Israeli Justice Minister: Soldier Behind Hebron Shooting Subjected to Blood-letting, Prejudging

Bill proposing prohibition on releasing names of soldiers involved in legal process related to combat activities passes first Knesset reading.

Scene from a video released on March 24, 2016 by B'Tselem showing IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria  aiming his weapon before shooting in the head and killing a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron.
AFP

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked lent her support to the Israel Defense Forces soldier who shot dead a subdued Palestinian assailant last week in Hebron. “His blood was let and he was prejudged before all the facts were clarified,” she said.

“As soon as it was decided to launch a Military Police investigation there was no room for discussing details of the investigation, especially not in the media," Shaked said on an Army Radio morning show, "There was no public disagreement regarding the need to investigate the incident. There was justified anger at the prejudgement of the soldier, with attacks directed at him before the investigation was over, and that should not happen,” she said.

When asked if casting the soldier as a hero could also be viewed as prejudging him, she replied: “Think of how this started. It all began when his blood was let and he was prejudged before any facts were known. I ask all sides to let the judges do their work. There is a strong military advocate system with someone at its head. Only when it’s all over should people talk. This whole wave of support for the soldier only began after his prejudgement, which came before all the facts were known and before the investigation was completed.”

The justice minister said that “everyone should remain calm in order to preserve the dignity of the soldier and the IDF, as well as that of anyone involved in the investigation.”

Echoes of the incident were heard in statements by other Knesset members. MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the plenary for not responding to expressions of support for the soldier by cabinet and Knesset members. “People look up to this house and the values that emanate from it, and this is not the time to damage these values, not the time for silence or evasions, prime minister. This is the time to defend these values,” she said.

During a debate around a bill that calls for prohibiting the publication of the names of soldiers involved in legal procedures related to their combat missions, Livni said that “this bill is meant to protect soldiers, not to dupe the IDF, as some Knesset members have recently been doing. Those deceiving the army pretend to support it, but anyone presenting the defense minister as someone who panders to human rights group B’Tselem is actually trying to damage the values of the IDF. We witnessed a demonstration with the right-wing rapper and blogger “The Shadow” – you can be the army of shadows, we’ll be the army of light.”

Livni read out the letter sent by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot to IDF soldiers, in which he wrote: “Commanders, with me as their leader, will continue to support any soldier making a mistake in the heat of battle against an enemy who endangers the lives of citizens and soldiers. However, we will not hesitate to bring to bear the full force of the law against soldiers and commanders who exceed the operational and moral criteria according to which we act. Defending the IDF and its values is not a right, it’s an obligation.”

MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union), speaking after Livni, responded to criticism of the chief of staff and defense minister for condemning the shooting in Hebron without waiting until the end of the Military Police investigation. He said that the two had spoken after receiving the results of an operational investigation of the incident. “I think it was appropriate that both of them clearly related the conclusions of that investigation to the public. It found that the soldier did not behave according to accepted military norms and values. Whether this is a criminal offense will be decided after the Military Police investigation is concluded. They will decide whether to charge the soldier – these are two separate issues.”

Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset members interjected, saying that he cannot relate to the operational investigation while the Military Police were still investigating. Bar-Lev replied that they were mistaken.

After him came Oren Hazan (Likud), who said: “I hear the soldier is being called a wayward soldier. He’s already being likened to Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir. Minister Ya’alon, have you lost your mind? Parents trust you to protect their children. They want someone to back them. All this discourse would not be happening if you had not lost your bearings. The soldier did not lose his way and he certainly isn’t Yigal Amir. I’m surprised at people on the left not responding to such words.”

Hazan added that “soldiers going to battle discovering that out of fear of international criticism they are being sacrificed – that’s wrong. The whole story that was fed to the media was mendacious. The Military Police investigation is still underway, but here people talk. It’s time we all united in telling IDF soldiers that they are not alone and that we’ll protect them.”

MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) responded by stating that “we respect the IDF and believe that it is fulfilling a complex and difficult mission with caution and sensitivity, with the understanding that the state and its people must behave differently than other countries do. The IDF ethical code just reiterated by the chief of staff is our guiding light. The Knesset should give its support as well.”