Army says incident 'apparently occurred' several months ago

IDF probes video of troops cheering as sniper shoots Palestinian near Gaza fence

Arab MK decries footage of gunfire felling apparently unarmed Gazan close to border, calls for sharpshooter, photographer to stand trial; army says it is looking into incident

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

The Israeli military said it was investigating a video that surfaced on Monday that appears to show IDF sharpshooters cheering as one of them shoots and fells a Palestinian who approached the Gaza security fence.

The video, which was widely shared on the WhatsApp messaging application, was apparently filmed through a scope or binoculars.

The soldiers can be heard discussing the shot ahead of time, as the sniper trains his rifle on the suspect, who is seen standing next to another Palestinian crouching in front of a roll of barbed wire several meters away from the security fence.

In the video, the Palestinian who was later shot does not appear to be armed and was not throwing rocks or firebombs at the security fence or the Israeli troops on the other side.

It was not immediately clear when or where the video was filmed.

Asked about the video, the IDF said it was looking into the matter.

The IDF said later on Monday evening that, on the basis of its initial check, the incident apparently occurred some months ago: “In regards to the video currently circulating, the event depicted apparently occurred a number of months ago. The incident is being reviewed and will be thoroughly investigated,” it said.

“The moment he stops, you drop him. Do you have a bullet in the chamber? Are you [trained] on him?” the commander is heard asking in the footage.

The sharpshooter can then be heard saying he cannot fire because his shot is blocked by the rolls of barbed wire along the security fence.

At one point, the sniper says he is ready to fire, but his commander tells him to wait. “There’s a little kid,” the commander says.

One soldier, apparently the one filming the incident, calls over a friend a moment before the gunshot is heard and the Palestinian suspect is seen crumpling to the ground.

“Whoa! What a video! YES! Son of a bitch. What a video! Look they’re running to evacuate him,” the photographer enthuses.

“Of course I filmed it,” he adds, responding to a question.

Another soldier is then heard saying, “Whoa, [he] hit him in the head.”

As a group of Palestinians can be seen carrying the injured man away, the photographer adds, “What a legendary video.”

Reporting on the video clip, which was the lead item on Israel’s national news broadcasts on Monday evening, TV reports said it was not clear whether the Palestinian suspect had been injured or killed.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List party, denounced the incident as seen in the video and called for the sharpshooter and the soldier who filmed it to stand trial.

“A video that horrifies the mind. Calls of joy at taking a life and what appears to be the execution of someone who did not threaten anyone,” Odeh wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday, the IDF General Staff announced that it was launching an investigation into the military’s response to a series of violent protests along the Gaza border in recent days, which have so far resulted in the deaths of some 30 Palestinians.

Palestinians collect tires and burn them at the Israel-Gaza border during a protest east of Gaza City, on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The army conducted similar investigations of this level following the 2014 Gaza war and after a United Nations peacekeeper was accidentally shot dead in 2015, during a clash between Israeli troops and the Hezbollah terrorist group.

The probe will be led by Brig. Gen. Moti Baruch, a former division commander and current head of the army’s Training and Doctrine Division, the army said.

Thus far, 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops during the Gaza border clashes over the past two weeks, according to the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry.

The army will not necessarily investigate every death, but will more likely focus on a few particular cases where there appears to be cause for an inquiry.

“For weeks, we have been warning against coming close to the fence and calling on Gaza’s residents not to obey the orders of the terror group Hamas and refrain from terror activities and other violent acts against Israel,” the IDF said. “Despite this, since last Friday the IDF has been dealing with tens of thousands of people approaching the fence, all instigated by Hamas.”

Videos from inside Gaza have also shown cases of what appeared to be some of the Palestinians being shot when they do not appear to pose a threat to either IDF soldiers or security infrastructure — two of the main conditions for a lethal response under the army’s stated rules of engagement.

IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis has said that some of these videos may be fabricated, but acknowledged that it is possible that “mistakes may have been made.”

Baruch’s probe will run in parallel to internal investigations currently underway in the IDF Southern Command, the army said.

If the investigation finds wrongdoing it will pass the details to the Military Advocate General Corps and to the Military Police’s investigatory unit to consider pressing criminal charges.

The probe will focus on the army’s conduct over the past two weeks, which have seen daily clashes along the Gaza border, including two massive demonstrations in which tens of thousands of Palestinians took part.

The protests were part of a planned six-week “March of Return” that is due to end in mid-May with both “Nakba Day,” marking the displacement of Arabs after Israel’s creation, and the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a plan that has infuriated Palestinian leaders.

Palestinian protesters burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City on April 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Palestinian activists have insisted the protests were civilian-led and nonviolent, while Israel has said they were often used as cover for attempts at violence against Israeli troops and breaches of the border. The IDF says the marches are a new tactic by Hamas, which rules Gaza, to conduct terror operations in the confusion of the demonstrations.

The army noted that it has spotted multiple attempts by terrorists to plant explosive devices along the Gaza border, a shooting attack on IDF troops by two well-armed Palestinian men dispatched by Hamas, as well as an attempted infiltration by a gunman wearing a suicide bomb vest. Hamas has acknowledged several of its operatives were among the Palestinian dead.

On Friday, nine Palestinians, including a journalist wearing a “press” vest, were killed by Israeli gunfire and over 1,000 people were injured from tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israel has no official casualty figures.

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