The soldier who was arrested Thursday after he was filmed shooting a disarmed Palestinian assailant in the head in the West Bank city of Hebron said he shot the man as he believed him to be wearing a suicide-bomber vest.
The soldier, who was arrested and questioned for several hours following the incident, told military investigators he believes he acted properly in shooting the attacker as he lay wounded and weaponless on the ground, Channel 10 news reported.
The soldier’s lawyer Benjamin Malka explained that the assailant, who had just stabbed another Israeli soldier, was still “moving underneath his jacket, where he could have been hiding explosives or weapons.”
The graphic video of the Thursday morning incident went viral and sparked widespread criticism of the unnamed soldier’s actions, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who both said that the actions went against the “values” of Israel and its military.
But lawyer Malka told Ynet that his client should not be judged before an army investigation into the incident is completed.
In the video, the soldier is partially blocked from view by other members of his unit when the shot is fired. However, the impact of the bullet can be seen. The Palestinian man can then be seen bleeding from the head.
(Video contains graphic images)
In an earlier interview with Army Radio, Malka called his client an “outstanding soldier, salt of the earth,” adding that “he has yet to be allowed to defend his innocence.”
The video prompted the IDF to launch an investigation into what it said was “a very grave” incident.
IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz said the soldier had been arrested and pledged that there would be a thorough investigation into the shooting. “This is not the IDF, these are not the values of the IDF and these are not the values of the Jewish people,” Almoz said.
Ya’alon said the case would be handled “with all due severity,” saying the soldier’s apparent actions were “in utter breach of IDF values and our code of ethics in combat.”
As news of the shooting spread, Israeli lawmakers from the center-left reacted harshly, warning of the dangers of moral decline and of loose firing regulations in the military.
The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, accused Israel of committing “a war crime,” with PA Health Minister Jawad Awwad saying the Palestinian assailant had been “executed” by soldiers, and claimed the footage was “irrefutable evidence that Israeli soldiers commit field executions.”
Israel has come under criticism from Europe and the United States for allegedly using excessive force in stopping Palestinian terrorists. The PA and some countries, notably Sweden, have accused Israel of extrajudicial executions — something Israel has vigorously denied.
The incident in Hebron marked the first attack since Saturday, breaking a rare calm spell amid a wave of violence in the West Bank and Israel that has raged for nearly half a year.
In the nearly six months of Palestinian terrorism and violence since October, 29 Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed. About 190 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while attacking Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.