, and other high-ranking political authorities to be involved.
Such violence by a senior officer is rare in the West Bank and soldiers serving in the West Bank are generally trained to show restraint during demonstrations or civil disturbances.
According to the Palestinians, the incident took place on Saturday during a cycling tour around the Jordan Valley by European, Israeli and Palestinian activists.
The Wafa news agency said that the IDF stopped the 250 participants along Road 90 near the West Bank village of al Ouja and refused to allow them to continue. When the cyclists refused, scuffles broke out. A number of the participants in the demonstration were injured and taken to hospital in Jericho. The IDF arrested a number of the activists.
Herb Keinon and Reuters contributed to this report.