There’s nothing like a rifle butt to the face to sour world opinion on Israel. And clearly, the damage that Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner caused to the jaw of a pro-Palestinian activist on Saturday pales in comparison to the damage that he caused to Israel in the eyes of an already critical world.
But while Andreas Ayas tends to his split lip and the IDF tends to its dented reputation, everyone else should breathe a sigh of relief. There is a silver lining to this dark cloud that Israel’s proponents and critics would do well to acknowledge. And that is that the Eisner incident only seems so heinous and mortifying because other, more truly damaging sights have practically vanished.
Things have been much, much worse.
Sure, Israel will take some chiding for a few days over the young Dane’s scratch. But it won’t suffer anything like the condemnation it received in the cases of Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, two young International Solidarity Movement activists who died in incidents involving Israeli soldiers near the Gaza Strip in 2003 – Corrie crushed by an armored bulldozer and Hurndall shot in the face by a sniper. (He spent nine months in a coma before dying in 2004.)
Eisner, undoubtedly, will always regret the day he lost his cool. As embarrassing as his actions were, however, they won’t taint him in the way other security service members have been tainted by theirs. After all, Eisner didn’t restrain a bound and blindfolded Palestinian demonstrator while cajoling one of his soldiers into firing a rubber bullet into the Palestinian’s foot from point blank range, like Lt.-Col. Omry Burberg did in 2008. And Eisner certainly didn’t torture or sexually abuse Palestinian teens, like scores of soldiers and border policemen have been convicted of doing throughout the West Bank over the past decade.
Ironically, what Eisner’s flare-up shows is that Israel’s defense establishment has learned some of the bitter lessons of the Second Intifada.
Fewer soldiers today are faced with the tedious and maddening tasks of crowd control that set Eisner off than just a few years ago. What were once weekly occurrences, where soldiers and border police sometimes killed protesters even with rubber bullets, are now infrequent incidents where conduct like Eisner’s is as bad as it gets.
So, too, civilians – especially foreign civilians – are being kept at a greater distance from the conflict than before. ISM protesters were once so numerous, so brazen and so close to the action that they posed a serious threat to security operations. Now, the most they can do is send a few dozen Europeans on bicycles to an out-of-the-way village in the Jordan Valley.
Similarly, the much ballyhooed “flytilla” that threatened to turn Ben-Gurion Airport into a pro-Palestinian protest circus on Sunday fizzled, thanks to Israeli pre-emptive action. Rather than be drawn into another Mavi Marmara fiasco, Israel is making it clear that foreign protests will be thwarted and made so pathetic as to be robbed of any significance.
Of course, Israel still has room for improvement; the film of a lieutenant-colonel swinging his M-16 at a passive protester proves as much. But dead men don’t tell tales, as the saying goes – so, even if Andreas Ayas tells his tale for what amounts to a long lifetime, Israel will be the better for it.