The Israel Defense Force announced on Sunday that it would censure an officer who hurled a 65-year-old left-wing demonstrator to the ground at a protest in the West Bank on Friday, leading to the activist’s hospitalization.
The military refrained from more aggressive disciplinary action, however, claiming that the demonstrators had attempted to attack the soldiers — a charge the activists vociferously deny. Around 40 activists participated in the protest, which aimed to raise awareness over inequality in access to water between Palestinians and Israelis in the area.
Videos of the demonstration’s forceful dispersal were widely circulated over the weekend, with left-wing activists and parliamentarians charging that Israeli soldiers on the scene had deployed excessive force. The military maintained that these videos were tendentious and did not show the violence by the demonstrators, but provided no evidence to support this claim.
“The commander in the incident is a well-respected and decorated officer. The investigation determined that he erred and acted in a manner…which did not conform to Israel Defense Force standards,” the army said in a statement on Sunday evening.
“In light of this, it was decided that the officer would be reprimanded by his commanders,” the army concluded.
The investigation was overseen by West Bank battalion commander Brig. Gen. Yaniv Alaluf, rather than by the Military Police, which investigates incidents that may involve criminal conduct.
סמג״ד הנדסה בדרום הר חברון לא כובש את יצרו מול פעיל שלום, שליווה הבאת מיכלית מים לבני המקום ביחד עם פעילי @cforpeace1 וסיים את האירוע עם חשד לשבר בארובת העין וצלעות שבורות. ״ותדע כל אם עבריה״? בושה לצבא שאלו מפקדיו. הכיבוש משחית ואלו פניו המכוערים.@gantzbe @IDFSpokesperson pic.twitter.com/mZgtwaJNTK
— Yoav Groweiss يوآف غروفايس (@yoav_gro) September 17, 2021
The left-wing Combatants for Peace group — which organized the protest — criticized the results of the investigation, saying that the nonprofit had not even been contacted to testify in the probe.
“We call for the immediate intervention of the defense minister in this disgraceful decision,” the group said in a statement.
The IDF confirmed that its investigation had been internal and that it had not spoken to any of the demonstrators on the scene.
The military said its initial probe determined that in the future, to prevent clashes between soldiers and Israeli civilians, the Israel Police should be brought in instead. Indeed, the IDF generally tries to avoid sending its troops into such situations — whether they involve left-wing or right-wing protesters — in order to avoid putting the military into the middle of a political fight.
Several left-wing Israeli and Palestinian activists were wounded at the Friday afternoon protest in the south Hebron Hills after the Israeli army fired tear gas and sound grenades to disperse the crowd. Five Israelis were arrested before being released without charges.
“I have been participating in demonstrations in the Occupied Territories for 40 years. But I have never seen such blatant use of violence against Israeli demonstrators as I saw today,” said Meretz lawmaker Mossi Raz, who attended the protest.
The military said demonstrators blocked the road to the illegal West Bank outpost of Avigayil, which lies near a number of Palestinian towns. In a statement on Sunday night, the Israeli army said the soldiers had been “violently attacked” by demonstrators on the scene.
Later in its announcement, however, the army appeared to walk back the claim slightly, saying only that protesters had “blocked roadways, attempted to attack soldiers, cursed, threatened and even lay on the wheels of military vehicles and refused to evacuate.”
Demonstrators dismissed allegations that they had physically assaulted soldiers, calling the accusations “utterly fabricated.”
“If they want to say that, let them present one video that shows violence,” said Tuly Flint, a left-wing activist in Combatants for Peace, himself a former infantry commander in the Israeli army.
In videos from the incident, the Israeli commanding officer can be seen repeatedly shoving apparently peaceful demonstrators off the road leading to the outpost.
In one clip, he can be seen hurling left-wing demonstrator Eli Ziv, 65, to the ground. Ziv was later hospitalized in Tel Aviv with broken bones and facial injuries. He is set to undergo surgery this week.
While the Israeli military ultimately decided to censure the officer for shoving Ziv, the army called the video “partial, unrepresentative and not representative of the rioting and violence perpetrated against the military force.”
Nonetheless, the army’s investigation ultimately concluded that the use of tear gas and stun grenades was unwarranted. Several demonstrators were wounded after the canisters were launched into the crowd, including two Palestinians who were struck directly, activists said.
The left-wing activists disputed the army’s narrative, saying that Israeli soldiers began firing tear gas unprovoked about two minutes after the protest began.
“There was no call to disperse, nothing. The first thing we heard from them was the tear gas and the sound grenades,” said Flint.
Five demonstrators, including Flint, were detained during the course of the protest. The Israeli army said police undertook the arrests, but photos from the scene appear to show an activist being blindfolded and detained by soldiers.
In Flint’s case, the same officer can be seen placing his knee on his neck as soldiers detained him. All the activists were released several hours later without charges.
“We didn’t resist. We believe in non-violence, we don’t resist agents of the law. To splay me out on the ground and choke me with a leg on my neck — it was totally redundant,” Flint said.