TEL AVIV (JWN and agencies)—The commanding general of the Israel Defense Force’s Central Command on Monday suspended a senior officer who was filmed striking a pro-Palestinian demonstrator in the face with his rifle on Saturday. The officer is under investigation by the Military Police.
A video of the incident, which occurred at a checkpoint near the village of Ouja in the Jordan Valley, was posted on YouTube on Sunday by the International Solidarity Movement. It shows Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner, deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade, slamming his M-16 assault rifle in the face of Danish activist Andreas Ias, who falls to the ground and is carried away by fellow activists.
Ias was treated in a Palestinian hospital for light injuries and told Israeli media on Monday that he was well.
He denied that the demonstrators, who were riding bicycles, had made any provocation to the soldiers. “We were just walking slowly towards the soldiers. We were chanting Palestinian songs calling for the liberation of Palestine. I don’t believe that is a provocation,” he told Israel’s Channel 10 television.
According to Palestinian witnesses, the incident took place on Saturday during a cycling tour around the Jordan Valley by European, Israeli, and Palestinian activists.
The Palestinian Wafa news agency said that soldiers stopped the nearly 250 cyclists along Route 90 near the West Bank village of Ouja and refused to allow them to continue. When the cyclists refused, scuffles broke out. A number of the demonstrators were injured and taken to the hospital in Jericho. The IDF arrested a number of the activists.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday condemned the incident. “Such behavior does not characterize IDF soldiers and officers and has no place in the Israel Defense Forces and in the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
President Shimon Peres on Monday said he was “shocked” by the incident.
Speaking to Israel Radio, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said, “These are harsh pictures, but I still can’t divorce the filmed episodes from the incident that lasted over an hour and which included violence by the anarchists and Palestinians.”
While he suggested the video was being taken out of context, Mordechai called the incident “grave” and said it should not be taken as representing the values of the IDF.
Responding to accusations of violence by the demonstrators, the Palestinian cameraman who filmed the entire incident has offered the full hour of footage to investigators.
OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon ordered the Military Police to investigate the incident and suspended Eisner until the completion of the probe. In addition, the IDF Judge Advocate-General’s office has opened a criminal investigation into the incident.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Sunday the incident was not representative of the IDF’s ethics and morals and would be fully investigated and treated with the utmost gravity.