Having just arrived that morning back to a sweltering Israel after a holiday in pleasantly cool Norway and pastoral Scotland, the images of this soldier left on his own for long minutes by his comrades as he tries to shake off the assailants—aided by some foreign instigators—while he is filmed from every possible angle by multiple still and video cameramen—left me with a sinking feeling.
This leads one to ask what can be done to better protect soldiers caught in this situation, and what best practices can be employed to counter such Palestinian-initiated, staged clashes, while unfriendly cameras are whirring and snapping away in a game of gotcha employed by much of the media covering the territories.
Indeed the staged—and therefore predictable—nature of the incident was recognized even by the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, two British newspapers that are quick to tar and feather Israel at every turn, usually without looking back, that were forced to change their initial critical headlines and even to remove the report entirely from their web site when it became clear that the soldiers' assailants are known provocateurs, particularly his teenage sister Ahed and their radical parents.
Some Israeli commentators such as Nachum Barnea in Yedioth/YNet used the incident to bemoan again the debilitating impact the "occupation" is having on the State of Israel and its young soldiers; others see an entirely different message in the images—that the fearlessness with which Palestinian women and children accost an Israeli soldier armed with an assault rifle proves that they know full well that even when being hit, wrestled to the ground and nearly disarmed, he will not use his weapon, debunking claims of widespread brutality.
A look at longer YouTube posts of the incident tells a more nuanced story, still undoubtedly partial and skewered: Nebi Salah, where the encounter took place, has been a focus of violent Palestinian demonstrations for a number of years. Fridays are their favorite days for instigators to drum up a few women and children, perhaps with the promise of monetary remuneration, to march down the short access road out of the village toward a spring over which the village and a nearby Jewish settlement, Halamish, have been feuding for years.
The video shows a handful of Palestinian young men using the children and women as cover as they target IDF troops in the distance using potentially injurious high-velocity slings. The troops respond with tear gas as the Palestinians use their slings also to throw the canisters back at the troops.
Eventually, the troops advance uphill on the group when the 12-year old is caught by the soldier. These are scenes that have repeated themselves almost every Friday (I was witness to one about three years ago), which have raised renewed calls to train and deploy for just these kinds of situations.
A flashpoint of the disturbances is the Temple Mount where both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas have been agitating for violence in an apparent attempt to disrupt Rosh Hashanah and traditional Jewish mass pilgrimage to the Western Wall during the Jewish High Holidays and to revive attention to the Palestinian issue that has been overshadowed by events in Syria and the European refugee crisis.
Just weeks ago, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called for violence by praising 'martyrs' spilling blood in Jerusalem to prevent Jews from entering the Temple Mount, saying, "the Al-Aqsa is ours...and they (Jews) have no right to defile it with their filthy feet." Israeli officials have reportedly blamed Turkey for hosting senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri who is responsible for remotely organizing terrorist attacks and funding the organization's incitement of Palestinian youth to attack Israelis.
Granted the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, has been the focus of much more Jewish interest in recent years, stoking general Muslim hysteria going back nearly a century about imaginary Jewish plots to undermine the mosques there. But this is a poor excuse.
In recent comments, Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan has accused Islamic rioters of barricading themselves in the Al Aqsa Mosque and turning Temple Mount into a "terror warehouse," stockpiled with makeshift bombs and rocks to use on police and Jewish worshipers in the Western Wall plaza below. He vowed to meticulously maintain the status quo under which all those who wish to visit Temple Mount will be allowed to do so.
In a rare emergency Friday meeting a few weeks ago, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee authorized the call-up of 10,000 reserve Border Policemen in order to quell the violence. Other measures that are being considered are imposing a 100,000 NIS bond on the parents of all minors convicted of stone throwing that will be returned only if the child commits no further offenses for a year, reintroduction of the less-lethal Ruger small caliber gun for use by security forces and tighter restrictions on entry onto the mount by Palestinian agitators and lawbreakers. Recent restrictions, that permitted only men over 40 to enter, seem to have worked the trick and the crowd dispersed without incident after noon prayers.
True to form, Arab countries, even those Israel maintains close diplomatic relations with—Egypt and Jordan—and those who, it was thought, might be silent allies in the future against their common enemy Iran—were quick to join the choir condemning only Israel.
The U.N. Security Council played into this attitude the week before last, passing a unanimous statement that failed even to mention Palestinian violence and referred to the Temple Mount only by its Arabic name. Israel’s United Nations Ambassor Ron Prosor reacted aptly to the Security Council statement saying that “When the Palestinians set the Temple Mount ablaze, Mahmoud Abbas fuels the fire, and the Security Council fans the flames, it is a recipe for a regional explosion.”
The coming days will tell whether the measures instituted by the Israeli government will quell the unrest that put a general damper on the Jewish High Holiday spirit and caused untold pain to the family of Alexander Levlovitz, and other injured Israelis. Short of a miracle, the only choice left to Prime Minister Netanyahu is to meticulously uphold the status quo that allows Muslims to pray and non-Muslims to visit what is potentially the most explosive site in the world, bar none.
Just in recent days, a drive by shooting killed two young parents in front of their four children. In another attack, two Jewish men were murdered by Palestinian terrorists and a teenager was seriously wounded. With Palestinian terror attacks on the rise, Israel’s military needs to ensure it has appropriate responses in place.