Last Saturday’s Jordan Valley bicycle ride, held on April 14th, ended in what should honestly be called a clear victory by the protesters. The film clip of an IDF officer hitting a young Dane in the face with his rifle, led, understandably and perhaps inevitably, to the IDF’s dismissal of Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner. The IDF lost a highly trained, and, by most accounts, calm and well-motivated officer. Andreas Ayas, the Danish protestor, won this round by TKO.
The media and blogosphere have been filled with arguments over Eisner’s actions and its repercussions. “Greater crimes have gone un-noticed or unpunished!” some proclaimed. Others argued against generalizing from a single act, while some did just that.
But however one contextualizes the blow dealt Ayas by Eisner, I think that the visceral brutality and the emotional power of the quick-to-go-viral images granted an easy victory to Israel’s detractors. Was this, though — as American news anchor Brian Williams characterized similarly revolting images of US soldiers abusing enemy bodies — a “self-inflicted wound?”
The Arab war against Israel takes place on many levels and in a variety of forums. Aside from armed attacks on civilian and military targets, alongside cynical manipulation of international bodies, the media reports on a rising tide of calls for the opening of other fronts as well. Proposals for boycotts and acts of civil disobedience are getting more press lately. (Although the recent physical assault against one of their main Palestinian proponents, Mustafa Barghouti, by those taking part in one of his “non-violent” events may call into question the backing of such moves by the Palestinians themselves.)
Part of the strategy of those fighting Israel in this fashion depends upon, in Barghouti’s words, not allowing “the Israelis to claim that they are the victims in this conflict.” Part of accomplishing just that is capturing moments like Eisner’s blow. The emotional intensity of such moments makes it all too easy to ignore the bigger (and more complicated) picture of the century-old struggle against any Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land. The geographical and demographic disparity between the one small Jewish state and the nearly half-billion strong Arab-Persian neighborhood in which it lies disappears. The tortured history of Arab violence and rejectionism is forgotten. The “conflict” becomes encapsulated by the one difficult image. The capture of such moments, then, is part and parcel of the Arab war on Israel.
It should thus come as no surprise that according to a well informed source, the Palestinian Authority is taking an active role in making sure that the field of conflict is filmed by those most willing to work for their cause. I was recently informed that Palestinian camera-men are grossly underbidding on jobs for foreign news services. The total they receive is much higher, though. According to an Israeli supplier of video services, these camera operators submit their low receipts to the PA and have the difference between what they charge and the going rate made up by Authority funds. The PA well understands the media’s ability to help them (again quoting from Bargouti) “to change the parameters of the struggle and of the conflict and change the balance of power.” PA-supported media crews are part of their struggle against us.
Eisner’s unfortunate and unwarranted blow was not merely his own mistake — for which he paid a personal price — but it served as an opening which painfully cost the IDF and his country the services of a fine defender. And this is just what the tactics of these protesters seek to accomplish. And this is just the type of conflict (in addition to all of the others) that the IDF needs to be able to fight and win. What we witnessed was not on par with two-year-old gruesome snapshots making their way to the papers (as happened this week in America), but rather the result of carefully planned tactics by these demonstrators intended to weaken us — whom they see as an enemy that needs to be beaten.
There are, quite clearly, limits to the efficacy of brute force. Power, the ability to influence people and events, can often be found elsewhere. We need to remember not just that “we are being watched,” but that we are engaged in a struggle and conflict over our right to live peacefully in our one small homeland: a struggle that pits us against master media manipulators. I wish young Mr. Ayas a speedy and full recovery. I wish the IDF and our political leadership the courage and wisdom to learn from one officer’s error so that we, who have indeed lost this round, will eventually overcome.