IDF officer given 10 days in military prison over shooting of Palestinian motorist

Investigation finds Golani brigade company commander did not follow procedure, leading to mistaken identification when he fired at fleeing vehicle and injured driver

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers, near Bethlehem, in the West Bank, September 30, 2022. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers, near Bethlehem, in the West Bank, September 30, 2022. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday sentenced a commander in the West Bank to 10 days in military prison following an investigation into his shooting last week of a Palestinian motorist who was found to be innocent.

The military said that security forces stationed at the settlement of Rimonim, east of Jerusalem, had received reports of gunshots in the area and, sometime later, spotted a Palestinian vehicle fleeing the scene that they believed to be behind the shooting.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that it was a company commander from the Golani infantry brigade who opened fire at the Palestinian car.

The officer first fired in the air, then aimed at the wheels of the vehicle, but also wounded the driver. The army arrested the driver and took him to a hospital for treatment before releasing him the next day.

A military investigation determined that the shooting was the result of mistaken identity.

“This is a serious incident in which the force acted contrary to procedures,” the army said, announcing that the force’s commander had been sentenced to 10 days in military prison.

The IDF statement did not specify in what way the soldier strayed from procedures.

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank, early August 28, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Palestinian media identified the driver as 22-year-old Mazen Samrat from a village near the Palestinian city of Jericho.

Rights groups and other critics have accused Israeli soldiers and police officers of being too quick to pull the trigger, particularly in response to a recent surge in attacks by Palestinians that have killed 31 people so far this year.

They have noted that Israeli military investigations into accusations of crimes committed against Palestinians rarely lead to prosecutions in the West Bank, which Israel captured along with East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War.

According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, of the 248 investigations into cases of harm inflicted on Palestinians opened by the military in the West Bank between 2017 and 2021, only 11 indictments were issued. There were over 1,200 complaints of wrongdoing by Israeli forces during that period, meaning that officers prosecuted 0.87% of the time, Yesh Din reported.

Penalties for Israeli soldiers raise a host of thorny political issues in the country, which has compulsory military service for most Jewish men. Right-wing lawmakers responded angrily to the sentencing of the commander on Tuesday.

“Wake me up and tell me it’s a bad dream,” Tally Gotliv, a lawmaker with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, adding that the commander was “punished for being a hero.”

The IDF said that all army divisions would take a “learning break” to review lessons from the incident in an effort to prevent its recurrence.

Likud MK Tally Gotliv speaks during a Knesset committee meeting on August 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last week the IDF reportedly admitted that troops mistakenly shot, wounded, and detained three Palestinian suspects during an attack on an army post near the northern West Bank city of Jenin last month.

In the incident early August 28, the military said troops carrying out “proactive activity” near Yabed, west of Jenin, opened fire at a number of suspects, who were allegedly hurling makeshift bombs from a passing vehicle at a nearby military post.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit did not immediately comment on the incident, but a military source cited by Kan at the time admitted that the troops mistakenly shot at the wrong vehicle.

“A vehicle with terrorists threw a bomb at troops who were in the post, and another force that was operating near the post opened fire at the vehicle. After an initial investigation, it was understood that the vehicle that threw the bomb quickly left the road. One of the fighters who responded by shooting accidentally identified another vehicle that turned out to be uninvolved,” the source said.

Violence has surged across the West Bank over the past year and a half, with a rise in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and troops, near-nightly arrest raids by the military, and an uptick in revenge attacks by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians.

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