Danish protester: ´No one would care if a Palestinian was hit with a rifle´ (GUARDIAN UK) Harriet Sherwood in Ramallah 04/21/12)
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Andreas Ias says his treatment by Israeli soldier is nothing compared
to the systematic violence carried out on Palestinians
Without the video, all Andreas Ias would have to show for his weekend
bicycle ride in the Jordan valley would be two stitches and a
slightly swollen lower lip plus a hardening anger about the
treatment by Israeli soldiers of Palestinians.
But a few seconds of footage uploaded to YouTube catapulted the 20-
year-old Danish activist into the media spotlight, drew statements
from the Israeli prime minister, president and chief of staff, led to
the disciplining of an Israeli army officer, and prompted debate over
the use of video cameras as a weapon of modern warfare.
Nevertheless, Ias not his real name is dismayed that in the
aftermath of him being struck in the face with a soldier´s rifle, so
little attention has focused on what he describes as the routine
aggression, harassment and displacement suffered by Palestinian
villagers in the area.
"It has been framed in the media as the ´Danish incident´, as though
this is not how the IDF normally act," he said, swathed in a red
keffiyeh in a Ramallah cafe. "But what happened to me is nothing
compared to the systematic violence carried out on Palestinians. This
is not a single incident, it´s what we see every day. But it´s very
difficult to move the focus from me to the issues of the Palestinian
struggle in the West Bank."
While volunteering for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in
the West Bank over the past six weeks, Ias says he has witnessed "a
process of ethnic cleansing that has been going on since the start of
"I´ve seen people whose homes have been demolished in the middle of
the night by dozens of soldiers, people who are left with nothing.
I´ve seen Bedouin villages without running water or electricity next
to Israeli settlements with total control over water resources. I´ve
seen people denied their basic human rights and any hope for the
future. You can´t experience that without it changing you."
Last Saturday, a group of 150-200 Palestinians and international
activists set off on a bicycle ride through the Jordan valley to
visit villages in an act of solidarity. As they reached route 90, the
main road running north to south through the valley, they found their
way blocked by the Israel Defence Forces.
According to Ias, the soldiers said the cyclists could not
proceed "for security reasons". There was a standoff. "We were very
peaceful, singing songs, clapping hands. It was a good, empowering
experience, people were happy," he said.
But as one of the organisers moved forward, Lieutenant Colonel Shalom
Eisner, the deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade who was in
charge of the operation, removed his rifle. "He obviously wanted us
to move back, but he didn´t say anything."
According to Ias´s account, a Dutch activist was pushed to the ground
and a Palestinian man was struck from behind. Then Eisner slammed the
base of his rifle into Ias´s face. "I fell to the ground. I was
surprised and disoriented. I didn´t feel any pain until later."
Eisner, who was forbidden to speak directly to the media, gave a
different version of events to colleagues and friends. He said the
activists were armed with sticks and were violent, and that one had
hit him, breaking a finger. But, he added, "these stories do not
interest the chief of staff or my commander. We know the history of
these anarchists. They came with sticks and broke my hand but no
one will tell and film that."
He said his actions were necessary. "It was a two-minute
confrontation so, yes, it´s true that some pictures look bad, but I
used a weapon in a [non-lethal] manner and I did not put anyone´s
life in danger."
Eisner who was seen in the video wearing a type of kippah
associated with the national-religious settler movement and his
colleagues claimed that the clip uploaded to YouTube was edited to
distort the incident and cut out violence by the activists. Ias
rejects this, saying the organisers have offered to hand over the
unedited footage to the Israeli media to prove there was "no
aggression, no attempt to violence, not a single stone picked up".
The military, which routinely films such incidents, mainly for
intelligence-gathering, has not produced any footage.
Ias was taken to hospital in Jericho for treatment, later rejoined
the activists, and "went home feeling it was just another incident in
a lot of incidents I have seen in the past few weeks. I didn´t expect
it to have any consequences at all."
But the video was picked up and broadcast by Israeli television on
Sunday the same day the Israeli authorities launched a big security
operation to prevent hundreds of international activists landing at
Ben Gurion airport to attend a week of solidarity actions in the West
By Monday, the video had appeared on countless news websites and the
story was running in papers round the world. The prime minister,
Binyamin Netanyahu, the president, Shimon Peres, and the military´s
chief of staff, Benny Gantz, all made statements saying Eisner´s
actions were unacceptable and in breach of Israeli military standards
On Wednesday, Eisner was dismissed from his post for two years
although he has been allowed to remain in the army.
"The incident that took place in the Jordan river valley is extremely
serious and in absolute contradiction with [IDF] ethics," an army
spokesman said. "There are different bodies, some of them anarchists
and belligerent war instigators, disparaging our soldiers to create a
buzz in the media, but we must maintain IDF ethics and avoid getting
dragged into a provocation."
Eisner told colleagues: "I did not expect this to be the decision. I
thought they accepted my version of events and understood it. They
showed me the door out. I need to digest the decision and then plan
He said he did not "accept this as a moral failure in any way [but]
it could have been a professional mistake to use a weapon in front of
Ias is taking legal advice on the possibility of a civil suit against
After finishing high school in Aarhus, the young Dane worked in
factories and hotels to save money for his trip to the West Bank. He
arrived in mid-February, and will leave in three weeks when his
tourist visa expires. He attended a two-day workshop in Ramallah to
learn about his legal rights as an international activist, non-
violent protest and Palestinian culture. He did not plan to spend any
time in Israel.
"The ISM differs from other international solidarity groups in that
we are willing to try to actively oppose the occupation, rather than
just monitor it," Ias said. "We will use our bodies to intervene, to
challenge. So if we see soldiers trying to grab Palestinians at a
demo, we will hold on to them to make the arrest difficult."
But, he added: "I´ve not been presented with one single incident of
ISM members being violent. I´ve not seen any statements espousing
terrorism. The ISM is founded on principles of non-violence."
He said the international community had a duty to intervene when
wrong was being done. "The colour of my skin and my nationality gives
me great privileges. We have to use that to stand in solidarity with
The Israeli government rejects the image of the ISM as peace
activists. "They parade themselves as a non-violent movement but they
refuse to condemn suicide bombings or attacks by Palestinians on
innocent civilians," said the government spokesman Mark Regev. "They
educate their members in an aggressively anti-Israel position. They
never criticise human rights abuses on the Palestinian side."
This, Regev stressed, did not justify the actions of the Israeli
The incident triggered wide debate in Israel about activism and the
power of the camera. B´Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation,
has been giving cameras to Palestinians for several years,
encouraging them to document the behaviour of Israeli soldiers. The
IDF has trained around 100 combat soldiers to use video cameras,
partly to identify protesters, partly to counter what they see as
activist propaganda, and sometimes to use in internal investigations.
Many commentators have pointed out that the IDF would not have taken
action over the incident had it not been filmed and broadcast round
the world. But, Ias said, his nationality and skin colour contributed
to the attention. "The global media wouldn´t care at all if a
Palestinian had been hit in the face with a rifle." (guardian.co.uk ©
Guardian News and Media Limited 2012 04/21/12)
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