Israeli Defense Minister: Soldier Who Shot Subdued Palestinian Attacker Is Not a Hero

Ya'alon blasts Minister Bennett for calling soldier's family, asserts army hasn't lost its 'moral backbone'; two Likud MKs say soldier should be pardoned if convicted.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, February 2016.
Emil Salman

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon took Education Minster and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett to task in the Knesset on Monday for contacting the family of a soldier who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron last week.

An initial military inquiry into the incident  showed that "this is a case of a soldier who has transgressed, and not a hero," Ya'alon told the Knesset plenum, noting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot condemned the incident immediately after it occurred. "We're not like the other side," he said. 

The soldier, whose name is under gag-order, is under investigation and is suspected of murder after footage emerged showing him shooting a Palestinian knife-wielding assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in the head while the latter was laying on the ground, wounded. Sharif and another attacker stabbed two soldiers before being subdued.

On Monday, the findings of the investigation of the incident were presented to the security cabinet. The Palestinian Authority submitted a request to the United Nations for a separate investigation. 

The defense minister slammed attacks leveled at the IDF chief of staff in the aftermath of the shooting. "What do you want? A brutal army that has lost its moral backbone? I am proud that the company commander indicated that this was an unusual incident."

Directing his attention to Bennett, Ya'alon continued: "Unfortunately even within the [government] coalition, there is a minister who instead of calling the defense minister before going to the media, telephoned [the soldier's family] in order to show encouragement and support. 

"If someone has transgressed, he needs to be punished, and I would ask you not to intervene in the most delicate of matters," he added. "These statements confuse the soldiers."

Ya'alon also vowed to "look into whether there is a connection between the vitriol on the Internet and all kinds of statements from politicians regarding the soldier who decided to commit an act that is violated the law and our moral values."

Bennett's office fired back, saying that the minister has called the soldier's family more than once and will continue to do so. "Even if their son erred, it is the family's right to speak and to be heard," it said. 

"It is a family of four combat soldiers whose world was destroyed in part because of senior politicians who attacked their son before the facts became clear. [Bennett] views all soldiers as his children and the soldiers' families as his family, and anyone who sees a problem in such a call is deeply morally blind."

In a video distributed Monday by the media adviser to the soldier's family, the soldier's father expresses appreciation for the support that the family has been receiving. "Without your support, we would have totally fallen apart," he said. "Since Thursday, we have unfortunately gone from being a modest and anonymous family to a family in the eye of the storm. We sent our son to serve the country and to defend it and its citizens, and that is what he did in the face of the murderous terrorist who came to kill innocent people."

Netanyahu told his Likud Knesset faction on Monday that he was touched by the statement. "IDF soldiers face murderous attacks from terrorists, and they need to take decisions under field conditions and uncertainty," the prime minister said. He added that he had confidence that the investigation of last Thursday's incident was being conducted fairly and professionally.

Meanwhile on Monday, two Likud Knesset members called for the soldier's pardon should he be convicted of murder.

The chairman of the Knesset House Committee, MK David Bitan, said there is precedent for such a pardon, citing pardons granted to senior members of the Shin Bet security service who were implicated in the so-called Bus No. 300 affair in 1984. In the incident, Palestinian hijackers of an Israeli bus were summarily killed after the hijacking ended. "If senior Shin Bet officials at the time received a pardon, we need to pardon this soldier to send a message to soldiers going into battle that they have our backing," Bitan said.

MK Nava Boker expressed her support for Bitan's call. "I look at the soldier and his family and my heart sinks," she said. "How can he be called 'a murderer'? He didn't murder anyone. He took out the terrorist who tried to stab and who wounded his two friends.

"In the event that he is convicted, I will work to the best of my ability for him to get a pardon," she said, adding that the soldiers protect the Israeli public and the soldiers themselves also need to be protected.