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Israel suspends officer videotaped striking activist

By Kevin Flower, CNN
April 16, 2012 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tape of Saturday's incident shows soldiers attempting to block activists
  • One young man is shown being hit in face with a rifle
  • Israeli military says incident will be investigated
  • Video doesn't tell the whole story, military says

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The Israeli military said Monday that it has suspended an officer who was caught on video striking a pro-Palestinian activist in the face.

In a statement, the military described the incident as severe and promised that the circumstances would be investigated and "the necessary measures carried out."

Video of the incident, which took place Saturday near the West Bank city of Jericho, shows a group of Israeli soldiers attempting to prevent a group of dozens of bicycle-riding activists from passing. One of the activists is next to an Israeli soldier, who suddenly hits the young man in the face with an M-16 rifle. The man falls to the ground and is quickly dragged away by his peers.

The video was posted to You Tube on Sunday by a pro-Palestinian advocacy group.

He was treated in a Palestinian hospital for light injuries.

For reasons of security, when contacted by phone the injured activist would provide only his first name, which he said was Andaers. He said he was participating in a bicycle tour through the Jordan River Valley organized to bring attention to the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank.

When his group encountered a military roadblock, Andaers said, he and a few other bikers decided to move peacefully toward the soldiers. "We walked slowly towards them; the immediate response as you see from the video was violence." Andaers said. "One senior officer took off his rifle and beat three people, including myself."

Andaers said that "there was no justification for the violence" and that he was considering legal action.

The video prompted a quick and emphatic response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said in a statement Sunday, "This behaviour does not characterize the soldiers and commanders of the (Israeli Defense Forces) and has no place in the IDF and the State of Israel."

The officer has been identified as Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, who served as commander for soldiers in the West Bank.

Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said the officer's actions were not in line with military training and did "not bide with the ethical code and the moral values that we teach our soldiers and commanders" but suggested that the video did not tell the whole story.

"It was an illegal riot trying to block a road," Leibovich said of the activists. The video, she maintained, represented an edited 30 seconds of a 120-minute-long event in which the officer in question had his hand broken by stick-wielding protesters.

"I'm not sure the violence of the event was conveyed in those 30 seconds," she said.

Bader Zama'reh, the director of Sharek Youth Forum, which organized the bicycle event, rejected the Israeli military's characterization.

"This was not a protest; this was a peaceful march," Zama'reh said. "They have overreacted to everything they did. This was a peaceful activity. The youth had bicycles and wanted to ride."

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