From time to time the news media or human rights groups film an Israeli in uniform using excessive force against human rights or peace activists protesting the wrongs of the occupation.
This week it was the turn of IDF Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade, to be caught by the camera, in this case striking a helpless Danish national in the face with an M-16 rifle. Following the event's widespread coverage, the officer was widely criticized by the public - not for using excessive force, but for granting human rights groups a photo op serving their interests. He also ruined the celebrations over the successful operation that prevented human rights activists from entering Israel and the territories via Ben Gurion International Airport (and grounded several people who had nothing to do with the fly-in ).
In an effort to minimize the damage to Israel's image, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz swiftly suspended Eisner while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hastened to denounce the offending officer's misdeed.
Such reactions are necessary, but certainly not sufficient. Use of violence against peace activists is not an image problem that can be swept aside with a suspension and denunciation. A political and military leadership that incites the public against peace and human rights activists bears responsibility for the conduct of hot-tempered officers like Eisner.
When the prime minister and foreign minister label left-wingers "anarchists," "provocateurs" and even "terror supporters," they are sanctioning attacks on civilians implementing the right to protest.
Instead of using, even by implication, the Damascus regime's conduct toward its opposition as a yardstick for the expected behavior of the Israel Defense Forces, the prime minister should memorize the verdict Jerusalem Magistrate Judge Haim Li-Ran handed down in a recent hearing over the request to arrest Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity activists in Jerusalem.
"The right to demonstrate or express an opinion is deeply rooted in the foundations of democratic government. ... Thousands of human beings have paid and are paying with their lives on its altar," the judge said.
His words are doubly true when it comes to the right to demonstrate against the wrongs of occupation and to get home in one piece.
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