Israel's Top Court Hears Petition Against Plea Deal for Soldier Who Shot Two Innocent Palestinians

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החייל הנאשם (מימין) בבית המשפט, באוגוסט
The indicted soldier (R) in the court, August 2020. Credit: Ilan Assayag

Israel’s High Court of Justice heard a petition Tuesday challenging a plea deal that lightens the sentence for an Israeli soldier who killed an innocent Palestinian and wounded another.

The case involves the 2019 killing of Ahmad Manasra, 23, and the wounding of Alaa Raida, 38, by the same soldier. Haaretz reported in August that the military prosecutors would seek a penalty of three months community service for the soldier.

The justices hearing the case are Noam Solberg, Meni Mazuz and Yael Vilner.

According to the indictment, in March 2019 Raida, 38, was riding in his car with his wife and two daughters when another car collided with theirs near the West Bank village of Al-Khader and then fled the scene. Raida is said to have stopped his car near the intersection and then got out and waved his arms at the fleeing car. The soldier, who was at a concrete pillbox near the intersection, thought Raida was throwing stones at Israeli vehicles and shot him, seriously injuring him in the stomach.

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

Manasra, 23, arrived at the scene with three other friends. The friends helped take Raida to a hospital while Manasra remained at the scene with Raida’s wife and daughters and helped them start their car. According to the indictment, Manasra was shot when he got out of the car and then shot again when he tried to flee the scene.

Under the plea deal, the soldier was charged with Manasra’s death by negligence and not for wounding Raida, although both shootings are listed in the indictment.

Attorney Shlomo Lecker petitioned the court against the deal on behalf of both the Palestinian families.

The court awaits a response from the head army prosecutor, Gen. Sharon Afek, to the argument that the punishment allotted by the plea deal “is extremely unreasonable.” The petitioners argue that the soldier should be facing a more serious charge for having shot several bullets at Manasra as he was fleeing, and that he should also be tried for having shot Raida.

The military tribunal had been ready to publish the verdict in August but agreed to the petitioners’ request and issued an injunction to delay publication until a week after the petition is decided.

"There is no disagreement that the entire Palestinian public is entitled to be protected, there is no disagreement that the soldier's conduct was inappropriate, and no one has awarded him the badge of honor." The petition, Mazuz said, "is disputing the severity of the indictment filed against the soldier. The matter which is being examined is on which clause in the indictment he should stand trial."

At the end of the hearing, Mazuz said that "We greatly regret this entire ordeal, it's a dead end at this stage, there's no way back after a conviction is reached. We don’t see any reason for interference on our behalf."

Nevertheless, Lecker said that he stands behind the petition and both parties are currently awaiting the verdict.

The soldier’s attorneys have submitted a letter to the court signed by 12 former senior officers calling for the soldier not to face criminal prosecution and to suffice with disciplinary measures. Among the signatories are former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, reservist general and MK Yair Golan and former generals Eyal Eisenberg, Nitzan Alon, Yitzhak Gershon, Avi Mizrachi, Roni Numa, Tal Russo and Gadi Shamni.

Ya’alon cautioned that “bringing criminal charges against a soldier who acted as expected of him would soften the hands of Israel Defense Forces soldiers and prevent the Israel Defense Forces from protecting civilian life in the West Bank.” Golan wrote that “it should not be written that the soldier made an unreasonable decision or to view him as a criminal but rather a fighter operating under extraordinary circumstances.”

The case is the first involving manslaughter since that of Elor Azaria, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for shooting dead a Palestinian, Abdel Fattah Sharif, in April 2016 in Hebron while Sharif was already incapacitated on the ground.

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