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After backlash, IDF defends charging Hebron soldier with murder

Military spokesman Moti Almoz rejects criticism by right-wing politicians, calls for keeping ‘political discourse out of the IDF’

Israeli soldiers cover the body of a Palestinian assailant who was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier as he lay wounded on the ground after injuring an Israeli soldier with a fellow Palestinian attacker in a stabbing assault in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (AFP / HAZEM BADER)
Israeli soldiers cover the body of a Palestinian assailant who was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier as he lay wounded on the ground after injuring an Israeli soldier with a fellow Palestinian attacker in a stabbing assault in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (AFP / HAZEM BADER)

The IDF on Sunday defended its murder investigation into the Thursday shooting death of a Palestinian stabber, after relatives, politicians and other rushed to support a soldier accused in the killing.

Army prosecutors charged the IDF soldier, who is not being named, with murder at the Jaffa Military Court on Friday after an initial investigation concluded that he shot the disarmed and wounded Palestinian assailant after the latter no longer constituted a threat.

The indictment, as well as videos that emerged of the soldier shooting the attacker in the head, sparked controversy over the weekend, with the army, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon saying the soldier’s actions violated the army’s ethical code, while far-right politicians and the soldier’s family claimed he was being “lynched” in the media.

“There are dozens of incidents in the IDF each day, on land, in the air and at sea,” IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz said Sunday in a statement. “All the incidents are investigated on professional grounds — procedures, operations, methods, [soldiers’] judgment and more. When necessary, the moral dimension is also examined,” he said.

He rejected right-wing criticism that the army’s swift response to the incident was an attempt to pander to left-wing critics.

“These incidents are not examined and investigated in order to appeal to anyone — not because of the B’Tselem organization [a rights group that publicized a video of the incident] and not because of any fear of international pressure — but for ourselves, our character and our values,” Almoz said.

The shooting took place Thursday morning, after Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, 21, and another man stabbed a soldier and were shot by responding troops.

Footage that emerged later Thursday and Friday showed Sharif lying supine on the ground before being approached by a soldier, who fires a single bullet into his head.

On Sunday, the army released findings showing that the soldier under indictment allegedly spoke out in favor of killing the surviving stabber before the shooting, and told his commanders afterward that the Palestinian assailant deserved to die.

The soldier’s attorney on Sunday said his client denied the comments attributed to him. “Justice is done in court, not in the media,” the attorney insisted.

The army was “still studying and investigating” the Hebron incident, Almoz said.

Earlier Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett accused “senior politicians” of “dancing to the tune of B’Tselem.”

He also called IDF prosecutors’ decision to file a murder indictment “hysterical,” and promised to use his power as a member of the security cabinet to ensure the soldier receives a fair trial.

But Almoz said the IDF would resist any political pressure to drop the case.

Moti Almoz (Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Moti Almoz (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

“We say loudly and clearly — we set the norms,” he said, referring to the army’s commanders. “This incident is serious, and we insist on keeping political discourse out of the IDF. We support a fair investigation, which has only just begun, and there is no call to prejudge its outcomes.”

He insisted the soldier would be given a fair trial.

“We are listening to [the soldier,] and we will continue to listen to him. We are hearing his version, and law enforcement and the courts will be those who decide” as to his guilt. “We will not abandon him. This is not summary justice. This is not a ‘lynching,'” he said.

At the same time, the army would not be swayed by the furor surrounding the case, he vowed. Nor could it ignore the incident.

“A command decision must be made,” Almoz said, using a military term for the responsibility of commanders to be clear about the ethical standards required of their subordinates.

On Friday, the soldier’s remand was extended until Tuesday by the Jaffa Military Court.

Army officials insisted over the weekend that the army stood by soldiers who “make mistakes” that amount to reasonable misjudgments of combat situations, but said this case was different.

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