Analysis |

The Israeli Army, Seeking Mild Sentence for Unlawful Shooting, Encourages Soldiers to Kill Innocent Palestinians

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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This illustrative pictures shows an Israeli soldier standing guard in the West Bank, September 20, 2011.
This illustrative pictures shows an Israeli soldier standing guard in the West Bank, September 20, 2011.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

It was one of the most serious incidents I covered in recent years. A criminal shooting, for no reason, of a Palestinian whose car had gotten stuck, and then the unbearable shooting death of a man who had only stopped to help him. An execution on a cold and rainy night. It was one of those stories that enrage because it keeps being repeated. The shooting was done in cold blood by someone who wasn’t in any danger, standing safe in a reinforced guard post from which he shot like a madman, aiming at a young man who did nothing but try to flee for his life. Six bullets pierced the body of Ahmad Manasra, just as he was returning from the wedding of a friend.

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The soldier could have predicted that nothing bad would happen to him. The Israel Defense Forces allows him to shoot at will, so long as he’s shooting a Palestinian. The IDF is telling its soldiers to keep it up, kill innocent people, it’s fine. Not a hair on your head will be harmed.

On Monday a military court will deal with this issue. If it approves the plea agreement that calls for three months’ community service, it will be one of the most absurd performances of that grotesque system known as the military courts. Three months of community service for the criminal killing of one innocent man and the wounding of another – and there’s no place to turn to but the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Once again, it’s been demonstrated that the IDF doesn’t know how to, and mainly doesn’t want to investigate war crimes and punish those guilty of them appropriately. The United States is up in arms about the killing of George Floyd. Israel yawns about the killing of Ahmad Manasra. Who even heard about it?

What happened on March 20, 2019 at the southern entrance to Bethlehem should more accurately be called a non-war crime. A family is coming back from visiting relatives when their car is involved in a minor accident. Ala Raayda, the father, gets out to see why his car won’t start and the soldier in the guard tower shoots him. Why? Because. Maybe he was bored from his long stint of guard duty. Ala was wounded in the stomach. Maisa, his wife, cried for help, with his two daughters, Sirin, 8 and Lynn, 5, sitting terrified in the back seat.

A group of friends from Wadi Fukin pass the junction in their car, returning from the wedding of a friend in Bethlehem, and stop to offer help. Three of them rushed the wounded father to a nearby hospital in their car, while Manasra, at 23 only a bit older than the soldier who shot him, remained with the wife and girls, trying to calm them down and get their car started. Then the soldier in the tower started to shoot again. He hit Manasra, who tried to run for his life toward a large cement block around 10 meters from there, in a desperate attempt to take cover from the shooting. To no avail. Six bullets hit the fleeing young man. Clearly, all of them were meant to kill.

The mourning tent set up for Ahmad Manasra, Wadi Fukin in the West Bank, 2019.Credit: Alex Levac

His father, Jamal, a tiler who works in Israel, didn’t want to hear the news. In his heart he knew something was wrong, like so many parents in the occupied territories, and he refused to answer the phone until they finally came to tell him that, “Your son Ahmad was wounded.” As he was rushing to the hospital, he was told his son had died.

Nearly a year and a half has passed. An intense investigation. A plea agreement. Three months of community service – as if we were talking about a traffic violation. The IDF Spokesman, who previously tried to paper it over and claim that there had been stone-throwing or that it was “friction between Palestinians,” tried to whitewash it again. “Complex evidentiary and legal considerations were weighed, [along with] the clear operational circumstances of the incident and the readiness of the soldier to take responsibility.” A few hollow words to cover up a crime.

How much verbal gymnastics is necessary to make kosher the incontrovertible fact that at issue were not “complex evidentiary considerations” or “clear operational circumstances,” but only an explicit IDF permit to kill without restraint.

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