JERUSALEM – Amateur video appearing to show an Israeli soldier killing an already wounded Palestinian sparked uproar in Israel on Sunday, reflecting the deep divisions in the country following six months of violence.
As the Israeli military pressed on with an investigation, nationalistic politicians accused the army of abandoning the soldier, while political doves bemoaned the erosion of the nation’s morals. Palestinians, meanwhile, said the shooting proved their claims that Israel is guilty of using excessive force and carrying out extrajudicial killings.
The shooting took place last Thursday in Hebron, the volatile West Bank city that has been a focal point of the latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The military said two Palestinians stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops shot and killed the pair.
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In a video released by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, one of the attackers appears to still be alive after the initial shooting. The video, taken by a Palestinian volunteer for the group, shows the wounded attacker lying on the ground, slowly moving his head. About a minute later, a soldier raises his rifle, cocks the weapon and fires. Blood is then seen streaming from the Palestinian’s head.
The Israeli military quickly arrested the soldier and opened an investigation into what it said appeared to be a “grave breach” of its values. A military court has ordered the soldier to remain held until Tuesday while the investigation continues.
Military officials also have cast doubt on the soldier’s claim that he believed the Palestinian was carrying explosives.
On Sunday night, B’Tselem released a second video it says shows the same soldier at the scene shaking hands with Baruch Marzel, a well-known ultranationalist, after the shooting.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said a preliminary investigation found the soldier arrived on the scene some six minutes after the initial incident, and that the second shooting occurred several minutes after that. “There was no apparent threat from the Palestinian that was incapacitated,” Lerner said.
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He said that commanders had already reported the shooting to their superiors before the video emerged. “There was already a military police investigation. We already knew the behaviour was not in line with the code of conduct and ethics,” he said.
The Israeli media, citing military officials, quoted the soldier as saying the Palestinian “deserved to die.”
Lerner said three officers at the scene were reprimanded for not giving medical attention to the wounded Palestinian, as is required under military policy.
The sister of the soldier, who was not identified, accused the military of publicly convicting her brother, and several nationalistic lawmakers came to his defence, accusing detractors of abandoning him before he was given a fair hearing.
“Have we lost our minds? We’re at war. War against vicious terrorism,” said Naftali Bennett, leader of the hardline Jewish Home party. He said the shooting should be investigated, but criticized politicians and the media for rushing to condemn the soldier.
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing opposition party Yisrael Beitenu, asked to meet the soldier in prison and accused the prime minister of looking for the support of the “bleeding hearts.”
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Over the weekend, hundreds of people protested in support of the soldier outside the prison, and posters surfaced denouncing his critics, including the military chief and defence minister.
In a Facebook post, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon accused unnamed politicians of “a campaign of incitement” against the military leadership. “The sane elements in Israel, on the right and the left, must unite against this evil wind and stop it,” he said.
Sima Kadmon, a commentator for the Yediot Ahronot daily, criticized the social media posts defending the soldier, and also lashed out at the apparent apathy shown by soldiers in the video after the Palestinian was shot.
But she said “the most troubling thing is the politicians who rushed to the defence of the shooter, even though top military officials, who are far more familiar with the circumstances of the incident and the findings of the inquiry, have called this for what it is: murder.”
Addressing his Cabinet on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the shooting was not reflective of the military’s conduct and rejected criticism of the armed forces’ morals as “outrageous and unacceptable.” But he also defended the military against its right-wing critics. “We must all support the IDF chief of staff, the IDF and our soldiers, who safeguard our security,” he said.
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The shooting came amid a six-month wave of Palestinian stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks that has killed 28 Israelis and two Americans. Over the same time, at least 188 Palestinians have died by Israeli fire. Israel says most were attackers, and the rest died in clashes with Israeli security forces.
Israel blames the attacks on incitement by Palestinian leaders and social media. Palestinians say the violence stems from frustration at nearly five decades of Israeli military occupation.
The Palestinians have also accused Israel of using excessive force and killing assailants who have already been stopped or wounded. A handful of amateur videos supporting the Palestinian claims have emerged in recent months, but Thursday’s killing of Palestinian Abdel-Fattah al-Sharif was perhaps the clearest so far.
“The way al-Sharif was killed is very common, but this time we had the camera to film the extra-judicial killing,” said Jamal Zakout, director of Al-Ard, a Palestinian think-tank in the West Bank town of Ramallah. He said the Palestinians could use the killing as a “good example” in their appeal for “international protection” from Israel.
Ben Caspit, a liberal commentator with the Maariv daily, said Israel must protect its “moral backbone.”
“The Israeli army is not an army that carries out extrajudicial executions,” he said. “It must not be such an army. On that day, we will know what we have lost. Unfortunately, we are not far off from that loss.”