Dear IDF commanders: Don’t let our soldiers become punching bags

Let’s either change the protocols or station another force - like the police - at sensitive points.

 A SOLDIER (face blurred) is confronted by hostile activists in Hebron. (photo credit: IM TIRTZU)
A SOLDIER (face blurred) is confronted by hostile activists in Hebron.
(photo credit: IM TIRTZU)

Anyone who has visited a checkpoint in Judea or Samaria, or has spent time in Hebron, has likely seen the phenomenon of activists and anarchists filming soldiers up close.

So up close that they are often inches away from the soldiers, all the while hurling abuse and accusations against them.

These provocations have exactly one goal: to produce a reaction, preferably violent.

The camera person’s effort is an exercise in cynical entrapment, with the hope that a soldier lashes out, breaks, or explodes in one way, shape or form in order to incriminate himself. And by extension, to incriminate the IDF; and by further extension, to incriminate the entire Zionist endeavor.

What is uploaded and shared with the world of course is only the soldier’s reaction, and never the events that provoked it. This of course is the whole point: gotcha!

 An Israeli soldier gestures during a scuffle between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in Hebron in the West Bank November 19, 2022. (credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS) An Israeli soldier gestures during a scuffle between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in Hebron in the West Bank November 19, 2022. (credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)

Soldiers are trained to confront enemies

This theater of the malignant and hateful is used by such groups as EAPPI, coming from Denmark, and such well-known provocateurs as Guy Hirschfeld and Arik Ascherman.

In response to this disgusting state of affairs, Im Tirtzu initiated a project called Filming the Filmers, in which our activists confront the harassers in action, with the goal of chasing them away from our soldiers.

It has been a very successful program, resulting in the outing of several anarchists and the EAPPI removing itself from Hebron for a protracted period.

But we cannot be everywhere all the time. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for IDF commanders to recognize and acknowledge the state of affairs and make sure that they are not unwittingly abetting such toxic actions by focusing solely on a soldier’s reaction and not on what led up to it.

Any time a soldier reacts physically to provocation, it is regrettable, it is not desirable. It might be excessive, but it is always understandable.

Soldiers are trained to confront adversaries and enemies, not to direct traffic or to be Beefeaters in front of Buckingham Palace. By definition, they are trained to recognize a hostile and threatening situation and react to it.

 A banner is seen as Israeli activists take part in a tour for a group called Breaking the Silence, in Hebron in the West Bank December 2, 2022. The banner reads: ''You will not succeed in hiding occupation.'' (credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA) A banner is seen as Israeli activists take part in a tour for a group called Breaking the Silence, in Hebron in the West Bank December 2, 2022. The banner reads: ''You will not succeed in hiding occupation.'' (credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)

The implication of IDF protocols is that soldiers must exhibit superhuman restraint in the face of verbal and sometimes physical abuse. It seems inconceivable that senior commanders do not realize that their soldiers are being provoked and set up for an all too understandable reaction.

Something is profoundly wrong with this picture and this state of affairs. Why should anyone, particularly people with hostile, incriminating intent be allowed to hover around soldiers, taunting them with abuse?

Prioritize the safety of our soldiers

AS A parent of soldiers, I would expect that the IDF would prioritize the safety and well-being of our soldiers over the unchecked ability of IDF haters to haul off on our forces.

The current state of affairs strikes me as moral preening, of taking purity of arms and the world’s most moral army into the realm of sanctimonious self-righteousness.

It must be recognized that at some point a harasser crosses a line into becoming a threat and an adversary. Why do we put our soldiers in a position where they have to make sophisticated split-second decisions as to the proper response to such abuse?

 Israeli troops detain a man during a Palestinian protest over the killing of Palestinian gunmen in an Israeli raid on Wednesday, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 29, 2022 (credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS) Israeli troops detain a man during a Palestinian protest over the killing of Palestinian gunmen in an Israeli raid on Wednesday, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 29, 2022 (credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)

These incidents are a terrible blow to soldier morale, and frankly, to the trust that we, the citizens of Israel, intuitively have in our army and its leaders. Our dismay is not directed at the soldier but at the system that is content with making him a punching bag and a potential sacrifice on the altar of moral purity.

So, let’s change the protocols and eliminate the source of the problem. Why not have a law that criminalizes the harassment of soldiers with cameras at close range? If someone is standing five meters away from a soldier and is shouting at him no one cares but if someone is standing a meter away or less away from a soldier that person can become a threat and an adversary.

So don’t allow it and make it an offense for which the camera-bearing provocateur can be arrested. Soldiers should be trained to in-effect read harassers their Miranda Rights, meaning that they would be warning provocateurs of the consequences of their actions.

Should the police be stationed at sensitive points?

If the army is unwilling to either change their protocol or to ask for legislation criminalizing video/verbal harassment, then perhaps a different force, say police or border police, and not soldiers should be stationed at these sensitive points.

Police are trained to keep public order, not to fight battles. On paper, they would seem to be more appropriate in this role than soldiers. For one thing, police are a less charged entity in the eyes of the filming harassers (though any Israeli authority is deemed odious). For another, this is more in line with their mission than it is for a soldier.

One way or another, something has to change. The current state of affairs is a self-inflicted wound and a gift to those who demonize and delegitimize Israel. Let’s use some common sense and change this for the better for all concerned.

The author is the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu, and a director of B’yadenu and the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at [email protected]