An officer filmed assaulting Israeli and Palestinian left-wing activists will be reprimanded following a military investigation, the Israel Defense Forces said Sunday.
The military concluded in the investigation that the officer "erred and acted in a manner that was not truly necessary and is not compatible with IDF norms."
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During the incident in the South Hebron Hills on Friday, soldiers were filmed assaulting several Israeli and Palestinian activists who were bringing a water tank to an isolated Palestinian community, wounding some of them. The military said the activists had attempted to block the entrance to an unauthorized settlement outpost and attacked soldiers.
The military also said that the probe had showed that troops' decision to use stun grenades and tear gas during the incident was mistaken, as was blindfolding one of an activist who was arrested. Furthermore, the investigators noted that as a rule, only police officers and border police officers are supposed to take part in operations involving Israeli citizens. "Friction and contact between IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens shall occur only for lack of any other option," the military said.
However, the military said that the soldiers were attacked by the activists first. The soldiers were "violently attacked by several protesters, who tried to create a provocation with the goal of interfering with the force's operation," the military said in a statement.
It further said that the protesters blocked the entrance to the settler outpost, "tried to assault the soldiers, cursed, threatened, and even lay on the tires of the military vehicles and refused to disperse, despite the fact that the force's commander tried to clear the traffic junction and to prevent the friction" between the settlers and the protesters.
The confrontation on Friday followed the arrival of dozens of Israelis from the anti-occupation group Combatants for Peace. They and the Palestinians accompanying them were bringing a water tank to isolated Palestinian communities near the outpost because the army has not allowed them to collect water in cisterns or take receipt of water tanks.
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When the activists approached the outpost, Israeli soldiers arrived, commanded by the deputy commander of an engineering battalion. The soldiers barred the group from proceeding with the water tank, after which the activists shouted slogans condemning the occupation.
Then, the activists said, soldiers pushed them and threw tear gas canisters and stun grenades at them. Video from the scene shows the deputy commander throwing one of the activists, Tuly Flint, to the ground and placing his knee on the man’s head. The officer is also seen shoving two other protesters. A Palestinian was wounded in the stomach by a tear gas canister, an activist's finger was broken after being pushed, and another was wounded when her shirt caught fire after a tear gas canister hit her.
The soldiers detained several of the demonstrators and allegedly drove them around the southern West Bank for four hours before leaving them in an army vehicle for another three hours near the police station in Hebron. The police then released them. Their release was not subject to any limitations.
The activists adamantly denied that they provoked the soldiers. “There was no violence on our part,” Flint said. “Not a single stone was thrown, and the army doesn’t have and won’t have any video of me resisting violently. There was no reason to [throw] me on the ground and to punch my neck.”
Another protester, who asked to remain anonymous, was hospitalized and required surgery on his face, allegedly after being forcefully shoved by the officer. "It happened when we were already on our way back to the car," he said. "Ten minutes later and we would have arrived and gotten out of there. If [the officer] had tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'get off the road,' I would have gotten off. I wonder if he would have done that to his father. It's also not true that we blocked the road – it's a fact that cars drove through on the way to the settlement, and we didn't cause them any problems."
Combatants for Peace slammed the military for its intention to merely reprimand the officer. "The wretched decision by the IDF to be satisfied with a reprimand over a filmed and well-documented incident makes clear that it cannot be claimed that the deputy battalion commander went off the rails or that this was a rogue and unprofessional military unit," it said.
"The decision makes it clear that during the incident, the IDF force acted according to the government's policy and Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi's attitude. Since he entered the role, there has been a steady rise in violence and politicization of IDF forces' conduct, both toward the Palestinian population and toward peace activists. We call for immediate intervention by the defense minister regarding this disgraceful decision."