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April 23, 2012
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) once again finds itself in the spotlight. News and video of the beating of an unarmed Danish activist by the IDF’s Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner has elicited mixed reactions from different quarters, both in Israel and elsewhere. Many in Israel fret about the damage done to Tel Aviv’s image, while others are concerned with the future of Lt. Col. Eisner’s career. Others lament the violence itself, but the incident has done little to publicize the steady stream of violence occurring in the Occupied Territories, the latest of which saw a teenage shepherd shot in the chest by IDF soldiers conducting training exercises.
In Israel, the immediate reaction of most commentators was not to rush in judgment against Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner before all evidence was available. The Jerusalem Post’s editorial made just such an argument when it noted: “The speed and zeal with which many jumped to indict Eisner raise some problematic questions, especially among Israel’s own leadership....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....The ease with which these leaders and others denounced Eisner conveys a mixed message to our soldiers.”
Others, while supportive of Eisner, were unhappy with the harm his actions might have caused Israel’s image. For example, Yedioth Ahranoth’s Eitan Haber argues that while it “may be hard to advice Eisner to show restraint in the face of provocation,…this was precisely the desire of the protestors....Thousands of protests have already taken place in Israel and in the territories, and more are likely to come. As long as we have no information about something unusual, the right approach in my view is to ignore them....Someone in the government, in the IDF and in our other security agencies must think well about the right modus operandi so that leftist protestors won’t prompt IDF officers to act foolishly.”
Hagai Segal is even more frank about his wishes to see Eisner released, regretting only that the IDF officer was caught on camera: “To his regret, Lieutenant Colonel Eisner struck a blue-eyed Danish activist, a so-called peace activist and not a settler. He was also clumsy enough to be photographed in the act, as opposed to the abovementioned case of the second lieutenant, where the evidence was based on an audio tape only....we can expect the IDF chief of staff and the Central Command chief to correct the error of shunning Eisner and not to punish him gravely. In any case, they must keep him in the army.”
There are some in Israel, however, that see the news coming out of West Bank as symptomatic of what is happening to the Israeli society as a result of the continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories. Ziv Lenchner is one of those who think the episode “exemplifies Israel’s moral decline…. This is a moral nadir that a moral society cannot tolerate and certainly should not accept. It must not....There is no doubt that the images from the Jericho area will cause Israel PR damage, and rightfully so. Yet the fact this is the main issue that concerns Israel’s decent citizens is odd, not to mention twisted — not the fact that an IDF lieutenant colonel behaves like a Syrian thug in Homs, but rather, the fear that the world will see it on television and think bad things about us.”
For Haaretz’s Uri Misgav, the importance of the episode is that it “reminded Israelis of the West Bank….. With one blow, Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner drove a hole into the wall. When the separation fence was built, it was depicted as a physical barrier that would prevent terrorists from entering areas within the Green Line....But hidden from the eye at the time of the fence's construction was the tremendous negative effect it would have on Israeli consciousness. Since then it has become clear that the separation wall also makes it possible to be blind, to repress awareness and become indifferent.”
That image seems to have resonated beyond Israel. Reflecting on the implications of the confrontation between the IDF and the peaceful activists, Miftah’s Julie Holm reminds her readers that “Sometimes a camera is a better weapon than an M-16…. Finally on Saturday, Palestine was mentioned everywhere in the news in my country. It’s just too bad that it only happened because it was a Danish national who was exposed to the Israeli violence that Palestinians face every day....No matter what the excuses are, the Israeli soldiers are the ones holding the weapons and who will wield them at whim. But how can they even think of using physical violence towards someone who is unarmed?”
Lost sometimes in this debate, unfortunately, is the Palestinian population that continues to live everyday under the threat of constant violence. According to one recent report published on the Palestinian Al Qassam website, “During the reporting period, IOF wounded 8 Palestinians, including 6 civilians, one of whom is a journalist, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip....IOF conducted at least 52 military incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank, during which they arrested 32 Palestinian civilians, including 6 children....On 02 April 2012, IOF, accompanied by a bulldozer, moved into al-Ja’wana area in the east of Beit Fourik village, east of Nablus. Without warning, they immediately dismantled and confiscated 6 tents and two water tanks.”
The reality of the occupation is such that even when the IDF is not specifically aiming at the Palestinian population, the latter become collateral damage. In the most recent incident, Maan News reports: “Israeli soldiers shot an 18-year-old shepherd in the chest on Thursday evening during military training exercises in the northern West Bank, medics said....Medical officials said soldiers refused to help the wounded teenager and he was taken in a private car to hospital in Tubas. He was transferred to Rafadea Hospital in Nablus, where he is in a critical condition in intensive care....The local village council said Israeli military training in the area had caused several casualties because shepherds were not warned when or where the exercises would take place. The council urged human rights groups to pressure the Israeli army not to train near civilian populations.”
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