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July 23, 2017

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Controversial video brings outcry from Israeli troops in support of soldier

JERUSALEM--The reprimand of an Israeli soldier — who was caught on video cursing and pointing a cocked gun toward the head of a Palestinian teen — has triggered the biggest outpouring of frustration by Israeli soldiers in years about their service in the West Bank.

Thousands posted messages of support on social media for the infantry soldier after the army said he apparently violated norms of behavior during a shoving match in Hebron, where several hundred radical Israeli settlers guarded by soldiers live in daily friction with tens of thousands of Palestinians.

The protest campaign appeared largely aimed at the army's perceived failure to back the soldier, rather than any moral judgments about Israel's 47-year military occupation of the West Bank. Some critics said the video reflected daily realities there and it was hypocritical to portray the confrontation, and the soldier's behavior, as unusual.

The video, shot about a week ago, begins when one of the teens stands close to the soldier and dares him in broken Hebrew to call the Israeli police. The teen then moves even closer. The soldier says: "Listen, you better not do this again, do you understand?" He shoves the teen who says in Arabic, "Lower your hand." The soldier quickly raises and cocks his weapon a few inches from the Palestinian.

Another young Palestinian suddenly appears behind the soldier who spins around with his rifle and calls out, "Hey." The first Palestinian tries to lead the second away from the soldier, who kicks at them.

The soldier then curses and walks toward a Palestinian filming the scene. "Turn off the camera," he shouts as his weapon points halfway to the ground. "I'll put a bullet in your head." There's a break and the next scene shows the soldier walking away with the first Palestinian.

The footage was shot by Youth Against Settlements, a group of Palestinian activists, and aired last week on Israel's Channel 10 TV.

Issa Amro, the group's spokesman, said the incident took place outside Beit Hadassah, a settler enclave in the center of Hebron where the military heavily restricts Palestinian movement.

Amro, who was not present at the time, said that tensions flared before filming began. He said three Palestinians — including one who later appears in the video — were walking along the main thoroughfare outside Beit Hadassah when settlers yelled insults from a van and one of the Palestinians responded in kind. He said the trio was then detained for more than an hour by the soldier, who had been manning a nearby checkpoint.

A chief military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said that a review is underway but the army's initial position was that the behavior shown "did not seem to fall in line with what we expect from our soldiers, as far as conduct is concerned."

He said the second youth shown in the video was briefly detained on suspicion he had held a metal chain during the confrontation. Amro said the youth had held prayer beads. He also said Israeli forces repeatedly searched the offices of his group in recent days and made threats against the activists.

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