Israel on Monday suspended indefinitely an IDF officer who just a day earlier struck a pro-Palestinian Danish activist during a demonstration in the Jordan Valley region.
The incident occurred not far from Jericho, where 20-year-old Andreas Ayas and several more European activists confronted Israeli soldiers stationed in the area.
According to army officials, the confrontation lasted for roughly two hours, but it was a short 90-second clip that was uploaded to the Internet and subsequently made international headlines. In that clip, IDF Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner is seen slamming his M-16 rifle into Ayas' face, knocking the activist to the ground.
IDF Spokesman Yoav Mordechai lamented that the short, sensationalist video clip had managed to put the entire episode out of context.
"The video doesn't represent all of it," Mordechai told reporters, noting that the activists spent a great deal of time and energy trying to provoke a violent response from the Israelis. Eisner himself insisted that he was not the first to strike, and that in the moments just before those broadcast worldwide, Ayas broke two of Eisner's fingers.
"I’ve learned my lesson from the incident and will never again be dragged into provocation,” Eisner told Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, "but you must understand the whole situation, in which we were trying for two hours to stop lawbreakers. I simply did my job."
Regardless, the activists got what they came for, and Ayas wasted no time smearing Israel and the IDF. Feigning innocence, the European told Israel Radio that he was not surprised by by Eisner's actions, claiming that he and other "peace" activists had "seen this kind of violence many times before."
Whether or not Eisner was justified in responding violently to the provocative actions of the activists, Israel's political and military leadership condemned the officer's behavior as unacceptable.
"Such behavior is not characteristic of the IDF soldiers and commanders, and has no place in the IDF and Israel," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz added, "The incident does not reflect the values of the IDF. It will be investigated thoroughly and will be dealt with sternly."
Some Israeli politicians worried that Netanyahu and Gantz were playing into the hands of Israel's antagonists, and insisted the foreign provocateurs must be the ones taken to task.
"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," said Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home).
"An iron fist must be used against the extreme leftists who poke out soldiers' eyes," said lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), who noted that "had it been a Jewish settler who was beaten, we would not hear the leftist choir of hypocrites."
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