IDF nominally censures officer who used excess force on protesters, Palestinian

Investigation finds that Maj. Maor Moshe was unjustified in shoving Israeli activist to the ground, and also used unnecessary violence against a Palestinian even after being warned

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli activist Eli Ziv, from the Combatants for Peace movement, lies injured on the floor after he was pushed by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration in the southern area of the West Bank town of Hebron, on September 17, 2021. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
Israeli activist Eli Ziv, from the Combatants for Peace movement, lies injured on the floor after he was pushed by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration in the southern area of the West Bank town of Hebron, on September 17, 2021. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

The Israel Defense Force announced on Sunday that it would nominally censure an officer who was found to have repeatedly used excessive force against Israeli activists and a Palestinian in the South Hebron Hills.

The military said the officer — Maj. Maor Moshe, a deputy battalion commander from the Combat Engineering Corps — would not be eligible for promotion for the next three years and during that time would also not be permitted to attend a Command and Staff Course, a military program intended to prepare officers for more advanced positions.

However, as Moshe was only recently promoted to his current rank, he is unlikely to receive a promotion within the next three years anyway, making the practical significance of the punishment negligible.

At a September 17 protest in the southern West Bank’s Hebron Hills, Moshe was caught on film hurling 65-year-old left-wing demonstrator Eli Ziv to the ground, leading to the activist’s hospitalization, as well as treating other activists violently including during the course of their arrest.

Though the IDF said the activists had used violence against the military — which the protesters have firmly and repeatedly denied, bolstered by a lack of evidence despite there being multiple cameras at the demonstration — the military’s probe found that Moshe’s use of violence against Ziv was not justified, nor were his orders to use flash grenades and other riot dispersal weapons against the protesters, nor was his decision to blindfold at least one activist who was detained and later released without charge.

“The commander of the troops erred and responded in a way that was unnecessary and did not match the approved norms of the IDF,” the military said.

In general, the IDF said the Israel Police and not soldiers should be brought in to handle Israeli protesters whenever possible in the future.

The Israeli military noted in September that it had not interviewed anyone outside the army as part of its probe. Tuly Flint, a former combat soldier and left-wing activist who was violently arrested and blindfolded by Moshe during the same protest, told The Times of Israel at the time that the military had not reached out to him or other activists for testimony in the intervening weeks.

The left-wing activist group Combatants for Peace, which led the September protest, denounced Moshe’s “minimal punishment,” accused the military of using him as a scapegoat and accused Defense Minister Benny Gantz of giving violent Israeli extremists free rein in the West Bank.

“The army’s decision to postpone the promotion of a violent officer who was caught week after week abusing Palestinians and hitting human rights activists is a farce and is tacit approval for the violence. This violent deputy battalion commander deserves a harsher punishment, but he is not operating in a vacuum, but with the knowledge that this is the spirit of his superiors and of the political leadership,” the group said in a statement on Sunday.

“This investigation and minimal punishment cannot cover the embarrassing silence of Defense Minister Gantz, under whose tenure ‘hilltop youth’ have been allowed to run wild and settler violence has increased,” it said.

Left-wing activist Tuly Flint is arrested by Israeli soldiers near the West Bank town of al-Tuwani in the south Hebron hills, on Friday, September 17, 2021. (Courtesy)

Following last month’s incident, for which Moshe was formally censured and warned against such behavior but was subjected to no other form of punishment, the officer was found to have again used excessive force a week and half later, the IDF said. The second investigation was led by Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Amir Baram.

On September 28, during a violent protest, rocks were thrown at Moshe’s soldiers. He ran after the assailants and tried to capture them, which the IDF said was a “correct decision,” but during this effort, Moshe shoved another Palestinian, who was not involved in the rock throwing, to the ground.

The military said this was “an error” and further criticized his decision to act alone instead of with assistance.

“The officer twice acted in ways that do not match what is expected of him, particularly in the second incident, in light of the fact that the lacunae in his behaviors had already been presented to him after the first incident,” the IDF said.

As a result, the head of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, signed off on the punishment for Moshe, with support from IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

“The IDF uses military force, but it doesn’t use violence. Soldiers are given a wide berth in terms of their professional protocols and orders, but they must be in accordance with the spirit of the IDF and its values,” Kohavi said in a statement about the case.

Kohavi also called for further investigation into the incident and that lessons be learned from it “in all IDF units.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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