IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz on Thursday strongly criticized the widespread support expressed by soldiers across social media for a soldier who faces investigation after cocking his weapon at a Palestinian teenager in the West Bank city of Hebron earlier this week.
Gantz stressed that Facebook was not the place for soldiers to voice their dismay over army related issues.
“It is important for us to remember and unequivocally tell our commanders that Facebook is not a tool for leadership,” Gantz said during a meeting with senior members of the General Staff.
“[Facebook] is here and that is a fact, but it does not replace nor even equal the discourse between officers and their soldiers.”
The chief of staff added that the IDF would conduct a thorough investigation of the Hebron incident and figure out how to prevent such scenarios from spiraling out of control in the future.
A large number of uniformed men and women have been posting photographs of themselves since Wednesday – their faces covered to avoid punitive measures – holding signs with the words “I am also with David of the Nahal Brigade.”
The meme emerged from a Facebook page of the same name, which was created early on Wednesday and by midday Thursday had garnered almost 100,000 likes — a number that was rising precipitously. The page explained that soldiers were sick of having their hands tied when dealing with Palestinian provocateurs in the West Bank.
On Wednesday, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett praised the soldier’s behavior and said that he had acted correctly.
“I would respond just like the Nahal fighter did,” Bennett wrote in a Facebook post.
“He did the right thing. He was alone, surrounded by a number of violent Arab provocateurs. He did not shoot; he took reasonable measures to defend himself and those around him and he brought the incident to an end.”
Bennett went on to accuse “left-wing” extremists of inciting against IDF soldiers.
“In the background there were at least two photographers and not by chance. The extreme leftists live to slander the IDF soldiers,” he wrote.
“It should be condemned across the political spectrum. If photographers would not have been there, the event would not have happened.”
Likud MK Moshe Feiglin also expressed support for the soldier, posting a picture of himself online holding a sign with the words “I am also with David of the Nahal Brigade.”
In a video posted on YouTube earlier this week, the soldier David was recorded in a confrontation in the city of Hebron with a Palestinian 15-year-old, who appears to be brandishing brass knuckles. At one point, the Palestinian made a sudden move toward the soldier, who, apparently feeling threatened, drew and cocked his rifle in response and pointed it at the youngster. After another youth joined the scene from behind David, the soldier shoved him away. The two Palestinians appeared to decide to leave, and as they walked away David kicked them and yelled curses and threats at them.
The soldier’s commanders backed his action in drawing his weapon, but said that the curses and threats captured in the video were unbecoming of an IDF soldier.
The IDF said reports that the soldier had been sent to prison because of the incident were false, and that his imprisonment stemmed from violent acts against his officers.
Prior to the release of the video, the soldier had been sentenced by a battalion commander to 20 days in prison stemming from two prior violent incidents.
The soldier denied the connection between the documented incident and his imprisonment in a Facebook post on his personal page.
While officials said that the soldier could face dismissal after he finishes his prison sentence, they stressed that IDF soldiers have the right to draw their weapons in situations where they feel threatened, and that pictures from the incident clearly showed the Palestinian boy had brass knuckles in his hand.
Spencer Ho and Itamar Sharon contributed to this report.