The Lt. Col Eisner Affair: What Did We Learn?

How should Israel react to morally reprehensible behavior on the part of its officials?

IDF officer hitting activist with M-16 370 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
IDF officer hitting activist with M-16 370
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Earlier this month Israel and the world was treated to filmed footage of a senior Israeli army commander pushing the butt of his rifle into the face of a Danish protester who was part of a cycling group of pro-Palestinian activists trying to enter an area deemed inappropriate by the Israel Defense Forces.
The video, of course, became instantaneously viral both inside and outside of Israel. There was an immediate denouncing of Lt. Col. Eisner by both President Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu followed by his removal from his command position by the Army’s Chief of Staff, Major General Benny Gantz.  Eisner was later chastised and told he would be demoted to 1st Lieutenant and prevented from having any command position for the next two years, at a minimum.  Given the way armies operate everywhere in the world, the military career of this highly decorated officer is probably over.
Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the actions taken by the authorities here in removing Eisner from his position, the fast action by the Chief of Staff certainly was a successful exercise of damage control on his part and limited the international fallout that generally occurs in these situations. But the real question remains:  What have we learned from this event?  Or have we learned nothing?
On December 8, 1987 Israel saw the beginning of the first organized, concentrated and fully orchestrated civil disobedience by the Palestinian population in Gaza as well as in Judea and Samaria.  This was 20 years and six months after the capture of these areas by Israel during the Six Day War of June 1967.  One did not have to be a genius to predict that once Israel had a maturing generation of Palestinians raised under Israeli control of these areas, we would see an uprising.
At the time you had 18, 19 and 20 year old's who were raised in refugee camps and who had never known what life in these areas was like before June 1967.  So while their parents and grandparents could, perhaps, internalize the fact that under Israeli control their overall lives were better than when the Jordanians, Egyptians and Syrians were in charge, the youth did not have the experience that would allow them to make such an evaluation.  In the eyes of those young men and women, Israel was an occupier, and not a benevolent one at that.  They surmised that the only way they could end the “occupation” was to engage in civil disobedience, which, more often than not, turned violent and led to the death of people on both sides of the issue.
And, of course, after this was the second intifada which began on September 28-29 2000 ostensibly after the visit of then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, but which everyone knows was a plan by the Palestinian leadership just waiting for the right moment to be implemented.  The Sharon visit was simply the match that lit the fire of combustibles that had been built up previously.   And even after the violence began to die down, there were and continue to be regular terrorist attacks, albeit less now that we have built a separation between our peoples that simply makes it more difficult to attack.
But it was not only from the Palestinian side that we should have seen all of these situations simply waiting to happen.  We should also have figured out that no people can rule indefinitely over another people in one land where each have historical claims to the land.  Let’s not get into the argument now about whose claims have more legitimacy, about whether or not one side recognizes the claims of the other or the host of other arguments that are, in fact, real obstacles to peace (as opposed to the settlement enterprise which has been fabricated by the Palestinians and the world community as such an obstacle).
We should have figured out that if we continue to maintain the status quo for 45 years, as we have, and cannot find a practical solution as to how best to share this land, that it is simply not possible for our people to not be morally corrupted by the process that we call “protecting our security” while the other side terms it “occupation.”  It has been obvious for years that eventually (and as time passes, more and more) members of Israeli society engaged in the security activities of the country will have their morality challenged and act in a manner that is both detrimental to themselves and to the country they represent….our country, Israel.
Lt. Col. Eisner is, most probably, a decent human being.  I have never met him, have no way of judging, but generally in the Israel Defense Forces, people who rise to commander level have passed through enough tests, met sufficient challenges and impressed enough others both of higher and lower rank, that one can assume they are both moral and responsible. But the system places these people in a position where, from time to time, individuals will cross the mental equivalent of the physical blood/brain barrier and do something that is morally reprehensible. Our mistake is not acknowledging that this fact is a clear and present danger to the long term viability of our country and our society.
If nothing else, perhaps this will be a wake-up call to the entire country that the “elephant in the room” if left unchecked, has the potential to undermine the entire Zionist enterprise.  Let’s hope for the sake of all of us that this does not happen.
The writer, a 28-year resident of Israel, is president of Atid-EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based economic development consultancy, chairman of the American State Offices Association in Israel, chairman of HADAR-Council for Civic Action and a past national president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.