Israel’s military justice system is in the spotlight as it investigates a soldier caught on tape shooting to death a subdued Palestinian attacker, a case that has polarised the nation.
While the military has stressed that its courts are independent, critics say the system has a poor record of punishing errant soldiers, perpetuating a culture of impunity. They say the same result is likely for the soldier, who is expected to be formally charged in the coming days.
The shooting took place last month in Hebron, the volatile West Bank city that has been a focal point of the latest, seven-month wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The military initially said two Palestinians stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops shot and killed the pair.
In a video later released by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, one of the attackers was shown still alive after the initial shooting. The video, taken by a Palestinian volunteer for the group, shows the wounded attacker lying on the ground, slowly moving his head.
About a minute later, a soldier raises his rifle, cocks the weapon and fires. Blood is then seen streaming from the Palestinian’s head.
An autopsy determined the bullet to the head was the cause of death.
During the current wave of violence, the Palestinians have accused Israeli security forces of using excessive force against attackers who have already been stopped or wounded. Of the 188 Palestinians killed during the outburst, Israel says 142 were attacking or trying to attack Israelis, with the rest killed in clashes. A handful of amateur videos supporting the Palestinian claims have emerged, but the Hebron killing was perhaps the clearest so far.
The incident triggered an uproar in Israel, with the country’s defence minister, military officials and many Israelis calling it contrary to the army’s values. That outcry in turn kicked up a counter-torrent of support for the soldier.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, initially critical of the soldier, later softened his opposition in a nod to his nationalist constituents.
Critics say only accountability can promise deterrence and prevent excessive force from being used against Palestinians, even if they are attacking Israelis. Few soldiers have been punished for their alleged crimes against Palestinians.
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