IDF Investigates Incident with ISM Protester

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The Israel Defense Forces is embroiled in an international incident involving an IDF officer and a pro-Palestinian activist.

Details of what actually took place Saturday near the Arab village of Ouja are still unclear, with the protesters' version differing greatly from the IDF's.

A video clip, filmed by one of the activists, shows Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner butting a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) from Denmark -- 20-year-old Andreas Ayas -- in the face with his M-16 rifle, knocking him down.

The IDF immediately suspended the commander and launched an investigation into the incident. Admitting that the 90-second video clip didn't tell the whole story, early reports indicate the IDF may relieve Eisner of his post as deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade. 

"We only saw a part of the footage. There were 20 foreign activists shown on the tape, not the 250 Palestinians behind them who tried to block the road," IDF spokesman Yoav Mordechai told Army Radio Monday.

"We saw only the blow on the tape, not the two hours of provocations before," he said. 

According to the IDF, the demonstrators planned to block Route 90 in the Jordan Valley, a main north-south highway, to protest Israeli restrictions against Palestinian movement there.

Eisner, who suffered two broken fingers when some of the demonstrators attacked soldiers with sticks, said the group repeatedly ignored their warnings against entering a military zone.

Saturday's incident was sandwiched between the "Global March to Jerusalem" two weeks ago and this past Sunday's "flytilla," a failed attempt by hundreds of activists to land at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport carrying "Welcome to Palestine" signs.

Israeli officials, including President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz were quick to condemn the incident.

Israel often points out that while the country isn't perfect, it is a democracy where injustice is dealt with, unlike neighboring Middle East countries.

Despite that, local media warned not to jump to conclusions.

The left-wing Israeli daily, Ma'ariv, featured an op-ed by political analyst Ben-Dror Yemini, who called the ISM protesters "part of the red-green alliance between Islamists and the radical left."

Tuesday's editorial in The Jerusalem Post said "evidence -- no matter how incriminating -- provided by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) should have been treated with extreme suspicion."

"ISM's goal is to provoke IDF soldiers and capture on film the temporary lapse of a soldier such as Eisner -- trained to fight wars on conventional and non-conventional battlefields -- not to deal with crowd control and wage battles fought on YouTube and Twitter with troublemaking provocateurs from abroad and their ever-ready camera crews."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio Tuesday that suspending Eisner was the "proper and necessary move in response to a severe incident that does not meet the norms and standards of the IDF."

"I don't think we need to judge based on a YouTube video," Barak said. "That's why we have formal military investigations."

Meanwhile, 83 soldiers, both reservists and active-duty, sent a letter to the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff, calling Eisner a "moral and ethical officer" whose military record speaks for itself.

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