IDF officer: in West Bank, soldiers should be smart, not right
Following incident in which two Palestinian women hit IDF soldiers in an effort to provoke a reaction, senior IDF officer talks about challenges troops face while dealing with Palestinian population; 'The force doesn't act differently because there's a camera pointed at it,' he says.
"Very quickly, you give up on being right and you want to look for a way to be smart. The person who's right speaks from his gut, while the smart one speaks with the tools he's been given," the officer told Ynet.
The two young women seen in the video kicking, slapping and punching the soldiers, who displayed restraint in the face of the provocation, have been arrested, while the Central Command continues its investigation into the incident.
The company commander, a captain, and the soldier continued operational duty after receiving the full backing of their superior officers for their conduct.
A source close to the officer and soldier said that "they don't regret their response for a moment and would have done the same even without the presence of a camera."
The army, meanwhile, has begun implementing the lessons learned from the incident, instructing all forces in the West Bank to arrest such provocateurs on the spot.
"This is a serious commander who used his judgment and came between his soldiers and the provocateurs," the senior officer told Ynet.
"The video doesn't show what happened before that—the soldiers were there because there was violent rioting ... The soldiers' response should be praised for the way they acted: professionally and ethically," he continued.
"We're operating in a space filled with people, and we need to differentiate between incidents in which a soldier acts in violation of orders or against IDF values, and incidents in which a soldier acts in accordance with IDF values and uses judgment, even if his decision is not perfect in the end," the senior officer added.
"We have fighters and commanders who are top of the line, and we need to equip them with a toolbox that contains tools for every eventuality ... I teach my soldiers to act based on the IDF's values."
The incident in Nabi Salih brought to the forefront one of the main weapons of choice in the West Bank: the camera. The IDF learned to put it to good use after Palestinian videos helped sway international opinion in their favor.
"At the end of the day, the force doesn't act differently because there's a camera pointed at it," the senior officer said, adding that the challenge cameras pose is the fact that those looking at videos or photos give their own interpretation to what they're seeing.
"We don't know how to deal with people's interpretations. We don't want the soldiers to focus on interpretation, but on the professional and mental aspects. I want the soldiers and the commanders to use their judgment," he explained.
There has been a revolution in the way the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division now implements lessons learned from different incidents.
For example, soldiers now participate in workshops that include simulations of incidents such as the Nabi Salih one, with professional actors playing the Palestinians.
At the Hebron Brigade, over 500 soldiers have already attended classes on Krav Maga and lectures on intelligence, held discussions to learn from incidents and videos of terror attacks, and participated in conversations with senior officers from the Judea and Samaria Division.
And the results can be seen in the field. Since January 2017, troops arrested 58 Palestinians carrying knives at the Jewish settlement in Hebron without firing a single shot.
"There are dozens of incidents in the different sectors, provocations done by radicals on all sides, sometimes a few times a day," the senior officer said.
"Our test is to not allow these provocations to affect people. Two years ago, we broke photographers' cameras. We learned from that as well and made sure soldiers know that if someone provokes them, that person will be dealt with later on. There are quite a few Palestinians who get arrested or summoned for a talk and warned."
The officer went on to say that "safeguarding human life and human dignity doesn't end in cases like that."
He elaborated with an example: "Soldiers who were on a patrol a year ago, in a Palestinian area close to the Jewish settlement in Hebron, heard screams from a Palestinian home. Even though it was theoretically of no interest to them, they entered the home and saw a husband beating his wife, who was bleeding. The soldiers provided the woman with medical treatment, called the Red Crescent, and transferred her husband to the Palestinian security forces."