Opinion |

An Israeli Officer Attacks Leftists, and Rightists Complain About ‘Tying the Soldiers’ Hands’

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
People protest following Barel Hadaria Shmueli's death.
People protest following Barel Hadaria Shmueli's death.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

So, at the end of an investigation, he was only reprimanded – the officer who attacked left-wing activists from the group Combatants for Peace who were supplying water tanks to Palestinians and ended up in the hospital. The officer in the skirmish in the South Hebron Hills this month “erred and acted in a way incompatible with the situation and the norms of the Israel Defense Forces.”

There is an intolerable gap between the severity of the officer’s actions and the tepidness of the IDF’s response. In one video of the incident, you can see the officer, a deputy brigade commander, throwing an activist with all his might off the road onto rocky ground. In another, you see him pressing his knee on the head of an organizer while another soldier handcuffs him.

But the IDF wasn’t bothered too much by this and sufficed with its standard response: It will investigate the incident and reach the appropriate conclusions. A few days later, it did just that and concluded that the affair should end with nothing but a reprimand.

The gap between the incident and the response is so big you can only conclude that the army condones such behavior. The army may say that the officer’s conduct was unacceptable, but by meting out a mere rebuke, it shows acceptance of his behavior.

That’s exactly how Combatants for Peace understood it. “The IDF’s unfortunate decision to settle for a reprimand ... makes clear that it cannot claim ... that this army unit acted disobediently and unprofessionally. The decision makes clear that during the incident an IDF force acted in accordance with the policies of the government and in the spirit of the commander, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.”

Ultimately, the organization accuses Kochavi of “the politicizing of IDF forces’ conduct, both toward the Palestinian population and peace activists.” In other words, the left is saying that the IDF has no problem with shedding the blood of leftists and Palestinians.

What’s interesting is that on the other side of the political spectrum, the right is also calling out what it sees as the gap between the IDF’s action and reaction. Only it sees the gap as being between aggressive Hamas actions and a weak IDF response. Enough with these half-hearted policies, the right says every time Hamas fires a rocket, a violent protest occurs at the Gaza border fence or another round of fighting ends with Hamas not being destroyed.

The death of Barel Hadaria Shmueli, a member of the Border Police, has made the right more aware of this intolerable gap. Like Combatants for Peace, the right has rejected the IDF’s investigation into the affair, which ascribed Shmueli’s death to a local problem (“forces should have been dispersed and operated differently”), not an issue of faulty policy that, in Shmueli’s case, dictated rules of engagement that tie the soldiers’ hands, as the right sees it.

The right also accuses the army of politicization. Leftist, of course: Rights group B’Tselem and the High Court of Justice are tying our soldiers’ hands and abandoning them on the battlefield by making them more afraid of military justice than of the enemy.

Even if the left and right have different perspectives of the IDF, there is only one reality and the players are the same players. The violence that the left-wing activists of Combatants for Peace suffered can’t be separated from the storm that erupted following Shmueli’s death. From the right’s perspective, Combatants for Peace is also tying the hands of Israel’s soldiers.

So, if you’re an IDF officer and see reality through a right-wing prism, you’re not dealing with a group of army reservists, peace activists who only want to bring water to thirsty Palestinians. You’re dealing with leftists who are tying your hands and the hands of your comrades in arms and abandoning you to enemy fire.

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