Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, who was filmed striking Andreas Ayas, a Danish pro-Palestinian activist, in the face with his rifle’s magazine on Saturday, criticized the IDF chief of General Staff, the head of the central command, and his division commander for their response to the incident and its backlash on Tuesday.
“They came with sticks and broke my hand, but that was not discussed or filmed,” Eisner said in a conversation that was broadcast on Channel 10’s evening news on Tuesday. “It was a two-minute confrontation, and while it is true that some of the pictures look bad… I didn’t kill anyone and didn’t endanger anyone’s life.”
Eisner also claimed that army chief Benny Gantz and central command chief Nitzan Alon were both more concerned with the IDF looking good for the cameras than in ensuring that the IDF achieves its missions. “What is more important, to fulfill your duty or to look good for the cameras? I claim that completing the mission is more important; they claim it is not. Perhaps I am wrong and they are right,” Eisner said.
While Eisner acknowledged that he made an error in professional judgment in using his rifle to strike a blow to Ayas’s face in view of the cameras, he said he did not believe it was a moral failure at all, as his critics have charged. He added that he believed the demonstrators dispersed as a result of his actions.
Eisner also criticized his superior officer, 162nd Division Commander Brig. Gen. Agai Yehezkel, saying that Yehezkel did not seem to grasp the significance of the fact that “anarchists had broken the hand of an IDF lieutenant colonel.” Yehezkel was reportedly aware that Eisner’s hand had been broken before the photos and videos of the incident began making headlines.
A reserve soldier who witnessed the demonstration on Saturday told Channel 10 that after about 90 minutes of peacefully singing songs and chanting slogans, the activists in Ayas’s group attempted to forcibly break through the military blockade on Route 90 near Jericho.
According to Israeli media reports, soldiers who witnessed the incident testified to military police investigators that activists hit soldiers with sticks and even hurled a bicycle at Eisner, thus sparking the violence.
The Palestinian videographer who taped the confrontation between Eisner and Ayas told Army Radio on Wednesday he will cooperate with the IDF investigation into the incident.
Eisner was suspended from his post pending the results of the investigation. Military sources said on Tuesday that he will likely be permanently removed as the deputy division commander, but is not expected to be discharged from the IDF. The probe was launched on Sunday and it is assumed that Gantz will adopt the findings, which are expected in the coming days.
An officer involved with the investigation was quoted Tuesday by Walla News as criticizing Eisner, who asserted that he felt himself to be in danger when he hit Ayas: “If he [Eisner] felt that his life was threatened, and therefore behaved defensively, why was he not wearing a helmet and a flak jacket?” The officer continued, “He had to show restraint, or alternatively use riot dispersal methods.”
The initial findings of the Military Police investigation indicate that the soldiers Eisner was commanding at the scene of the incident were not adequately prepared for the episode. Eisner decided not to use crowd control measures, even though they were at his disposal. The Border Police contingent that was summoned to assist Eisner and his men did not arrive because it was dealing with another incident. One of Eisner’s soldiers was supposed to record the incident, but the battery in his camera died before the flare-up began.
During the course of the investigation, Eisner repeated his claim that he was attacked and wounded by one of the protesters. He said he had been hit from behind and had two fingers broken, and he “thought” Ayas had been his attacker, but admitted that his response was wrong.
Ayas, who required stitches for a split lip, said that the suggestion that he had broken the officer’s fingers was “a direct lie.” Activists said Eisner also hit another protester and two Palestinians.