An Israeli solder shot and killed Abed Fatah al Sharif, a Palestinian "terrorist" last week in Hebron. (The soldier's name has been kept secret under a gag order within Israel, but he has been identified in the Western media as Elor Azarya) That a soldier shot a "terrorist" in the West Bank is hardly news. But this shooting was different. It was caught on high definition video, and the "terrorist" was helpless at the time he was shot. See for yourself.
Note that I put the word terrorist in quotation marks above Whether he really is a terrorist depends on your point of view. To the vast majority of Israelis, he became a terrorist the minute he knifed one of the soldiers. But there are over 100 definitions of the word "terrorism" and the only thing everyone agrees on is that the word is almost always to be applied to the enemy. Glenn Greenwald makes a VERY strong case that it is inappropriate to use the word in this case because it is describing someone who is attacking an occupying army. I encourage you to read his column--then ask yourself the question that Greenwald asked: "If fighting an occupying army is now 'terrorism' simply because the army belongs to Israel and the attackers are Palestinian, is it not incredibly obvious how this term is exploited?"
But let's ignore the argument that it is nappropriate to describe Fatah as a terrorist. Let's accept for argument's sake that the Israelis are right in calling him a terrorist. Was it appropriate for the Israeli soldier to kill him? Most people who watch the video are shocked by the shooting. It was clearly an extrajudicial murder of a defenseless individual who posed no danger to the soldiers nearby.
"Not so fast!" says the solder's defense lawyer. He was justified in shooting Abed Fatah because he feared that the Palestinian had a suicide bomb on him that he could explode at any minute. But Fatah had reportedly already been checked for explosives by the platoon commander. The fact that solders and medics can be seen walking nonchalantly within a few feet of him just before he was shot PROVES that this is a BS excuse.
And if this Times of Israel report is accurate, the soldier didn't help his case when he (allegedly) said the Palestinian "deserved to die" right before he shot him.
But though things look bad for the soldier, he can always count on Israel's extreme right wing to back him up.
Near the end of the video, the soldier can be seen shaking hands with an individual identified as Baruch Marzel. Marzel was a disciple of extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane and was a member of Kahane's racist Kach party before it was outlawed for incitement and support of terrorism.. He dreams of expelling all Palestinians and those sympathetic to them from Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.
Fortunately, Marzel is considered an extremist even in Israel, and there was widespread condemnation amongst Israeli leaders and the general population that such extrajudicial killing must not be tolerated. . . Well, not exactly. To their credit, Bibi Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and several other prominant Israeli leaders did condemn the shooting as not representing Israeli values.
But the backlash against those condemning the killing was swift. Education Minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett said that at most, the soldier may have made a mistake, but he is "not a murder". Posters went up in Tel Aviv calling Lt. Gen. Eisenkot a traitor and demanding he resign. By March 30, nearly 57,000 Israelis signed an online petition calling the soldier a hero and demanding he be given a merit citation. One poll indicated that 82 percent of Israelis said the shooting was justified and only 5 percent called it murder.
If the backlash against Israeli officials condemning the shooting was harsh, the backlash against Imad Abu Shamsiyaa, the Palestinian who documented the shooting on video was even harsher. Right wing settlers have reportedly thrown stones at his house and threatened to kill him. (See also here.)
So while Netanyahu and a few others may claim this shooting does not represent Israeli values, it appears that a good percentage of the Israeli population disagree. And judging from past incidents, they may be right. There have been several IDF shootings of unarmed civilians in the past few years, and many more before then. Yet Lisa Goldman, a former director of New America's Israel-Palestine Initiative, writes that "there is not a single case of an Israeli soldier being indicted for murder after shooting and killing an unarmed Palestinian civilian". This case will be no different. The soldier who shot Fatah has been charged with manslaughter, not murder, and he has been released from jail under open arrest. I encourage you to read Goldman's analysis of why the IDF receives such widespread support within Israel for an act that shocks the rest of the world. Then read Michael Omer-Man's analysis. Both provide a historical context showing that the recent Hebron shooting is not unique, nor is it the most egregious.
Benjamin Netanyahu and the pro-Israel propaganda machine may continue to insist that the IDF is the most moral army in the world. And though it is certainly not the most immoral army in the world, this incident is just one more datum point reinforcing my response: Most moral army in the world???? MY ASS!
Update 4/5/16 5:45 pm: I don't want to leave you with the impression that everyone associated with the IDF is a monster. There are some very good people, especially in the medic corps. This shooting was especially wrenching to the medical community because the soldier doing the shooting is a medic. There is now an online petition, signed by doctors and medics, expressing their dismay that the soldier violated the oath he swore as a medic to treat all who are injured, whether they are friend or foe. Here is an excerpt from a Haaretz article describing the petition. I encourage you to read the whole article.
"We stand as if beaten, facing the images coming from Hebron in these insane days."The creed of the Medical Corps is at the heart of the petition campaign, which urges corps reservists to take the Medic's Oath anew."We are voicing our profound shock at the killing of wounded at the conclusion of combat – and especially, at the hands of IDF medics," the petition continues. Incidents of this type strike "first and foremost at the fabric of our values as human beings and as a society."While asking whether the soldier should have opened fire or not, the text continues, we should be asking, and even more urgently, "Why did he not provide medical treatment to the enemy, as he was obligated to do by the medic's oath which we have all sworn?"
Update: 5/9/2016 Haaretz has provided us with a second video of the incident.
Further Recommended Reading
What’s at Stake for Israel in al-Sharif Killing: Japanese Officers were Executed for Killing POWs
Does Israel Have the Most Moral Army In the World?