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The troops’ concerns have drawn the most attention. This is, after all, Israel’s first full-scale — if mostly virtual — soldiers’ rebellion. It began Sunday, April 27, when the soldier, then known only as David Ha-Nachlawi — soldiers’ slang for a member of the Nachal Infantry Brigade — was seen on video in the now-iconic altercation.
Soldiers say such confrontations occur daily throughout the West Bank: Arab youths taunt them, belly up to them, hands held behind to avoid contact, aiming solely to humiliate. They’re often filmed by friends on cameras distributed by human rights groups, hoping to catch troops either fleeing or overreacting and thus create a scandal.
The soldier, since identified as David Adamov, 19, says there were more Palestinian youths than are seen on camera, gathering rocks and threatening him. He cocked his rifle, aimed at the teen closest to him and shouted in Hebrew to back off and stop filming. Regulations forbid cocking a weapon except when facing direct threat to life. Soldiers are instructed to walk away and rejoin their unit. It’s an open secret that weapons are cocked dozens of times daily.
Shortly after the video hit YouTube, rumors spread that Adamov had been sentenced to 20 days in the brig. Ma’ariv reported he was sentenced for the altercation. The army said no, he’d been jailed for previously assaulting his officers. But by then, Tuesday, the Facebook protest had begun, titled “We are all David Ha-Nachlawi.” It rapidly swelled beyond anything Israel had ever seen. By Wednesday it had 70,000 “likes.”
The rebellion quickly won public support from left and right. All agreed the young recruits were in an impossible situation: They’re trained for combat, then thrown into a policing role. Conservatives demanded the rules be eased to allow greater force in hostile confrontations. Liberals said they shouldn’t be there at all, that Israel should leave the West Bank. Soldiers complained, on line and in anonymous interviews, that their officers don’t understand them and don’t listen.
Politicians jumped in, mostly from the right, led by economy minister Naftali Bennett and members of his Jewish Home party. They declared they would have acted as David did and the army should give troops freer rein. Officers grumbled that the politicians were undermining them. Some said the uprising was being exploited by “right-wing elements for their own purposes.”
Thursday morning the General Staff met. Chief of Staff Benny Gantz was quoted saying Facebook is “not a command tool. It is here and is a fact, but it does not replace or even parallel officers speaking with their troops.”