JERUSALEM -- The Israeli military on Sunday said it has reprimanded an officer who was found to have used excessive force against protesters in the occupied West Bank, including pushing a 65-year-old Israeli peace activist to the ground.
The army said the officer, a major, had deviated from “the professional norms and standards” expected of him. It said he could not be promoted or attend a commander's course for the next three years.
The officer was punished in connection to a pair of incidents, the army said. Among them was a Sept. 17 demonstration in the southern West Bank in which an Israeli activist was shoved to the ground and suffered a serious injury to his eye socket. The activists had come to deliver water to Palestinian villages in the parched area.
In the second incident, it said the officer had improperly pushed a Palestinian while forces were confronting stone-throwers.
Combatants for Peace, the advocacy group that sponsored the project to help the village, said the punishment was light and accused the army of encouraging further abuse by failing to take tougher action.
“The army’s decision to postpone the promotion of a violent officer who was caught week after week abusing Palestinians and hitting human rights activists is a farce and is tacit approval for the violence," it said. It also criticized Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a former military chief, for remaining silent.
In recent weeks, there have been a string of incidents in which Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians and soldiers either failed to stop them or appear to have used excessive force against Palestinians and Israeli activists.
In one case, the Haaretz daily said that soldiers detained two Palestinian boys, ages 13 and 15, after spotting them in a West Bank field trying to set a bottle on fire with aluminum and cleaning fluid in a game they called “Flash.” The report said the boys were held for 29 hours, bound, beaten and not given food.
It published a photo of the younger boy with bruises on his face. The boy, Mustafa Amir, said he was beaten as he was taken away.
The army denied the accusations, saying the boy had tripped and hit his face as he tried to run away after detonating an explosive device. It said the boy was given medical care and that both of them were given food and water in custody.
In another incident last week, Haaretz said that a Palestinian villager was beaten and detained when residents in the northern West Bank tried to pick olives from their land. The news site published a photo of a soldier standing with a boot on the man's back. The villagers say they cannot reach their land because an illegal Israeli outpost has been set up there.
The army said villagers had entered an unauthorized military zone and soldiers had used standard tactics to disperse the crowd. It said one of the villagers had acted violently toward troops and had to be restrained, though it said the actions of one soldier were “unacceptable.”
Most of the nearly 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank live in Israeli-authorized settlements that resemble small towns and suburbs, but more radical settlers have set up dozens of outposts that are illegal even under Israeli law. The Palestinians and most of the international community view all settlements as illegal and an obstacle to a two-state solution to the conflict.
The more than 2.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank live under Israeli military rule, with the Palestinian Authority having limited autonomy in cities and towns. The settlers have Israeli citizenship and are subject to Israel’s civilian justice system.
Associated Press writer Jack Jeffery in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed.