Soldier Said Palestinian Assailant 'Needs to Die' Before Shooting, Army Probe Finds

Army investigation into shooting reveals fellow soldiers tried to calm shooter; IDF to hold autopsy for slain Palestinian.

The soldier and his lawyer entering a military court in Jaffa, March 25, 2016.
The soldier and his lawyer entering a military court in Jaffa, March 25, 2016. Ofer Vaknin

An Israeli army investigation into the suspected murder of a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron last week by an Israeli soldier has revealed that in contradiction to claims by his lawyer, the soldier said the Palestinian needs to die before he shot him.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said Sunday that criticism of the army over the incident is "outrageous and unacceptable," yet urged the IDF to take into account what he called the "difficult operational conditions" soldiers face in the field.

The internal army investigation into the incident began over the weekend, after the soldier, whose identity is under a gag order, was seen in a video shooting the Palestinian assailant, Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif, in the head as he lay on the ground, wounded. Beforehand, al-Sharif and an accomplice had carried out a stabbing attack against soldiers posted in Hebron. The soldier could be facing murder charges.

Over the weekend, the army collected testimonies from other soldiers and officers who were present during the incident and also hopes to conduct an autopsy on the slain Palestinian to confirm the solder's bullet was the final cause of death.

Details from the investigation revealed that he told his fellow soldiers that "the terrorist needs to die" after the Palestinian stabbed one of the soldiers – a friend of the accused gunman.

According to the testimony of one of the soldiers, the comments were made before the shooting took place, prompting others to try and calm him. He then cocked his rifle and shot the Palestinian.

Israeli soldiers surround the body of one of the two Palestinians who were killed after attacking a soldier in Hebron, March 24, 2016.
AFP

An inquiry ordered by GOC Central Command Roni Numa on Friday found that all of the commanders who were present at the scene were very surprised at the shooting. The investigation also found that that in contradiction to claims of self-defense voiced by the soldier's lawyer, there was no evidence supporting the claim there were fears the prone Palestinian was carrying a suicide belt.

The probe also found that the soldier, an army medic, was called to the scene to help evacuate those wounded from the stabbing, and in the video he can be seen helping the wounded soldier into an ambulance.

IDF medics are instructed to treat all of the wounded, regardless of their identity – including suspected Palestinian assailants. In this case, not only did the three medics who were at the scene fail to treat the two Palestinians, for which they were reprimanded as at least one of the Palestinians was still alive at the time, the suspected gunman even decided that "he needs to die," the investigation claimed, according to details published on Army Radio.

According to the investigation, the soldier was not even part of the force involved in the stabbing attack. He arrived on the scene after the stabbing as part of a force accompanying the company commander. The soldier's detention was extended by five days on Friday.

The incident has touched a nerve in Israel, and on Sunday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu softened his position on the shooting, saying that  "questioning the IDF's morality is outrageous and unacceptable," and that "IDF soldiers deal with bloodthirsty murderers under difficult operational circumstances" which the army should take into account.

Netanyahu previously addressed the case on Thursday, saying that "what happened in Hebron does not represent the values of the IDF," adding that "the IDF expects its soldiers to act calmly and in accordance with the rules of engagement." On Saturday he said "I trust the Israel Defense Forces will conduct a thorough, responsible and fair investigation, as it always does."

Education Minister Naftali Bennett also addressed the incident on his Facebook page, decrying the negative attention surrounding the soldier's actions. "The soldier is not a murderer, have we lost our minds? We are at war. Maybe he made a mistake, maybe he didn't," Bennett wrote, adding that “the media and the politicians cannot be the soldier’s court and hangman."