Far-right Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir slammed the IDF on Tuesday for sentencing a soldier to 10 days in military prison for taunting activists in the West Bank city of Hebron — and demanded to visit him behind bars.
Members of prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party also criticized the jailing of the soldier, who last week confronted an activist and boasted that there will be a new sheriff in town when Ben Gvir becomes national security minister.
“Ben Gvir is going to sort things out in this place,” the soldier said in a video of the exchange. “That’s it, you guys have lost… the fun is over.”
In a letter sent to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, published by Channel 12 news, Ben Gvir wrote that there was nothing unacceptable about the soldier’s behavior and asked to visit him in the military prison on Wednesday.
There was no immediate response from Gantz.
Separately, Ben Gvir pushed back against criticism of Lt. Col. Aviran Alfasi, commander of the Givati infantry brigade’s Tzabar battalion, for sentencing the soldier to prison.
Alfasi has faced invective and threats, including on his cellphone, since meting out the punishment earlier in the day, the Haaretz daily reported.
Both IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs — who as Central Command chief is in charge of Israeli forces in the West Bank — have expressed backing for Alfasi, according to Hebrew media reports.
הרמטכ"ל כוכבי שוחח עם מפקד גדוד צבר של חטיבת גבעתי, סא"ל אבירן אלפסי, שהטיל את העונש על הלוחם מהתקרית בחברון. בשיחה הוא גיבה את החלטתו וחיזק אותו מול המתקפות שהוא סופג ברשתות החברתיות@Doron_Kadosh pic.twitter.com/KycBLtf2VM
— גלצ (@GLZRadio) November 29, 2022
“Criticize Benny Gantz, not the battalion commander,” Ben Gvir wrote on Twitter. The far-right MK also met with the soldier’s family, although he later walked back some of his criticism of the IDF.
Likud lawmakers joined Ben Gvir in railing at the jail sentence.
“Even if he made a mistake, jail is not [a] proportionate [punishment], it’s a humiliation. This smells like a ‘political order’ from above,” Likud MK Miri Regev tweeted.
Likud MK Shlomo Karhi hailed the soldier as a “hero” who he claimed “fell victim to an anarchist campaign.”
Meanwhile, the jailed soldier sent a letter to Fuchs and Givati commander Eliad Maor apologizing and asking that his sentence be dismissed or lessened.
“I said a few words without any intention of humiliating the IDF or committing an offense and I now find myself going to jail,” the soldier wrote. “I was under a lot of pressure during the incident and I only request consideration of everything going on there.”
“I ask for forgiveness. I understand my mistake,” he added.
In a related incident last week, a fellow member of the soldier’s team was seen tackling an activist to the ground and punching him in the face. The second soldier was not immediately punished, aside from being immediately suspended following the assault.
Givati troops have been embroiled in several other recent behavioral incidents in Hebron that have led to suspensions.
A senior military commander on Monday warned Israeli troops they would face repercussions for immoral actions, following the Hebron incidents, and after three soldiers were arrested Monday on suspicion of hurling an explosive device at a Palestinian home.
The three soldiers involved were all from the Druze community, raising suspicions that the incident was related to the case of Druze teenager Tiran Fero, whose body was seized by Palestinian gunmen from a West Bank hospital after a car crash last week.
The West Bank has been on edge over the past year, with the IDF launching a major anti-terror offensive mostly focused on the northern West Bank to deal with a series of Palestinian attacks that have left 31 people in Israel and the West Bank dead since the start of the year. Hebron is in the southern part of the territory.
The operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids, but has also left around 150 Palestinians dead, many of them — but not all — while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces.
At the same time, there has been a steep rise in settler attacks against Palestinians and security forces.