Far-right leader Itamar Ben-Gvir called on Saturday for police to investigate whether left-wing activists who were beaten by soldiers in Hebron on Friday had “provoked the soldiers.”
Ben-Gvir, who is set to become Israel’s new National Security Minister, said that police should check whether “members of the extreme left did not provoke and harm the soldiers before,” referring to a Friday incident caught on video of Israeli soldiers from the Givati infantry brigade in Hebron beating and taunting left-wing activists.
Footage shows one of the soldiers knocking an activist to the ground and punching him in the face, as another soldier was shown telling another activist that “Ben-Gvir is going to bring order.”
“I know people from the extreme left very well,” Ben-Gvir said. “They come to Hebron and abuse the soldiers, humiliate them, curse them, and many times also attack them,” he claimed. Ben-Gvir’s comments come in spite of the army’s decision to suspend the two soldiers who were recorded attacking the activists.
“I call on the police to check that the members of the extreme left did not provoke the soldiers and hit them first, to prove that the footage from the event was not falsified to serve only one side.”
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Ben-Gvir emphasized that “it is clear that there is no room for harming extreme leftists based on their opinions. On the other hand, however, we have witnessed that too many times extreme leftists only film one part of the confrontation. As mentioned, I call on the police to investigate the case thoroughly, and as soon as it shows that the extreme leftists harmed the soldiers and attacked them – they must be arrested immediately and brought to justice.”
Following the incident, Israeli police reportedly detained three activists – two women and the man who was attacked by the soldier – despite the fact that Israelis are legally allowed to be on the street where the attack occurred. While the two bystanders were released, the activist who was attacked is still in police custody and is suspected of obstructing and assaulting a public servant and violating the peace.
Army Chief Aviv Kochaci released a statement addressing soldiers and commanders in which he condemned the soldier's attack, saying that the army has seen a case in which not only a soldier "acted against IDF values and cursed civilians, he also expressed himself politically," adding that "The IDF is a statemanly army in which there is no room to express oneself politically or act according to political considerations."
Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Twitter on Saturday that he backs the IDF's handling of the 'grave Hebron incident,' adding that he trusts the commanders "to take care of any deviation and prevent any entry of politics into the IDF and operational considerations. We must not allow division and internal debate in the nation to enter the IDF."
The activists from the Hebron incident belong to “Bnei Avraham,” a group of religious Jews who work alongside Palestinians. They arrived in Hebron in solidarity with local Palestinian residents following the violent events during last Saturday’s ‘Chayei Sarah’ pilgrimage.
A preliminary investigation into Friday’s incident was opened against the soldier who hit the activist, while disciplinary procedures are taking place for the soldier who spoke about Ben-Gvir.