Israel Polarized Over Soldier Who Killed Wounded Palestinian – Isabel Kershner/NewYorkTimes

by Newsstand

Israelis demonstrated outside a military court in Kiryat Malakhi on Tuesday to support a soldier who was suspended after being caught on video shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head. Credit Amir Cohen/Reuters

JERUSALEM — The case of the Israeli soldier who shot a Palestinian assailant in the head as he lay wounded and subdued on the ground is whipping up a public and political storm and posing a rare challenge to the military’s high command, usually the most popular body in the country.

In a letter sent to commanders and soldiers on Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the chief of staff, underlined the predicament facing the army as it contends with an upsurge in Palestinian violence — and finds itself facing a hardened public mood fanned by some politicians who say Palestinian assailants must not be left alive.

“The commanders, and I first among them, will continue to give backing to any soldier who errs in the heat of battle against an enemy endangering the lives of civilians and soldiers,” Eisenkot wrote. “That said, we will not hesitate to fully implement the law against soldiers and commanders if they deviate from the operational and moral standards according to which we work.”

Posters appeared in Tel Aviv soon after the shooting depicting Eisenkot, who had swiftly condemned it, as the gullible Persian king who initially went along with a plot to kill all the Jews in the story of Purim — the holiday celebrated last week. Exhorting the general to resign, along with the prime minister and the defense minister, the posters bore the legend: “Jewish blood is not to be abandoned. He who rises up to slay you, slay him first.”

After six months of Palestinian stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks against Israelis, a simmering debate has burst into a heated argument over what constitutes appropriate use of force, and what is excessive. While many Israelis have denounced the shooting last week, which was caught on video, as a grave breach of proper military conduct, many others are calling the accused soldier a hero. By Wednesday nearly 57,000 Israelis had signed an online petition demanding he be given a merit citation.

The education minister, Naftali Bennett, has accused the leadership of being “quick to pounce on the soldier.” He and other right-wing politicians, activists and the soldier’s family are now waging a campaign against the defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, and the army’s top officers.

Israelis have voiced outrage on social media, angered by what many see as too hasty a judgment by the political and military leadership and by an initial pronouncement by the military prosecutor that the soldier was under investigation on suspicion of murder. Supporters claim that he has been abandoned by the system that ought to be backing him. Experts said the emotional response partly reflected a natural empathy for soldiers in a country where most 18-year-olds are conscripted for up to 32 months.

“This is a test,” said Udi Dekel, an expert in civil-military relations at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

“On the one hand,” he said, “the army has to be attentive to the feelings of the people.” On the other, he said, “you cannot run an army based on social networks and relatives.” And the military cannot change the rules of engagement because of a political and public onslaught, Dekel, a former brigadier general, said.

The episode began last Thursday, when two Palestinian men stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron. His fellow soldiers shot them both, killing one and wounding the other, who was identified as Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif, 21.

The accused soldier arrived at the scene about six minutes later, by which time calm appeared to have been restored. The video shows him cocking his rifle and shooting Sharif again, this time in the head, as he lay on the road.

Lawyers representing the soldier say he acted to save the lives of his comrades in the belief that Sharif, who was still moving, might have been concealing an explosive belt under his jacket.

The soldier did not warn other soldiers or the medical staff to move away from Sharif, and had Sharif been wearing explosives, critics noted, the soldier’s shot could have detonated them.

An Israeli military court order has banned the use of the soldier’s name in all press accounts, including those of foreign news organizations accredited in Israel, even though the soldier has a Facebook page and has been widely identified by name in social media.

The soldier’s Facebook page suggests sympathies with some far-right causes. He told another soldier at the scene that Sharif had stabbed his friend and “deserved to die,” according to Israeli news media reports.

At a hearing on Tuesday, a military judge said the evidence so far was not clear-cut. Prosecutors would not specify what charges they were considering, appearing to have backed off from the idea of a murder charge.

About 30 Israelis, two Americans and a Palestinian bystander have been killed by Palestinians since Oct. 1. Israeli forces or civilians have shot dead 180 Palestinians during the same period, most while they were carrying out attacks or attempting attacks, according to Israeli authorities, and the rest killed in clashes with Israeli security forces.

Israel Polarized Over Soldier Who Killed Wounded Palestinian – The New York Times

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UPDATE:

No murder charge for Israeli soldier in shooting death – AlJazeeraEnglish

An Israeli soldier caught on video fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian as he lay on the ground will now reportedly face a charge of manslaughter rather than murder.

The prosecutor’s decision on Thursday comes a day after the UN said the killing of Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, 21, exhibited all the signs of an extrajudicial execution.

Footage of the incident showed the Israeli soldier step forward and shoot the Palestinian in the head at close range as he lay motionless on the ground.

“[We are] hearing that the prosecutor has now downgraded the potential charge from murder – which is an extremely rare charge to be levelled against any member of the Israeli army – to manslaughter,” Al Jazeera’s Stephanie Dekker, reporting from West Jerusalem, said.

Fattah and another man, who was earlier shot and killed, were accused of stabbing an Israeli soldier in Hebron.

Military prosecutors said on Thursday the Israeli soldier opened fire “with intent and with no operational need” in Fattah’s killing, Israeli radio reported.

Palestinian activists in Hebron have demanded that Israel holds its army accountable for Fattah’s killing.

Meanwhile, hundreds of nationalist Israelis, some wrapped in Israeli flags, have demonstrated in support of the soldier outside the military court near the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi.

They included opposition politician Avigdor Lieberman, who told the crowd on Tuesday: “I prefer a soldier who made a mistake but is still alive, over a dead soldier who hesitated.”

On Wednesday, Christof Heyns, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said: “Whatever legal regime one applies to the case, shooting someone who is no longer a threat is murder.”

No murder charge for Israeli soldier in shooting death – AJE News