IDF officer suspended for hitting activist in face with rifle

President expresses shock at the footage; victim says he’s ‘not surprised’ by IDF’s use of violence

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

An officer who hit a pro-Palestinian Danish activist Sunday was suspended from duty, IDF Spokesman Yoav Mordechai said Monday. Mordechai added that the video uploaded to YouTube showed only part of what happened in the incident outside Jericho on Saturday, stating that the attack was preceded by activist provocations.

In the 90-second clip, which was uploaded on video-sharing website YouTube and later broadcast on news reports worldwide, the officer can be seen as he strikes the Danish 20-year-old activist Andreas Ayas in the face with a blow from his M-16 rifle. Ayas was taken to the hospital in Jericho for medical treatment and discharged a few hours later.

The incident was much longer than the edited clip that was released, Mordechai said. “The video doesn’t represent all of it.” There were provocations from the group of activists, he added.

Shalom Eisner (screen shot from YouTube/Hatzalh)
Shalom Eisner (screen shot from YouTube/Hatzalh)

The suspended officer is Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade. He said he had been hit by one of the activists with a stick, and two of his fingers were broken.

Eisner has been on the other side of the protest line in the past. Channel 10’s late night show, Tzinor Lila, unearthed footage of the officer from the summer of 2005. As Border Police tore apart the human chain of teenagers that blocked the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway in protest of the upcoming withdrawal from Gaza, Eisner, out of uniform, ran after the officers and confronted them, yelling loudly and punctuating angrily with his index finger. Eisner, whose father was a well known educator in the national religious school system and the personal driver to Rav Kook, was apparently not in active service at the time.

Speaking to Army Radio Monday, Ayas said he wasn’t surprised by the officer’s actions, since he and his friends had “seen this kind of violence many times before.”

The IDF spokesperson called the event depicted in the video “a severe incident” and Central Command Chief Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon ordered a “thorough and unflinching investigation into the assault.”

President Shimon Peres said he was shocked by what he saw in the video and commended the army for its rapid response. Peres said that the incident had to be thoroughly investigated before additional steps were taken and mentioned that it was an isolated incident that did not reflect on the entire IDF.

“Such behavior is not characteristic of the IDF soldiers and commanders, and has no place in the IDF and Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said that he considered the incident to be very serious. “The incident does not reflect the values ​​of the IDF. It will be investigated thoroughly and will be dealt with sternly,” said Gantz.

In a slew of reactions from the political realm, Meretz chairwoman MK Zahava Gal-On condemned Eisner’s actions, saying “This is a brutal act of assault that is against IDF orders and its ethical code.”

In contrast, MK Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home) said that “it is regrettable to see the belligerent responses against a senior army officer who was trying to protect against provocateurs whose sole purpose was to malign the IDF.”

Former general and Labor leader Amram Mitzna said that the incident suggested the army was losing its humanity and asserted that Eisner’s fellow officers should have reported the incident directly.

In his defense, the lieutenant colonel contended that before he hit the activist, he was attacked and two of his fingers were broken.

Eisner told associates that the entire incident lasted nearly two hours, while only a few minutes were shown in the video.

David Elchiyani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, told Army Radio he has known Eisner for a long time, and this sort of behavior was not typical of the officer.

Gerald Steinberg from NGO Monitor noted that the International Solidarity Movement, the pro-Palestinian group that Ayas belongs to, “has a long record of encouraging activists to take ‘direct action’ that often places them in danger and in direct confrontations with the IDF.”

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