The High Court of Justice on Monday dismissed a petition seeking to revoke a plea agreement for a soldier who shot and killed an innocent Palestinian and seriously wounded another Palestinian in 2019.
The deceased, Ahmad Manasra, 23, was helping the other man, Ala Raayda, who had been shot by the soldier. Under the plea agreement, the soldier was sentenced to three months of community service and had to admit to the details in the indictment, which charged him with causing death by negligence.
The petition, filed by attorney Shlomo Lecker on behalf of the Palestinian victims, addressed the lenient plea agreement and the fact that even though a description of the shooting that wounded Raayda was included in the indictment, the soldier wasn’t charged with that shooting.
According to the indictment, in March 2019 there was a hit-and-run road accident near the Jerusalem area town of al-Khader, involving Raayda, who was with his wife and two daughters. Raayda stopped his car near the junction, got out and waved his arms at the fleeing vehicle.
The indictment says that the soldier, who was in a guard post at the junction, thought he was throwing stones at Israeli vehicles; he shouted a warning and shot in the air before shooting at him. But Raayda testified in an affidavit that he was shot outside his car with no warning, in violation of open-fire orders. He was wounded in his abdomen and was taken to the hospital in serious condition.
The indictment describes how Manasra came upon the scene with three friends after attending a wedding in Bethlehem. The three friends took Raayda to the hospital while Manasra remained with Raayda’s wife and daughters to help them restart the car. According to the indictment, Manasra was shot when he got out of the car, and was shot again when he tried to flee.
High Court Justices Menachem Mazuz, Noam Sohlberg and Yael Willner heard the petition. Mazuz began the ruling by saying, “Indeed, there’s no doubt that this was a serious incident with tragic results. There’s no dispute that in retrospect, it turned out that this wasn’t a terror incident, but a mistake by a soldier who understood the event as a terror attempt.”
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Mazuz justified the dismissal of the petition because it had been submitted after the indictment had been filed with the military court, and after the soldier had confessed and was convicted of what he had been accused of. He added that according to the military prosecution, Lecker had been kept abreast of the developments in the case. With regard to the sentence, the Mazuz wrote that punishments are at the discretion of the military court.
The justices also addressed the way the military investigators conducted the investigation, and the fact that before the soldier explained himself, the prosecution planned to charge him with reckless killing, causing injury under aggravated circumstances and tampering with evidence. After the soldier’s hearing, he signed a plea agreement in which he admitted to only one crime – causing death by negligence. “Although we’re talking about a clear operational activity, under circumstances rife with security tension, the investigating authorities and the military prosecution did not avoid conducting an intensive and comprehensive investigation,” the ruling stated.
Lecker said that a week before the court hearing, he requested that the file from the Military Police be submitted to the court for review, because the dispute between the two sides was factual. The court rejected the request. “It is clear that the panel wasn’t interested in seeing the controversial evidence that is meant to be the basis for the hearing and decision,” he said.
“What’s unique and exceptional about this case is the fact that the soldier admitted without hesitation that he shot Ahmad Manasra with the intent to kill him while Ahmad was running for his life toward the nearest Palestinian community,” said Lecker. “There was no claim that at the time of the shooting, with the intent to kill, Ahmad was doing anything suspicious. In other words, the soldier decided to execute a man who posed no danger to anyone, and subsequently got the support of the military prosecution, senior [Israel Defense Forces] commanders and the High Court of Justice.”