(JTA) — Naftali Bennett, an Israeli cabinet minister, joined other right-wing leaders in justifying the actions of a soldier who was filmed loading a rifle and pointing it at Palestinian youths.
In the incident on Sunday in Hebron, the soldier, identified in Israeli media only as David, ordered a Palestinian youth to leave the area.
In the video, an older youth approaches David from behind, with his right hand gripping an object. David, who appears to be unaccompanied, detects the older youth’s presence and loads and points his assault rifle at both youths while calling for backup.
Media coverage of the incident sparked a social media campaign in support of David, in part because of an apparently mistaken assumption that he was disciplined for the incident. Bennett’s comments came in the wake of the ensuing debate over whether David’s actions were justified.
“I would have acted like David of the Nahal [infantry brigade],” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, a former commando fighter in the Israeli Defense Forces and leader of the rightist Jewish home party, was quoted as telling Army Radio Thursday. The situation in the West Bank “is no ballet recital,” he added.
After Channel 10 aired the video, an army spokesperson said the soldier’s conduct was “unusual and incompatible with army norms.” But on Wednesday, army officials told Army Radio the soldier acted according to orders, because he perceived a threat and because the older Palestinian was wearing brass knuckles.
The soldier was recently sentenced to jail for an unrelated incident in which he struck a commander, Army Radio reported, apparently leading to the popular misconception that he had been jailed for the filmed incident.
In the Hebron encounter, Bennett said, the soldier “was subjected to violence.”
“He was alone and surrounded by a number of violent Arab provocateurs,” the minister said. “He did not discharge, he took actions to defend himself and his surroundings and brought the event to an end,” Bennett wrote. He warned that “failing to back up soldiers will mean they will run away under fire.”
After the scuffle, the soldier told another Palestinian: “Switch off the camera, I’ll put a bullet in your head.”
Some 80,000 people expressed support on Facebook for the soldier, who was nicknamed “David Hanachlawi” or “David of the Nachal Brigade.” Among David’s supporters were whole army units that posed for pictures while covering their faces with cardboard signs with the slogan “I am David Hanachlawi.”
A spokesperson for the left-wing group Breaking the Silence told Army Radio that the incident shows that “the only way Israeli soldiers can govern over Palestinians is through fear.”