As a video recording of an Israeli soldier killing a wounded Palestinian in Hebron on Thursday emerged hours after the shooting Israeli government officials and civil society representatives were split in their responses. Some quickly moved to condemn the shooting, while an outspoken group of Israeli leaders applauded the soldier and circulated a counter-theory of self-defense and heroism.
An activist with the Israeli human rights group B’tselem filmed the deadly encounter where the solider, identified on social media as Elor Azraya, killed Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, 21, from close range while al-Sharif was near unconscious. The Israeli military has stated al-Sharif was attempting to carry out a attack, and released an image of the knife. An investigation was opened into potential criminal charges for the shooter following the killing and before the release of the now viral video.
Because this slaying was caught on camera and the apparent casualness of the circumstance, rights groups and the United Nations were quick to rebuke the Israeli military. In the recording soldiers and medics barely seem take notice as the visibly incapacitated Palestinian was shot in the head.
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said the soldier had committed an “apparent extra-judicial execution.”
Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International said the shooting was “a potential war crime.”
By Thursday evening Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added the killing did not “represent the values of the IDF. The IDF expects its soldiers to behave level-headedly and in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
And Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also condemned the event as “in utter breach of IDF values and of our code of ethics in combat.”
Yet to proponents of the soldier who was arranged in a military court on Friday morning, the killing was just.
“It is better to have a dead terrorist than a dead soldier” Israel’s Minister of Science Ofir Akunis told radio Tel Aviv, “I suggest not to judge any investigation that has not ended,” reported Israel’s Channel 2.
The opinions of the soldier’s supporters are not fringe. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday in a survey by the group Vigo, 46 percent of Israeli social media users supported the killing.
Israel’s Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett developed a counter-narrative that the soldier could have been responding to a “booby-trapped” body.
“Has anyone heard the soldier’s side of the story?” asked Bennett on social media, continuing in a lengthy post to his Facebook account, “The country’s leadership was quick to pounce on the soldier who shot the terrorist. Were you there? Did you understand his thought process? His considerations? Maybe it was feared that the terrorist was booby-trapped? That he might blow up the soldiers and civilians in the immediate area?”
The theory was similar to statements the soldier made to his family. “He wore a thick coat and therefore I feared that he would stand and detonate an explosive belt,” the Jerusalem Post reported of the conversation on the deceased Palestinian.
Bennett’s comments followed the discovery of a second recording of the soldier shooting al-Sharif where an out of frame officer yells “It looks like he has a bomb on him,” and another responds, “Until a sapper comes, nobody touches him!” reported the Times of Israel, who translated the audio.
הירי במחבל הפצוע: נחשף סרטון נוסף המתעד את הרגע שבו ירה החייל למוות במחבל.
הסרטון הופץ ע”י הארגון “חברים לשעת צרה” pic.twitter.com/xTktQvAJxN
— גלצ (@GLZRadio) March 25, 2016
The 30-second clip was taken by a support group of Israel’s rescue service and added to social media by Army radio.
Israeli investigative journalist for Haaretz Uri Blau posted to social media screen grabs of Israelis championing the soldier. One calls him a “hero” another said, “We will never forgive the army chief of staff and prime minister if you hurt a hair on the head of the heroic soldier.”
— Uri Blau (@uri_blau) March 25, 2016
— גלצ (@GLZRadio) March 26, 2016
Late Saturday evening dozens of the Azraya’s backers gathered outside of the military court where he stood for pre-trail and held a protest against the arrest, said Israel’s Army Radio on social media.
Meanwhile back in Hebron, hours after the shooting, Israeli settlers held a celebratory parade in the area of the shooting for the Jewish holiday of Purim, coinciding on the same day. The festival is held annually through the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, which has been under a closed military zone order for Palestinian residents since October 31, 2015.