IDF Chief Legal Counsel: Public Opinion Won’t Affect Decision on Soldier Who Shot Subdued Palestinian

Military appeals court set to hear prosecution’s appeal of decision to release soldier to open arrest on army base

Israelis gather in front of the Prime Minister's residence to express their support to an Israeli soldier caught on video shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant, Jerusalem, Israel, March 31, 2016.

The Israel Defense Forces’ chief legal counsel warned Monday that the fierce public debate triggered by the arrest of an IDF soldier for shooting a subdued Palestinian assailant two weeks ago could ultimately damage the army, adding that he would not be swayed by public opinion.

“Parts of the discourse pretended to dictate to the investigative bodies how to operate,” said Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek. He was addressing the incident in Hebron, when a soldier was caught on film shooting the wounded terrorist in the head. “I want to stress unequivocally: the military advocate general will not make decisions based on public opinion polls. We will act professionally and businesslike. We are obliged to represent public interests with integrity, and without fear or bias,” he said.

Afek warned that the debate following the emergence of the video was liable to hurt the army “in that it publicly challenges the authority of army chiefs to command soldiers, determine what is permitted and what is forbidden, and define the rules of behavior and [when to] open fire.

“One can be an advocate of free speech, but at the same time see the dangers in this discussion,” added Afek, speaking at the Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat.

The Military Appeals Court is set to hear the military prosecution’s appeal on Tuesday against the decision to release to open arrest Sergeant E., the soldier suspected of the manslaughter of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, 21, on March 24.

On Sunday, evidence gathered by the investigation was given to his lawyer, and Tuesday’s session is expected to focus on those materials.

Last Thursday, the Central District Military Court ruled that Sergeant E. should be released to open arrest. He is prohibited from carrying firearms or having any contact, directly or indirectly, with witnesses.

The military tribunal also ruled that Sergeant E. will face manslaughter charges. The military judge, Lt. Col. Ronen Shor, ordered that the soldier be released from military jail and instead kept under open arrest at his base – the headquarters of the Judea and Samaria Division. The judge said the evidence points in both directions.

Military prosecutors say the evidence against E. is strong, and even allows for the preparation of an indictment.

After the autopsy conducted on Sharif on Sunday, pathologists reached the conclusion that it was a shot to the head that killed him.

The prosecution and defense lawyer disagree as to the motive for the shooting. The military prosecution claims it was revenge, in light of what the soldier said both before and after the shooting (“The terrorist deserved to die”). E.’s lawyer, meanwhile, says he fired out of a sense of danger. The soldier told Military Police investigators that he also suspected the terrorist had an explosive device on his person.

The soldier’s family was allowed to visit him on the base, but only close relatives and based on the judgment of his division commanders. The soldier carries out various odd jobs on the base during the day.