Israeli Officer's Aggression Worsens 'Impossible Situation'

After the filming of a senior IDF officer striking a Danish activist, Ofer Shelah analyzes the military's response to this media event. Some condemn the soldiers, saying that occupation corrupts, and others condemn the activists. Here, Shelah questions the 45 years during which Israel hasn't been able to decide what to do with Judea and Samaria.

al-monitor Israeli army Lieutenant-Colonel Shalom Eisner (2nd L) uses his M-16 rifle to strike Danish pro-Palestinian protester Andreas Las during a protest near the West Bank city of Jericho, in this frame grab from a video taken April 14, 2012 by Nablus TV. Photo by REUTERS/Baker Abd el Haqq/Nablus TV/Handout.

Topics covered

israel, flotilla

Sep 13, 2013

The IDF's upper echelon first learned of the assault on the Danish peace activist by Shalom Eisner, the deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade, when the video clip showing the IDF officer striking the Danish protester with his M16 rifle was uploaded to the Internet Saturday, April 15, around 7:30 pm. Just a few hours later, at 11:00 pm, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Ganz said that the incident was "a very grave event, which is incompatible with the IDF's values." In the preceding hours, Division Commander Yehezkel Agai had held a debriefing and his conclusions were confirmed by the head of the IDF's central command, Nitzan Alon. The speedy reaction by the Israeli military demonstrates that the IDF is well aware of the incident's potential for damage, casting a dark shadow on the entire Israeli Army and raising suspicions that it is not an isolated case and that incidents like this are not the exception.

Damage evaluation in this particular case is especially difficult. Any reasonable Internet surfer watching the video clip must be wondering how many other such cases happen far from the media's eye, where there are no cameras to record the event, and how the IDF reacts to such events when not confronted with clear-cut, widely publicized evidence of utterly unjustified violence. A single case of this kind is enough to undermine the claim that the IDF is doing its best to uphold moral norms even in the highly complex situation in the Territories and that it invariably debriefs and investigates any deviation from protocol. One brigade deputy commander with an assault rifle in his hands can cause immeasurable — and in this case, probably irreparable — damage.

The truth is that nobody knows what really goes on there. Yet, whoever is familiar with the IDF commanders serving in the Judea and Samaria region knows that they are a bunch of decent, honorable officers who are trying as best they can not to cross the thin red line separating the acceptable from the unacceptable in an impossible situation that is bound to corrupt any army. At the same time, everyone acquainted with the theater of operation realizes that the span of control is too wide to be manageable — at every road block and in every local military activity, soldiers come into close contact with civilians, who play the game by rules of their own and who are allowed do to everything that the army officers cannot.

We do believe that the case of Shalom Eisner is not a common phenomenon representative of the army's conduct. We are confident that rather the opposite is true, that the vast majority of the IDF officers, as well as the rank and file, are doing everything they possibly can to maintain their humanity even in the most trying of situations they encounter during their service, in the West Bank or elsewhere. At the same time, it should be noted and then reiterated that, moral as the IDF may be, for the past 45 years it has been carrying out in the Territories a fundamentally anti-military mission that confronts its commanders daily with situations completely unlike those they may have imagined when enlisting in the army to defend their homeland. Whoever shuts his eyes to this reality, trusting "the most moral army in the world" to uphold its high moral standards no matter what, not only fails to see the truth but, above all, does the IDF officers and combatants a real disservice.

Eisner deserves to be punished and will pay the price for his action, as it cannot be justified by any measure. It will serve to drive the message home and highlight anew the practices that the IDF is attempting establish as a matter of routine. However, improvements in procedure cannot solve the malignant situation in which the military dominates the lives of civilians, limiting their freedom of movement and protest, imposing restrictions on their place of residence and controlling virtually every other aspect of their lives.

Still, there are those who will justify the violence. In their eyes, leftists, whether Israelis or foreigners, are all anti-Semitic enemies of Israel who deserve to be beaten. On the other side, there are those who will see in the officer's action proof of the callousness and cruelty of the military. Both sides are mistaken. And like the majority of the Israeli public, both sides in the raging public debate are disregarding the real problem: For the past 45 years, all Israeli governments have been incapable of deciding what to do with Judea and Samaria. As long as the Israeli government does not make up its mind, the IDF will necessarily be an army of occupation, controlling a disputed territory that the entire world is closely watching. And, trite as it may sound, the plain truth is that occupation is inevitably corrupting.

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