Benefit of the doubt

This sort of response will inevitably undermine IDF soldiers’ confidence in their next confrontation with anti-Israel activists.

IDF officer hitting activist with M-16 370 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
IDF officer hitting activist with M-16 370
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
If, in fact, Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner, the deputy commander of the IDF’s Jordan Valley Brigade, did strike a foreign pro-Palestinian activist with his rifle on Saturday unprovoked and not in self-defense, we condemn such action in the strongest terms.
Such conduct has no place in the IDF, an army that prides itself on its high moral standards.
However, the speed and zeal with which many jumped to indict Eisner raise some problematic questions, especially among Israel’s own leadership.
The footage of Eisner bashing the face of a Danish national in his early 20s with the side of his M-16 rifle appeared to show him using gratuitous violence.
But “evidence”– no matter how incriminating – provided by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) should have been treated with extreme suspicion. Dedicated commanders such as Eisner, who have served our country with distinction, should have been given the benefit of the doubt – at least until a thorough investigation is conducted.
Eisner, in particular, has in the past exhibited heroism during wartime and sensitivity toward the Palestinian population. During the Saluki battle in the Second Lebanon War, he led soldiers in battle and helped extract a tank crew under fire. About a year ago, he helped a Palestinian woman give birth after which the baby underwent life-saving procedures under his command.
The ISM, by contrast, has a history of high-intensity confrontations with IDF soldiers that have on occasion led to the death of its activists. One well-known example is the March 2003 case of Rachel Corrie who, according to an IDF investigation, was accidentally run over in Rafah, Gaza, by an IDF bulldozer uncovering an arms-smuggling tunnel.
ISM’s goal is to provoke IDF soldiers and capture on film the temporary lapse of a soldier such as Eisner – trained to fight wars on conventional and non-conventional battlefields – not to deal with crowd control and wage battles fought on YouTube and Twitter with trouble-making provocateurs from abroad and their ever-ready camera crews.
The ISM and other so-called “peace groups” choose to stage these provocations – often attended by European youths looking for action – in Israel, because they know that the risk of getting seriously hurt or killed is low.
Unlike most countries in the world, Israel’s security forces do everything humanly possible to use non-violent means to control unlawful demonstrations. In other places, ISM activists have been murdered. The case of Vittorio Arrigoni – abducted and executed by hanging in April 2011 by Salafists in the Gaza Strip – is one such example.
While the blow dealt by Eisner to the Danish activist as shown on the video clip broadcast on TV stations here and around the world was deplorable, its severity – which has more to do with international opinion and less to do with the well-being of the mildly injured activist – should not be blown out of proportion. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the video footage was tampered to make it appear that Eisner struck the Dane for no reason at all.
Unfortunately, our leaders were quick to jump to conclusions even before the IDF and police managed to get their hands on the original, unedited, video footage.
They seemed to think that we could gain points in the eyes of our enemies and critics – and the international media – by overreacting and pre-judging the case.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared: “Such behavior does not characterize IDF soldiers and officers, and has no place in the Israel Defense Forces and in the State of Israel.”
President Shimon Peres said he had been “shocked and disgusted” when he saw the videotape of Eisner striking the activist. And IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz called the incident “severe.”
The ease with which these leaders and others denounced Eisner conveys a mixed message to our soldiers.
Instead of providing them with the trust and backing they so desperately need when confronting radical activists bent on disrupting public order, our leaders issued hasty statements based on partial evidence. This sort of response will inevitably undermine IDF soldiers’ confidence in their next confrontation with anti-Israel activists.
The prime minister, the president and others who leveled criticism at Eisner should have refrained from commenting until the findings of a proper probe are released. It is the least that a man with Eisner’s merits deserves.