Elor Azraya, the soldier who summarily executed Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif as he lay on the street immobile and unarmed yesterday, is suspected of murder.
In his defense, his lawyer Eyal Beserglick said Azraya “acted in accordance with the rules of engagement as suggested by his superiors.”
It’s unclear which superiors the lawyer is referring to, but it could be any number of figures in the political and military echelon who have commanded Israeli soldiers to shoot Palestinians deemed attackers dead on-the-spot.
That’s precisely what he did. And now Israel’s top brass is hanging the killer out to dry.
Since the graphic video released by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem went viral, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon distanced themselves from the killing, however stopping short of condemning the killer. But just a few months ago, they were inciting soldiers to kill and guaranteed them full legal backing.
Here are the statements from October translated from official videos posted to Netanyahu’s Youtube account, and statements following the execution.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon
October 9, 2015: “Right now is it required to respond quickly to any local attack to eliminate the terrorist stabber or the perpetrator stone thrower and the like, immediately, on the spot.”
March 24, 2016: “Even as we are forced to fight our enemies and overcome them in battle, we are equally obligated to uphold our mores. To be human.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
October 14th, 2015, speaking to paramilitary border police units: “I know that it requires your discretion, but have no doubt: You have complete backing – complete! – from me, from the Israeli government, and in my opinion from the nation in Israel.”
March 24, 2016: “What happened in Hebron doesn’t represent the values of the IDF. The IDF expects its soldiers to behave level-headedly and in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
Israeli military Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot
October 8, 2015: “Our policy of use of force is very clear. The IDF has complete freedom of action in order to to fulfill the mission to restore security.”
March 25, 2016: Israeli army spokesperson speaking on behalf on Eizenkot: “The chief of staff views the incident with severity and has ordered a full probe. This is not the IDF, these are not the values of the IDF and these are not the values of the Jewish people.”
Other politicians who have backed the shoot-to-kill policy have been silent in the wake of yesterday’s killing.
Yair Lapid, Member of Knesset and Chairman of the “centrist” Yesh Atid Party, did not made a public statement yesterday. But in October, he encouraged vigilantes killings, telling the Israeli public, “Whoever takes out a knife or a screwdriver, or whatever it may be, the directive needs to be shoot in order to kill. Not to hesitate. There will be full legal backing. The state gives full legal backing.”
Benti Sau, Israeli Police Acting Commissioner, has also refrained from comment. But on October 8, 2015, he said, “From my personal experience, I can tell you that at this time, we have received backing from the political level, full backing from the legal system.”
For its part, the New York Times dutifully focused on the fact that Israel detained the soldier, conveniently omitting the aforementioned official shoot-to-kill directives.
New York Times correspondent Diaa Hadid even claimed that Israeli top brass were asking soldiers to not shoot-to-kill. I asked Hadid what statements she was referring to on Twitter, but she declined to respond. Perhaps she was referring to Israeli army chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot’s January statement that he doesn’t want Israeli soldiers and police to unload their entire magazine into 14-year-old girls with scissors (this actually happened, and the cop who did it was found to have committed no wrongdoing). If that is the case, the irony of Eizenkot’s statement appears to be lost on Hadid, as it was the Israeli right-wing who pilloried him for his statement. Eizenkot is the architect of the Dahiya Doctrine, which calls for disproportionate force to be used against civilians.
Several other important details have come to light since yesterday.
Azraya is a medic in the Kfir brigade. While the fact that someone tasked with treating the wounded carried out an execution is abhorrent, it’s not surprising. The head of Magen David Adom in Hebron, which is officially recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that “terrorists should not be permitted to leave the scene alive.” I wrote here about the trend among Israeli medical professionals to abandon triage protocol, effectively ensuring the death of wounded Palestinians. The execution of Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif should be understood similarly.
Azraya also claimed he shot al-Sharif because he thought he might have a bomb.
“He wore a thick coat and therefore I feared that he would stand and detonate an explosive belt,” he told his family. “After I saw the terrorist moved, I shot him. I just feared that the terrorist would blow himself up.”
But as journalist Marian Houk observed, a video released yesterday shows a soldier kicking over the body of Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, indicating soldiers had no fear of explosives. Photos of the body being loaded onto a stretcher also contradict Azraya’s claim.