Military Court Accepts Lenient Plea Deal for Soldier Who Shot Dead Innocent Palestinian

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Ahmad Manasra's father, Jamal, holds up a poster of his son outside the military court in Jaffa, August 17, 2020.
Ahmad Manasra's father, Jamal, holds up a poster of his son outside the military court in Jaffa, August 17, 2020.Credit: Ilan Assayag

A military court accepted a plea bargain on Wednesday for a soldier who shot dead an innocent Palestinian man and seriously wounded another in 2019.

Ahmad Manasra, 23, was killed while helping Alaa Raayda, who had gotten into a car accident and was then shot by a soldier, sustaining serious wounds.  

According to the plea deal signed between the prosecution and the soldier's representation, the soldier will serve three months of community service and receive a three-month suspended sentence for two years. He will also confess to the details of the indictment, which accuses him of negligent manslaughter.

The soldier, who served in the Search and Rescue Brigade, has since been released from the Israel Defense Forces. His name is not cleared for print.

Of the panel of three military judges, two approved the deal and one did not. The dissenting judge wrote that the soldier's three-month sentence should not be suspended, and served in prison instead. Military courts do not specify which judges offer majority or dissenting opinions.  

Adv. Shlomo Lecker, who represented the family, said: "Through their conduct, the senior command of the army and the military justice system have shirked any responsibility for soldiers harming innocent Palestinians. The army is sending a clear message that soldiers who kill or injure Palestinians will not be punished."

According to the July indictment, in March 2019 Raayda, the 38-year-old Palestinian who was shot in the stomach and seriously wounded, was driving his car together with his wife and two daughters when another car crashed into them at a junction near the village of El-Hadar in the southern West Bank. 

The other car fled the scene, and Raayda left his vehicle and waved his hands at the other car. The indictment states that the solider thought that Raayda was throwing stones at Israeli vehicles and proceeded to shout warnings and fire into the air before shooting at him.

However, in Raayda’s affidavit, he states that he was shot outside his vehicle without warning, which is an infraction of the rules of engagement.

The indictment then states that Manasra came to Raayda’s aid, with three friends who had been on their way home with him after a wedding in Bethlehem. The three helped evacuate the wounded man to the hospital, while Manasra remained at the scene with Raayda’s wife and daughters to help them start their car. According to the indictment, Manasra was shot when he exited the car, and then shot again when he tried to flee the scene.

The indictment also states that the soldier started shooting when he “mistakenly thought" that Manasra "was the stone-thrower he has seen earlier… although in fact the man who was killed had not thrown stones."

The three judges explained that in shooting at Manasra after he backed away from the intersection where Raayda's car was, the severity of his infringement on “protected social values” and his “negligence” warranted a punitive component of active jailtime, rather than a suspended sentence. The lack of this punitive element makes the plea deal more lenient, the judges said, in relation to the degree of appropriate punishment.

The judges were divided on the proportionality of the punishment presented in the plea deal and whether it justified intervention from the court. The judges noted that they considered the "criminal stain" on the soldier's future and the emotional toll of the investigation on him, as well as his willingness to confess to the crime.     

Manasra's family informed the court in August that they opposed the plea bargain. Manasra’s father, Jamal, told Haaretz: “In our religion it says you have to help everyone. Look what happened to my son when he tried to help – they shot him dead. It doesn’t matter how much I talked to Israeli television and newspapers, nothing helped.” 

He added that he did not believe the soldier regrets his actions. "In the end, he's a soldier, the court will act in his favor," Manasra said. "This past year and a half have been so hard, this was a boy that I trusted with everything."

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