On Hebron Shooting, Netanyahu and Bennett Follow Enraged Public All the Way to the Right

Cabinet members seem to be riding the tiger of public opinion — which, at least on social media, is vehemently and crudely backing the soldier who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian assailant — and are afraid to anger it.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Israeli soldiers cover the body of a Palestinian assailant who was shot in head by an Israeli soldier as he lay wounded on the ground in Hebron, March 24, 2016.
The scene of the shooting in HebronCredit: AFP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The case of the soldier who shot a wounded terrorist as he was lying on the ground in Hebron last week turned from a media circus into a real one at Sunday's cabinet meeting. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan sparred with Education Minister Naftali Bennett over who is more beloved by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and who led more soldiers into battle in the past. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who wasn’t at the meeting, issued a statement assailing politicians “who try to please a violent, extremist minority” that “will lead us to anarchy.”

Ya’alon, as usual, named no names, but his targets were clear: Bennett and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, both of whom also clashed repeatedly with Ya’alon during the Gaza war of summer 2014. Bennett had earlier accused Ya’alon and senior IDF officers of having already tried and condemned the soldier, of giving journalists information harmful to the soldier and of being party to the decision to arrest him on the gravest charge in the military code — murder.

Lieberman announced he would come to the military court to show solidarity with the soldier. While Ya’alon is backing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, it seems his colleagues in the cabinet are busy looking nervously behind them to ensure that the Israeli public hasn’t moved even further rightward. Most of them are riding the tiger of public opinion — which, at least on social media, is vehemently and crudely backing the soldier — and are afraid to anger it.

It’s noteworthy that what most infuriates the Internet commenters, and apparently many combat soldiers as well, is the murder charge. After all, this charge is still tentative, and could certainly be reduced later on.

Though the Military Police are still investigating, Army Radio revealed interesting details Sunday from the inquiry conducted by the IDF’s Central Command.

It turns out that the soldier shot the wounded terrorist 11 minutes (and not six, as previously thought) after the latter was downed by an earlier shot. This lag time raises questions about the suspect’s claim that he felt threatened, especially given the seeming unconcern of the other soldiers, officers and civilians at the scene, which is very visible in a video clip disseminated by the B’Tselem human rights organization.

According to Army Radio, another soldier testified to the inquiry that before shooting the terrorist in the head, the suspect had told him the person who stabbed their comrade “should be killed.” The company commander testified to hearing similar statements from the suspect immediately after the shooting.

Other video clips of the incident, which began when two Palestinians stabbed another soldier from the suspect’s company, reveal additional details. In one clip, a soldier can be seen using his foot to turn over the body of the other Palestinian attacker, who was already dead, possibly to ensure that he wasn’t wearing a suicide vest. This could indicate that other soldiers were aware that the bodies might be booby-trapped — the suspect’s explanation for why he opened fire — and had already ruled it out.

Another clip shows a soldier, apparently the suspect, shaking hands and exchanging smiles with Kahanist leader Baruch Marzel, a prominent Hebron settler, moments after the shooting.

If all this evidence is credible, it undermines the suspect’s line of defense — that he feared the wounded terrorist could still set off a suicide vest. And in any case, he definitely opened fire at close range when other soldiers and civilians were nearby, which violates safety regulations: An explosive vest could be detonated by such a shot, causing many casualties.

Another question relates to the role of Hebron settlers in the incident. Members of Haztalah Judea and Samaria, a medical service that operates in the West Bank, show up after almost every terror attack. But their role has long ceased to be limited to providing first aid. In addition, the organization’s volunteers film the scene and disseminate footage and photos on the Web, sometimes accompanied by blatant political slogans. This footage, incidentally, is often used afterward by Palestinians to claim that the IDF is systematically executing terrorists who carry out stabbings or car-ramming attacks.

The organization’s footage of this incident shows its medics largely controlling the situation and giving advice, if not orders, to the soldiers and officers. This happens often in Hebron, where settlers exert an especially powerful influence over the army, in part due to their vast experience of handling countless terror attacks over the past few decades.

In the clip, two volunteers from the organization can be heard warning the soldiers that the terrorists might be wearing explosives. Shortly afterward, the soldier shoots the wounded terrorist. In this context, it’s interesting to note that the IDF recently warned the Magen David Adom ambulance service, under whose auspices Haztalah Judea and Samaria operates, that it must make sure the group’s medics treat wounded Palestinians, as required by both medical ethics and army orders.

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