Following the publication on the internet and in other media of a video showing a senior Israeli military officer striking a Danish tourist on a cycling tour of the West Bank, Israeli officials launched a public relations campaign that culminated in the temporary demotion of the officer in question.Lieutenant-Colonel Shalom Eisner, who was on the verge of promotion to Colonel, was shown in the video striking Danish cyclist Andreas Ias with a rifle butt on Saturday near Jericho.
Two other foreign tourists and one Palestinian were also injured by Eisner as he assaulted the cycle tour. “Israeli soldiers blocked the road for all of the cyclists and quickly resorted to violent force to intimidate us from cycling on Route 90. Lt-Col Eisner beat me with his M-16 without provocation.” stated Ias.
The tour consisted of approximately two hundred cyclists, both international tourists and Palestinians, biking through the Jordan Valley near Jericho on an Israeli road that connects Israeli settlements constructed on occupied Palestinian land. It was an alternative tourism event meant to draw attention to the seizure of Palestinian land by Israelis in the Jordan Valley, and restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians.
In a statement on Israeli TV Channel 10 on Tuesday, Eisner said that he did not regret his actions, that he acted within military guidelines, and explained his attack on the Danish cyclist as putting an end to what he called a ‘demonstration’ by the group of cyclists on tour in the West Bank. He did, however, say that he regretted the fact that cameras were present to film him beating the cyclist, saying, “It could have been a professional mistake to use a weapon in front of the cameras.”
One Israeli analyst, Eitan Haber with Yedioth Ahranoth, wrote that the real problem is not the action itself, but the image it shows of Israel to the outside world. He warned that Israeli officials have to work harder to preserve a positive image of Israel in the world’s media in the wake of such incidents.
Although the attack on the tourist was not unusual, it was one of a very few such incidents that are actually captured on camera and seen around the world. Due to the publicity, Israeli officials say they felt compelled to act in this case.
The officer in question will be temporarily demoted for 2 years, but will continue to serve in the military and will continue to be deployed in the West Bank with full access to weaponry and the authority to use it. Israeli daily Haaretz reported that he may be considered for a Command appointment and promotion in 2014.
Organizers of the bike tour say that Ias and the other injured cyclists plan to take legal action against the Israeli military over the incident.