Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner, a senior officer in the Central Command, takes his rifle
butt and bashes it into the face of a young Danish pro-Palestinian protester on
a bicycle near Jericho. Instead of flatly condemning the officer, this paper,
among others, has tried to justify his actions both editorially and by
publishing op-ed pieces and letters in his defense.
There is nothing to
defend. Eisner is a disgrace to the uniform he wears; cannot be an example to
those under his command; should never be in charge of educating young recruits,
and should have been kicked out of the army so fast that his pension would have
been left behind.
I am not going to go through the issues oneby- one, but
if there is anything I hate it is the claim, or claims like, “But look at what
the Americans do in Afghanistan” or “remember what the Allies did in Bosnia?”
are not Americans and not NATO, we are not in Afghanistan or in the Balkans, we
are here, in Israel, in our sovereign country with its own mores and values.
Eisner dumped on those values, in public, on television, in front of the world.
He hit an unarmed demonstrator full in the face with every ounce of force he
could muster with the butt of a heavy rifle; the type of behavior one would
expect Idi Amin to be proud of, not the readers of The Jerusalem
There is another claim that makes the little hair I have stand on
end, that Eisner should be forgiven his actions because “he has devoted his life
to defending the country.”
Do me a favor. We have all served our
country. Some of us did it for three years, others for five and more.
Eisner decided to make the military his career, his chosen profession. In return
he gets a pretty good salary, excellent conditions, earlyretirement, and gets to
fly around in helicopters and give commands when he wants something done, as
opposed to the rest of humanity who generally have to ask. I guarantee he has
more office help than the mayor of a mid-size town, is chauffeured around and
enjoys a highly subsidized mortgage. He gets to play with guns, yell, shout and
bully, all the things he seems to love and, yes, by-the-by, is serving the
Wearing a uniform carries responsibilities. Having rank
adds to those responsibilities. At the level of lieutenant-colonel the lives of
people are in your hands, both soldiers and, in the occupied areas, civilians.
When his troops see him hit a protester full in the face, what signal is he
sending them in terms of how to deal with the situation: maturity; constraint;
sensitivity? No. Barbarism for the entire world to see, placing a shroud of
shame on both the Israel Defense Forces and Israel itself.
It was only
thanks to the quick and decisive action by the Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny
Gantz that the matter did not snowball into a massive attack on Israel in the
international media. Because he acted quickly, the headlines were mainly about
Eisner being suspended, and not his actions. Because of the swiftness of the
condemnation from the army itself, the IDF was able to defend its reputation for
fairness and distance itself from Eisner’s actions, not find ways of justifying
his behavior and then find itself having to explain itself to a skeptical
The truth is that Gantz probably did not spend more than two
seconds deciding what to do when he saw the clip on television. No commander
wants men like Eisner handling sensitive tasks for them, or anything for that
From the tone and content of the letters, editorials and articles
justifying Eisner, most seem to have come from Right-leaning readers.
Automatically they are for the IDF and against pro- Palestinian
One can only urge them to look beyond their basic
instincts, understand that what is involved here is not political, but moral,
and what is at stake is not the future of the territories, but the nature of the
Until the future of the territories east of the Green Line is
decided, either by agreement or unilaterally, they remain occupied by definition
and in reality. Because they are occupied the army, and not Israel’s civilian
authorities, is in charge, which makes Eisner a diplomat as well as a soldier.
He failed as both.
Eisner, by the way, may be a nice guy with a short
fuse. He may have been provoked and taunted and even had his finger twisted and
injured in the confrontation. But he cannot be an officer in the Israeli army.
Conflicts are all about tensions and taunts and call for nerves of steel and
judgment. What could possibly more dangerous than an armed soldier, especially a
senior officer, out of control I think the country is lucky the incident ended
where it did, and so is Eisner. He could be in jail on charges of
manslaughter had the butt of his rifle had hit the young man one inch or so from
where the blow landed.
Israel is also fortunate to have a chief of staff
who is obviously a gentleman and a credit to both the country and the army he
heads. He not only did the right thing in terms of the country’s international
reputation but, more important, he did the right thing by the IDF, and for that
he is to be both saluted and commended.