The past few days have seen a whirlwind of media activity surrounding the IDF’s Lt Col. Shalom Eisner and his videotaped striking of a Danish pro-Arab left-wing protester at a demonstration along Israel’s route 90 (a tense sector which often sees Arab sniping attacks against Jewish motorists).
The original video released is a short clip centered around Lt. Col Eisner striking the tall unarmed Dane in the face with the magazine of his M-16 (or M-4, or similar). Amusingly, as the protesters quickly withdraw and break up from the spirited assault by the hefty Lt. Col, they can be heard apologetically and weekly letting out a “Free Palestine” chant. A longer version has now been found.
The video quickly went viral, the usual pro-Israel crowd (understandably and with good intentions) quickly tried to counter flood cyber space with pro Eisner versions and posts without much thought behind them, and Israel quickly panicked at the onslaught of negative coverage.
There are several overlapping factors in this story, and of course the one causing all the buzz is the incident itself. Frankly, the incident less concerns me (it’s a minor occurrence in the day-to-day battles between the IDF and its enemies [covert and overt, violent and non-violent] throughout the West Bank, which I have had the opportunity to know first hand). If anything, and with all due respect, the professionalism of the Lt. Colonel was my main concern when watching the incident; for a young mid level officer, his handling of this week protest is less than impressive, as is the fact that they are able to break two of his fingers. While watching, I am concerned about his loose grip on his weapon without the strap around his body, which would allow for a more formidable group of foes to have potentially taken the weapon away. But that is another topic.
Putting the incident itself aside for a moment, what is of infinitely greater concern, is the worldwide reaction to it, Denmark’s response, and most importantly, Israel’s reaction so far.
Without the benefit of a proper investigation (which in the US for example, is always a MUST before any senior officials will comment on an incident), the Israeli military and political echelon, from Eisner’s immediate superiors, to the Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, Minister of Defence Ehud Barak (no surprise there) and the Prime Minister himself, was to immediately in a knee-jerk reaction cave in to the media uproar and the Danish governments protests. Their evidence was limited to the video taken, edited and presented by the enemy itself.
Let us put things in perspective, cover the diverse factors and then reach a conclusion; things the Israeli government did not see fit to attempt.
I do not know much about Lt. Col. Eisner. I do not know for certain if he is a good man or not, or if he is a good officer or not. In the small amount of material that was released recently, the picture was not very flattering (then again, he is trained to lead a tank brigade in war, not as an infantryman babysitting bored, spoiled and self-righteous European youths looking for things to believe in), but there is a bit more that surfaced recently. He remains to this day, a friend of to Hagit Rein, the mother of fallen IDF soldier Benaya Rein.
Benaya’s body was left behind during the Second Lebanon War due to heavy enemy fire including anti-tank missiles, mortars and machine gun fire. Eisner said that it was unacceptable to leave an IDF soldier behind and personally led the effort to bring him home, winning admiration and praise from his soldiers. Eisner clearly believes in the guiding motto of the IDF, which is that officers lead from the front… In Tzahal, Lieutenants, Captains, Majors, Colonels and even Brigadier Generals do not cry out “Forward!” but rather the all inspiring “Follow me!”.
Just this act alone, not to mention an entire career where one presumes Shalom Eisner successfully served his country for many years rising from one rank to the next, one would think would at least entitle Lt. Col Eisner to a full inquiry into the events before everyone from the Prime Minister down denounced him based on his enemy’s 15 second video clip. What would this investigation entail? Obviously his versions of events, testimony from the other officers and soldiers present, testimony of other personnel that may have served with him in the past, a search for other (unedited) video evidence that may exist, information gleaned from the arrested protesters, facts about their past and intentions, other eyewitness testimony, and of course Lt. Col Eisner’s military record and history.
For example, just a day after the government’s wholehearted indictment of Eisner’s actions, new information surfaced confirming his claims of broken fingers (a longer version of the original video clip surfaced showing Eisner with a bandaged hand minutes after the altercation), a letter of supportfrom soldiers who have served under the Lt. Colonel, a frame from the video apparently showing a “peace” protester wielding a knife (below), and a present reservist’s (the enlisted officers are probably not allowed to speak to the media) statements confirming (more or less) Eisner’s version of events.
Granted, it is far from certain that what is seen in the image is a knife; I have watched the long video clip closely, and cannot tell for certain. It certainly looks like it is being held like a knife, and the assertion that it is a cigarette does not seem plausible. If one watches the video, this particularly short troublemaker is seen seconds before, confronting the officers with nothing in his hands (and certainly not smoking). It looks as if when he was shoved a few frames earlier, he decided to pull out the knife, and then after he is thrown by Eisner, thinks better of it and drops the idea of fighting.
In any event, as I sated, not much is known or certain about Lt. Colonel Shalom Eisner, but plenty is known about these “peace activists” he was facing.
The ISM is a palestinian led group dedicated to undermining and ultimately destroying the IDF’s rule of law in Judea, Samaria and probably the rest of Israel. Their own public mission statement reads:
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land…
They claim to be non-violent though the mission statement also defends the
“armed struggle” as the “right” of Palestinian Authority Arabs.
The ISM has deep links with all the palestinian terror organizations, they have aided terror groups in many attacks against the IDF, and routinely support chaos and disturb the peace throughout Israeli held territory. From personal experience, I know them well and their tactics. They are well scripted, and know our weaknesses. Knowing the IDF’s reluctance to confront them in any way, they routinely use this fact to break down all red lines (figurative and literal ones) that the army sets in Judea and Samaria. They know that there are only two possible outcomes, either (the usual) the IDF backs down in fear of a media firestorm just like this one, and so they accomplish their tactical goal, or (the rare case) one or more of them get hurt in which case their thousand cameras are ready to create the media coup (after plenty of selecting, cutting, splicing and editing of course).
Ironically, they don’t always escape the wrath of the terrorists they wish to support… In 2011, ISM activist Italian Vittorio Arrigoni was abducted and killed in Gaza by Arab terrorists. I wonder if Hamas suspended or charged any of their personnel for that one, wonder if Italy demanded it? I suppose abduction and murder are not as bad as hitting in the face. In 2007, Akram Ibrahim, another ISM member was killed by terrorists in Jenin (Hadn’t we “massacred” all the Arabs in Jenin I thought?).
ISM activists are not allowed into Israel (since they are not tourists but rather, their very purpose in entering is to defy and bring down the State of Israel), and must enter illegally by fraud, lies and typically offering false religious or marriage documents. When watching the video, one needs to understand that each of these ISM activists (except the local Arabs) is there illegally to begin with and with the sole purpose of hurting Israel. Viewers may not typically know that, but Lt. Col. Eisner did.
What is Israel’s official position on the ISM specifically? Great question. Wikipedia states it as:
The Israeli Foreign Ministry reported that two terrorists involved in the Mike’s Place suicide bombing forged “links with foreign left wing activists and members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).” The MFA also says that “ISM members take an active part in illegal and violent actions against IDF soldiers. At times, their activity in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip is under the auspices of Palestinian terrorist organizations, and that sometimes, “ISM members, who seek entry into Israel, often do so under false pretenses, via cover stories – entry for matrimonial, tourist, religious and other purposes – which they coordinate prior to arriving in Israel.” However, ISM reports that visitors at the border who identify as ISM volunteers, almost always will be denied entry by the Israeli border control.
So to understand this clearly… a decorated IDF officer, when confronting a mob composed of hostile Arabs and led by a foreign, radical, anti-semitic, pro-terror organization attempting to physically block the highway (route 90) to Jewish traffic, after sustaining two broken fingers, used his weapon as a baton and NOT a firearm to successfully break up the illegal protest and force the left-wing anarchists back from the junction. In the process, he struck a tall though lanky man who turned out to be a Danish national who physically challenged (admittedly in a sheepish, passive aggressive and sly manner) his orders to move back. And he (Eisner) struck him ONCE. There is no attempt to beat for pleasure, just to achieve the objective. Cases of use of excessive force worldwide are almost always marked by repeated blows (hence “excessive”). All this being so.. what’s going on here then?? Why the outrage? BECAUSE IT WORKS.
One can clearly see the Dane moving forward and face the officer down as the rest of the crowd fell back. He then looks at Eisner directly in the face (towering over him height wise at least) and makes it clear that he is not backing down (yet!). Typical ISM handbook, the physical challenge is cloaked in “wimpiness”.
I look harmless even though I am defying you. Your choice: to be defied, beaten and give me victory, Or to attack what LOOKS harmless and give me a PR victory. Victory either way.
Eisner himself, immediately after the incident, asked what was more important, to achieve the mission’s objectives, in this case break up the protest and protect the strategic road, or look good for the cameras. Would we have preferred to see footage of a mob of 60 anarchists and 200 Arabs break a unit of IDF officers and take control of the intersection, he asked rhetorically. Sadly, the answer is most probably “yes”.
The key here is that a blonde blue eyed European was smashed in the face by a Kippah bearing IDF officer. The rest are details that do not concern the panic-stricken. Quite observantly, it was the struck Danish protester who stated after the incident:
No one would care if a Palestinian was hit with a rifle
Ironically, he is partly right. Let me try to describe this vicious cycle. It is not so much that no one would care, as it is that Denmark would not care, and hence Israel would not care. The UN and the “International community” who pretend and claim to care about the dignity of all human life equally would think it commonplace and unimportant.
So who would it anger? The palestinians? Hamas? Iran? Fatah? Of course it would, but they are already angered, they already wish to destroy Israel, and because of that, Israel would not care. And this is the crux of the issue… it is this last part that Israel never understands. What would ultimately make it unimportant is that Israel would not respond to it… therefore a futile strategy by the enemy. It is not Denmark’s demand for clarifications or even the viral video itself that makes this incident so unfortunately powerful, but Israel’s own admission of its importance and power that makes it so.
The protester’s weapon IS that we are so afraid of hitting him, especially in front of cameras which is why he brings 500 of them. It is why he is there. He succeeds in getting IDF officers court martialed, in undermining the “occupation”, eroding self-confidence among the Israelis and the army, etc. If all he succeeded in doing was to be hit in the face with a rifle, then neither he nor his cameras would be there. The success that Israel makes of these strategies is what attracts them to begin with.
This incident itself immediately inspired copy cat protests the very next day. People don’t want to line up to be hit in the face, but they will line up to see an army trembling with fear and indecision at their presence. If a Jew walks into Schem, Jenin or Gaza, he will not be struck once in the face with a rifle but viciously murdered. It won’t even matter that he is not there defying or protesting, simply being there and Jewish will suffice. But Jewish protests at that occurrence would cause no reaction from the Arab side, thus they are absurd and futile.
The point having being made, Israel panicked at the possibility of losing a good friend like Denmark, and at the international condemnation. Thus for political reasons and not due to the facts of the case, it threw Lt. Col Eisner to the wolves. They embolden our enemy, and leave an army further paralyzed from action.. knowing that leaders who take the initiative, personal responsibility and courageously confront the enemy (Follow me) at any level be it lethal fire or a slap in the face, will not be supported but condemned. Our country does not “have our back” is the message loud and clear to the man in uniform.
The correct response would be much more sensible. Denmark is a good friend of Israel. Probably the nation I respect the most in Europe; they are a good, efficient, intelligent, brave and honest people as a whole. We do not forget what the Danish did in saving their Jewish neighbors in the holocaust. We also remember the valiant acts of King Christian X. However, as a real friend, Israel should send a clear message; Israel obviously has no interest in hurting Danish citizens nor any orders to do so, but if there is a complaint to be made it is the other way around. Israelis do not travel hundreds of miles to Denmark in order to defy its government or armed forces. If any did, and one was struck once by a Danish officer, Israel would have no complaint. In the video below one can see how much force Denmark really thinks is appropriate on Danish citizens. Countries should not feel that their citizens may come to Israel illegally to break its laws, undermine its security, and be entitled to groveling, apologies and begging for forgiveness from senior Israeli officials. No other country would do that. Denmark’s foreign ministry would do well to tell her citizens that they are welcome in Israel as tourists and honored guests, and to warn them to not enter Israel illegally and challenge her security forces, for they run the risk of being hit in the face with a rifle. That would be in a sane world. In a sane world, the ISM activists would also be charged and/or expelled as provided under the law, instead of glorified while an IDF officer loses his career.
A Mistake, Not Moral Failings
The officers above Eisner all the way to Benny Gantz got to their current positions today because no one arbitrarily ended their careers due to a single mistake they made. They very well know they have made many, as I am sure Shalom Eisner has made many, but it cannot be that the click of the enemy’s cameras fells our officers.
Lt. Col. Eisner was quick to point out that he may have made a professional mistake by hitting the activist in the face in front of the cameras. Obviously, after all that has happened, he would be the first to take it back if he could, but a single minor mistake in a tense situation along with two broken fingers does not or should not end a career. Though he readily admitted a professional mistake, the higher echelons are charging him with a moral breach, and this he correctly and adamantly denies. He is most right, for there is a huge leap between a particular blow not being the most intelligent course of action at the moment, and moral failings. Anyone who thinks otherwise understands little about the reality of this conflict, any other, and even authority and peace keeping in general. In the US, you can easily get shot and killed by police officers for doing much less than these ISM anarchists… Youtube is filled with examples. Throughout the world, security forces behave in ways that make Eisner’s actions look like a gentle caress but the difference is that those countries’ governments stand by the men who protect them. Arab countries simply open fire on them (and get attacked by NATO in Libya’s case, and not so in Iran or Syria’s case). Incidents of wrongdoing can and should be investigated fairly and in context, and punished when necessary, but not at the whim of your enemies.
The Irony of Appeasement
The saddest part of all is that those who are willing to offer the heads of their compatriots to appease their enemies or friends, ironically achieve neither. If all you care is about the PR aspect of things, which I have explained is the worst choice to begin with, you actually ensure a terrible PR. Not only does your weakness invite opponents to attack you precisely there, but you also forget that the PR “damage” is done by the trigger itself and there is little appetite or opportunity for the accommodating and appeasing response.
For example, the PR damage in this case was already done by the video. It hardly matters to anyone (except the enemies who use this as a stratagem of course) that Netanyahu, Gantz, Barak or whomever expressed the all too expected “outrage” and promise a “full investigation”. The damage was done by the Headlines and the video, the world viewers are not coming back to page 10 in next week’s paper to find out that Lt. Col Eisner was suspended, court martialed, discharged or even killed. They will not know nor care if they knew. Take the The Abu Ghraib pictures in Iraq as an example, they likewise themselves damaged the US’s international image, and no one can easily remember the outcome of the subsequent investigation, or punishments dealt out to the individual US soldiers.
The only people that are finely tuned to a government’s punishment policies in these matters are the nation’s own soldiers of course, and her enemies who use these stratagems. Israel’s current policy therefore tells its fighting men that they are on their own out there on the field and that it is better to let the enemy have the upper hand than confront him, and tells her enemies that this is a great strategy, keep it up!
And this is why it is true that Lt. Col. Eisner made a mistake in hitting the man in front of the cameras. He made a mistake, because considering his government, this act would cause more damage to Israel than even breaking and running from the anarchists. So knowing this fact, it was an error in judgement to strike the passive aggressive Dane. However, that is very unfortunate and not the way it ought to be. Under leadership not terrified of CNN and not locked in a “Ghetto” mentality, Eisner’s actions would not have even been a mistake, but rather simple routine in breaking up a foreign anarchist attempt at disruption of the peace.
A normal policy of soldiers being allowed to use a reasonable amount of force when challenged by the enemy, would result in exactly the opposite. The blue-eyed blondes backing the Arabs would quickly disappear as all they are getting for their efforts is a broken nose and no groveling, apologies or begging.
At the end, the man who would not leave a fellow fighter behind, himself was left behind by the politicians. The difference is that Eisner risked far more when he went in to recover only the body of his fellow, whereas the politicians failed to risk much much less to save his entire lifelong career.
In conclusion, a few videos to put things in some measure of perspective.
Firstly, the Danish can teach us how to properly treat unarmed protesters.
Next, you can see how Israeli Police Beat JEWISH teenagers, boys AND girls with real excessive force. Granted, these young kids did not travel thousands of miles to defy a foreign regime, they just wanted to not be removed from their homes by virtue of being Jewish (… yes and some from surrounding areas who came to support them, don’t be picky).
Finally, we have a decorated US veteran who served in IRAQ being beaten repeatedly (and tasered 3 times) by loser TSA agents and Metro police. The entire incident happened because they rudely threw a dollar bill from the veteran’s wallet on the floor and then refused to pick it up. Typical arrogant behavior of people with a small amount of power and an even smaller mind. In any event, right or wrong, despite the media uproar in the US as this was picked up by Fox News a few years ago, the TSA and the Metro Police stuck by their agents, not suspending or disciplining anyone in any way. Though Israel has little to learn from these unprofessional, rude and incompetent people, she could definitely learn a thing or two about not bending to the media will. The incident came and went, and the media outcry would have been exactly the same, whether the officers would have been censured or not. The Sergeant sued the department (and rightly so), and he likewise would have sued in any event. If anything, disciplining the agents would be an admission of wrongdoing by the department and ensure that they would lose any lawsuit. So if they can have the “courage” to defend such a dishonorable, indefensible outrageously excessive act in the safety of a US airport against a US soldier in uniform, how can Israel not have enough to defend an arguably reasonable act of defense in the dangerous West Bank by one her own decorated veterans while facing a mob of foreign avowed enemies of the state?