April 25, 2012
Once in a while, the Israeli occupation provides some instances of comic relief to break the monotony of desperation. Funny to the point of tears is the roundish and unkempt figure of Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, limping on his way for “medical treatment,” complaining of pains, showing the cameras his bandaged pinky and his arm hanging from a brace as if it were some serious orthopedic injury. No less amusing is the claim that demonstrators broke the deputy brigade commander’s pinky. It’s also amusing to hear one of the settler leaders say the demonstrators blocked off traffic on the “Dan-Eilat highway.”
It’s funny to hear Eisner admit that it’s possible he “committed a professional error in judgment, using my weapon in front of the cameras,” and that his actions were “in order to carry out my duty and to protect my soldiers.” It’s also funny to hear the director of the IDF’s public relations branch, Roni Daniel, warn that following this incident, “People will not want to become officers in the IDF” (as if it wouldn’t have been better if people like Eisner weren’t officers in the IDF ). And it’s no less ridiculous to hear the Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, say Eisner’s actions “run contrary to IDF values” – as if IDF officers and soldiers don’t behave in exactly the same way every day in the territories, just not usually on camera.
Indeed, even the excessive storm that the blow with the rifle butt gave rise to is funny. After all, what happened? There were cameras.
A blow with the butt of a rifle? Late last week, B’Tselem published another video clip captured by Palestinian TV near the bicycle protest: Eisner is seen walking and striking nearly everything that moves with his weapon, as if he was some nightclub bouncer. Five demonstrators tasted the butt of his weapon, from the front and the back. The video also exposes the “violence” of the demonstrators and their “threat” to the soldiers: one of them began pedaling on his bike.
This section of the video was broadcast Friday night in symbolic proximity to a report on violent incidents in soccer stadiums. The behavior of the hooligans and players in the stadiums was not much different to that of Eisner. Between the IDF on the one hand, and Bnei Lod and Hapoel Ramat Gan on the other, you will find few differences. Following the disturbances on the soccer pitch, the league championship action was canceled this weekend. Eisner’s violence will stop nothing, except for slightly sidetracking his career.
But once the brief comic relief is over, the depressing reality returns and strikes you full in the face. It’s now clear that Eisner’s action was not a momentary outburst. The thought that an officer like Eisner was to preside as deputy commander of the Officers’ Training school (had it not been for the accident with the cameras ) should be a cause for concern – first and foremost to the IDF itself.
Above all, the Eisner case provides a telling snapshot of Israeli society. Immediately following the release of the video, it reacted in line with its typical parameters: the right instantly crowned Eisner a national hero; the remainder of the left expressed shock; and the vast majority of the public, presumably, thought Eisner was wronged. It is hard to imagine why.
The basic human instinct of any person, on the right or the left, should have led him to respond in shock at seeing the scenes of an officer brutally striking a demonstrator armed with only a bicycle. The basic instinct of someone who supports democracy should also be the same. What is right or left in this case? Why is the right not shocked by the behavior of a thug? Why has Eisner become its hero? If blows against Arabs mean nothing because they are not perceived as human, and striking a blow to the face of a fair-haired young Dane stirs none of the required human response, then something very sick is going on.
True, the political brainwashing machine has imposed on us in recent years (also through the media ) the assumption that a peace activist is a terrorist, that every volunteer in the territories is an anarchist, and that everyone who is critical is anti-Semitic. Nonetheless, I suspect that the people want violence – and the more the better against everyone who does not fall into line.
The end of this affair is clear and depressing: Col. Eisner will be compensated for the “wrong” he has suffered, either in the IDF or elsewhere; the hostility (and violence ) of officers and soldiers in the IDF – which is directed against demonstrators and, especially, cameramen – will be increased even more; and the public will stick to its belief that the IDF is the most ethical army in the world.