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Israeli officer's assault of activist stirs outcry

JERUSALEM — Video of a senior Israeli military officer’s assault against an unarmed pro-Palestinian activist drew sharp condemnations Monday, raising questions in Israel over whether the country’s heavy-handed approach to nonviolent protesters is causing damage to Israel’s image.

The assault Saturday, caught on video and featured in all Israel’s major newspapers and TV broadcasts, follows the government’s high-profile interception at its main airport of dozens of global activists who planned a solidarity mission with Palestinians in the West Bank.

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Israel has branded the activists provocateurs who posed a security threat to the country. Calling itself the Middle East’s only democracy, it says the protesters have their priorities wrong and should instead focus on rampant human rights violations in neighboring Arab countries.

In the video, Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner is seen smashing a Danish activist in the face with his M-16 rifle. Israel said the group of about 200 activists was attempting to block a main highway in Jericho and had provoked the soldiers.

The officer was immediately suspended while the incident was investigated.

But Ofer Shelah, a military affairs columnist for the Yediot Ahronot daily, wrote Monday: “One deputy brigade commanding officer, with an assault rifle, has caused harm that it is now difficult to repair.’’

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