Tens of thousands of Israelis have come out in support of a soldier who was caught on video cocking his gun at two Palestinian youths in Hebron who appeared to try to taunt him into a confrontation.
Soldiers from around Israel have been posting photos on Facebook, holding signs in support of the soldier known as “David” who serves in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Nahal infantry brigade. As of this writing, a Facebook page set up in support of the soldier received more than 90,000 “likes,” an enormous number considering the population of Israel is 8 million. More than 3,000 photographs supporting the soldier were sent to the Israeli news site 0404.
The Jerusalem Post described the outpouring as “unprecedented.”
In the video below, a Palestinian teen is seen pushing himself against and then shoving the soldier, who appeared to be alone. The soldier answered in Hebrew, “Listen, it’s not a good idea for you to do that again.”
“I told you not to do it again,” the soldier said, and then pushed the Palestinian away with his hand.
The soldier, who apparently felt threatened without backup, then cocked his gun and pointed it at the teen, as another Palestinian teen ran behind him. The soldier turned and pointed his gun at the second Palestinian.
Israeli news sites reported that one of the Palestinians was wearing brass knuckles.
Apparently deterred, the two Palestinians began walking away. The soldier kicked the Palestinian youth who was seen pushing against him earlier in the 1:30 minute video.
The Times of Israel reported that the soldier then called for backup from his unit:
Thousands of Israeli soldiers posted photos online holding signs in Hebrew which read, “I am also with David of the Nahal Brigade.” Most had their faces covered to avoid punishment by their commanders.
The Facebook page in support of David had as its description, “IDF soldiers are sick of being abandoned to the enemy and treated as pawns.”
"I would have acted like David the warrior from the Nahal Brigade," Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett posted on his own Facebook page.
"He was alone, surrounded by a number of violent and provocative Arabs. He did not open fire. He took reasonable steps to defend himself and those around him and brought the incident to an end," Bennett wrote according to a Jerusalem Post translation. Bennett is himself a veteran of the IDF’s special forces unit Sayeret Matkal.
Palestinian activists regularly tape Israeli soldiers, often with the support of international human rights groups, while they are on duty in the West Bank, a phenomenon the minister criticized. The video was posted on YouTube on April 27.
“Two cameras were present during the incident and this is not a coincidence. The extreme left wing survives off the slandering of IDF fighters,” Bennett wrote.
A friend of David’s told Israel’s Channel 10 News that David “became stressed, just as anyone would have.”
“He did cock the weapon, but not in order to fire, only to deter. There’s no chance that he would have fired. He’s a good person,” his friend said.
The social media protest was initially fuelled by an incorrect report that the soldier had been punished over the incident.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesman’s Unit released a statement Thursday clarifying that the soldier had not been punished over the altercation, which it was now investigating.
David was, however, punished over another issue not connected to the Hebron event.
“The IDF regrets the erroneous reports on the punishment of the soldier and emphasizes that his imprisonment stemmed from violence against his officers and was not connected to the video in question, which will be investigated as a separate matter when he returns to duty,” the IDF said. “Incidents of violence in the Nahal brigade are taken very seriously and are not consistent with IDF values.”
The Times of Israel reported that David had been sentenced to 20 days in military prison over two previous violent incidents against his officers.
The Facebook page in support of David complained about the confusion facing soldiers patrolling in areas with a large Palestinian population.
“IDF soldiers are humiliated by the Palestinians time after time ... targeted by rocks, Molotov cocktails, and anything else the rioters can get in their hands,” the Facebook campaign stated. “Those soldiers find themselves bound and confused. What is allowed? What is not? Is it worth it?”
"The state of Israel sends IDF soldiers to defend us. The fighters are present at the front endangering their lives, they are not in the media studios. They face guns, rocks and hostile cameras. I experienced similar situations in [West Bank cities] Kalandiya, Kabatiya, Ramallah and Jenin,” Economy Minister Bennett wrote.
“This is not a reality television show. This is very complex and dangerous reality that IDF fighters deal with on a daily basis. ... It is important that every IDF soldier knows that he should continue to protect himself and us, and that he should know that the nation is behind him," he added.
IDF Spokesman Brig.Gen. Moti Almoz said, “The issue of soldiers in Judea and Samaria is very complex. We understand the operational situations they are in. The soldier cocked his weapon, and while we can understand this, I stress that we are still conducting an inquiry, and when we understand what happened, we’ll handle the matter.”