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Army removes officer after attack on journalists

‘A,’ who led Givati troops and smashed AFP photographers’ equipment, criticized by IDF commanders

A still image taken from footage shot in the West Bank on September 25, 2015, shows an IDF soldier hurling a camera belonging to AFP reporters to the ground. (screen capture: YouTube)
A still image taken from footage shot in the West Bank on September 25, 2015, shows an IDF soldier hurling a camera belonging to AFP reporters to the ground. (screen capture: YouTube)

The IDF on Thursday removed from his post an officer who was in charge during an incident last Friday in which soldiers were filmed destroying cameras belonging to two AFP journalists near Nablus in the West Bank.

“Italian videographer Andrea Bernardi and Palestinian photographer Abbas Momani were covering clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in Beit Furik near Nablus after a funeral when they were assaulted,” AFP said in a news report recalling the incident.

“Soldiers threatened them with their weapons while also hitting and shoving them. Bernardi was thrown to the ground and held there with a knee against his chest and a gun pointed at his face until he managed to show his press card,” the French news agency said.

“The soldiers also smashed a video camera and a stills camera, and took away another stills camera and a mobile phone,” AFP said.

The officer, identified only as “A” in keeping with army regulations, served as a deputy company commander in the Givati infantry brigade until his removal. A’s behavior faced withering criticism in hearings held by commanders from the battalion to the command level.

“This was a serious incident from an ethical and command perspective that will be investigated and its lessons learned,” the IDF said in a statement.

Battalion commanders in the field conducted a preliminary investigation into the September 25 incident, after which A was summoned to a hearing this week before Givati Brigade commander Col. Yaron Finkelman, who recommended that the officer be removed from his post.

A faced a hearing Thursday before Southern Command Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Udi Ben Mouha, who ordered him removed from his command position in the brigade.

A’s continued service in the IDF will be decided by personnel officials in the Ground Forces Command, the IDF said. “The force commander behaved in a way that is not consistent with what is expected of an IDF commander,” it said.

A’s attorney in the proceedings, Eidan Pesach, accused A’s commanders of “sacrificing [him] on the altar of political and diplomatic interests.

“We will fight to prove his innocence. The IDF does not understand that a decision like this will lead — and is already leading — to many soldiers refusing to take initiative in the heat of battle out of fear that something like this will happen to them,” Pesach said.

A handful of soldiers from A’s battalion have reportedly notified their commanders they would refuse to take part in their next assignment out of fear that the army would not stand by them if they faced accusations of wrongdoing in the future.

A Facebook page was established Thursday titled “We are all with Lt. A,” drawing almost 1,000 “likes” by the time of publication.

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