Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Why IDF Restraint Matters

The arrest of Ahed Tamimi and her mother for assault and incitement have made international news. Supporters of Palestinian rights have turned Ahed into an overnight heroine while opponents decry her use of violence and physical force against two IDF soldiers. Ultimately the ensuing debate is one about restraint - the extent and purpose of it, and whether it ought to be used.

These kinds of incidents - and arrests - are part and parcel of Israel's military presence in the West Bank. But a couple of elements make this particular one different. First, a video of the initial event was posted online by activists on both sides of the conflict, which led to it being circulated widely. Palestinian supporters pointed out the entrance of IDF soldiers onto a private driveway, while Israel supporters emphasized the restraint shown by these soldiers as they are kicked repeatedly. Second, the video shows face-to-face full contact violence. The video evokes visceral responses because it shows two humans in physical conflict with each other rather than faceless demonstrators, tanks, or soldiers with their faces covered. 

While the soldiers' professionalism and restraint is commendable, it would hardly have been becoming of a liberal democracy to have acted otherwise. Reactions in Israel and in the pro-Israel community simultaneously laud the soldiers' restraint as typical of the IDF on the one hand and imply that they could or should have used force on the other. As if using force against an unarmed Palestinian civilian teenage girl would have been either consistent with liberal norms or productive.

Ahed Tamimi's arrest happened not right after the incident but at 4:00 the following morning, with Amira Haas reporting the use of teargas as part of the extraction. These tactics hardly qualify as "restraint." The IDF then posted a video of the arrest on one of its Twitter accounts - not a usual practice by any means. This self-congratulatory posting also does not qualify as restraint. It was intended to intimidate Palestinians and hold Tamimi as a trophy. Its message was straightforward: "She challenged us and got what she deserved. We won in the end."

Tactical restraint is commendable and violence against IDF soldiers condemnable. But restraint in a truly liberal country cannot be begrudging or supported only by the IDF and its soldiers. It must be tired directly to respect for human dignity and rights, and upheld by politicians and supporters of the state.

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