Military prosecutors have proposed a sentence of three months’ community service in lieu of prison for an Israeli soldier accused of negligently shooting an innocent Palestinian to death.
Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg has ruled that three judges of the High Court of Justice will hear an appeal against a plea bargain reached with the soldier who fatally shot 23-year-old Ahmad Manasra.
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The victim was killed while helping another Palestinian who had been shot and seriously wounded by the same soldier. The soldier was charged with negligently causing death but was not charged with wounding the other man, even though that shooting is mentioned in the indictment. Two weeks ago, military prosecutors asked for a penalty of three months’ community service.
According to the indictment, a car accident occurred in March 2019, when a Palestinian, Alaa Raida, was driving with his wife and two daughters. Another car crashed into them near the village of al-Khader, then fled the scene. Raida stopped his car near an intersection, got out and waved his arms at the fleeing car. According to the indictment, the soldier, who was in a concrete pillbox near the intersection, thought Raida was throwing stones at Israeli cars. He called out a warning and fired into the air before shooting Raida.
In contrast, an affidavit submitted by Raida says he was shot outside his car without warning, contravening the army’s rules of engagement. He was wounded in his stomach and evacuated from the area in serious condition.
“Anyone reading the indictment can see that this was an execution,” said attorney Shlomo Lecker, who submitted the appeal. “Raida was shot while stopping at a traffic light at an illuminated intersection, while exiting his vehicle. Ahmad was shot while fleeing for his life. It was [rifle] fire directed straight at him.”
The indictment notes the assistance Manasra gave Raida, after arriving at the scene with three other friends who were returning with him from a wedding in Bethlehem in the West Bank. The three helped evacuate Raida to the hospital, while Manasra stayed at the scene with Raida’s wife and daughters, helping them start their car. According to the indictment, he was shot while emerging from his car, and shot again while trying to flee.
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The military prosecution’s response to the appeal shows that the soldier deleted messages he had sent other soldiers regarding the incident. Moreover, it is noted that soldiers who had served with the accused remarked that he was very enthusiastic about using his weapon in some kind of operation. A source familiar with the case says the deleted messages were found on other phones, and that the soldier’s version was consistent.
The appeal notes that no other soldier testified that stones were thrown at that location and that no one was in danger. No other soldier saw the entire incident unfold. Footage from surveillance cameras was collected, but it was argued that the quality was poor. Some soldiers who testified during the trial said that right after the incident, the accused told them that he had shot stone throwers.
It also turned out that stones were found in the area, but the indictment made no mention of stone throwing. Military prosecutors labeled this case as “complex,” since the incident occurred during operations in a tense area in which other incidents were taking place. They added that this incident happened soon after an alert was issued regarding a possible attack. However, they noted that the soldier’s training for dealing with such events was “somewhat flawed.”
The response to the appeal notes that the soldier was questioned under caution three times, as were his commanders. According to the soldier’s attorney, he felt that civilians were endangered by stone throwing before he opened fire. The soldier claimed that he was following the rules of engagement and that this was the first time he had used his weapon in an operation. Before his hearing, prosecutors had intended to charge him with negligent cause of death, causing aggravated bodily harm and destruction of evidence. After the hearing, they signed a plea bargain in which the soldier admitted to one charge, negligent cause of death.
Opening fire under the rules if engagement is a central issue in this case, since according to the soldier, he acted appropriately when he shot Raida. That is why wounding Raida is not part of the indictment.