Israeli Soldier Suspected of Murder Has Been 'Abandoned on the Battlefield,' Family Says

The family of the soldier who was filmed shooting wounded Palestinian assailant in the head says they fear the former would not be granted a fair trial.

The soldier and his lawyer entering a military court in Jaffa, March 25, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

The family of an Israeli soldier suspected of murdering a subdued Palestinian attacker in Hebron accused the Israeli army on Saturday of abandoning him.

The soldier, whose identity is under a gag order, was seen in a video shooting the Palestinian assailant, Abed al-Fattah Sharif, in the head as he lay on the ground, wounded. Ahead of the incident, Sharif and an accomplice had carried out a stabbing attack against soldiers posted in Hebron. The Israeli army has opened an investigation into the shooting and Haaretz has learned that the soldier could be facing murder charges.

The soldier told military police during questioning over the weekend that he fired at Sharif because he thought he might be carrying a bomb. However, the military is treating his version with skepticism. Had he believed that the assailant was armed with an explosive device, he would have been expected to clear the scene. Furthermore, the gunfire could have set the bomb off.

The family of a soldier suspected of murdering a subdued Palestinian attacker in Hebron, March 26, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

In fact, the IDF's preliminary probe into the incident found that one of the commanders on the scene had searched the subdued assailants to make sure they were not carrying explosives. A military source says that the soldier was not instructed to deal with the attackers, and even if he had thought they were carrying bombs, there were three commanders in the area could have dispelled his concerns.  

In a press conference outside the soldier's house, his sister turned to IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot and the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, asking them not to rush to convict her brother. Her brother, she said, is an Israeli patriot, and she "fears that he will not receive a just trial." The soldier's sister said that they grew up in a mixed Jewish-Arab city, and that her brother has friends from all sectors of society.

The soldier's Facebook page suggests otherwise. He is following the page of right-wing extremist Baruch Marzel, and after the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team won a match, he wrote in a Facebook post: "Thank you Beitar for the victory over the Ishmaelites."

Earlier on Saturday, the soldier's sister published a Facebook post in which she said that her brother was being used as a scapegoat.  "I feel like he is a pawn used by senior commanders on the battlefield," the post said. "You sent a boy to defed the people of Israel, [you should] defend him when something happens to him.

"It didn't happen during a field trip, nor during a training drill, it happened on the scene of an attack," she added. "My little brother, who was brought in cuffs to military court, did not expect to get a medal for killing the terrorist, he did [however] expect due process and we were expecting minimal support."

The Facebook post was shared by thousands of Facebook users, despite of a request made on behalf of the soldier to prohibit the publication of any details that reveal his identity. The judge granted his request, prohibiting the publication of the names of family members, their place of residence and "any other detail that could link them to the incident."

The sister's Facebook post said that the family did not receive a call or a visit from any military or government officials. "We feel as if the knife that the terrorist left on the road in Hebron is now used by the establishment to stab my brother in the back," the post said. "I have no doubt that my little brother felt that he was doing the right thing as an IDF soldier on the scene of an attack."

Some 60 people gathered outside the army's Natan Camp in Be'er Sheva, where the soldier is being held in detention, holding signs calling on Eisenkot to be "an Israeli chief of staff, not a Belgian [one]" and waving Israeli flags.

Shoshana Karuchi, a bereaved mother and a resident of Be'er Sheva told Haaretz that she joined the protest "because I'm hurting, and because my son was killed by terrorists in the southern Gaza Strip in May 2015." She added: "This could have happened to any soldier, the terrorist could have harmed other soldiers," noting that the Palestinian was wearing a jacket when he was lying on the ground. "Did the soldier know what was under his jacket? He could have exploded at any moment if he had been wearing an explosive belt."

Karuchi said that while she does not object to the investigation, she does disapprove of the fact that the soldier was being held in detention, accusing the Israeli authorities of forsaking him. What would Israel's leaders have said if the soldier was the one to die, she asked, "is it better to have a dead soldier than a soldier who killed?"