IDF said to question soldiers filmed celebrating shooting of Palestinian

Army reportedly says incident occurred on Gaza border in December 2017, will conclude operational investigation ‘in near future’

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: Israeli snipers prepare for massive protests by Palestinians in Gaza and the potential for demonstrators to try to breach the security fence on March 30, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces/File)
Illustrative: Israeli snipers prepare for massive protests by Palestinians in Gaza and the potential for demonstrators to try to breach the security fence on March 30, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces/File)

The IDF has reportedly identified and questioned the soldiers caught on video cheering after an apparently unarmed Palestinian was shot, in footage that surfaced on Monday and provoked outrage.

The military says the incident occurred in December 2017, Channel 10 reported Tuesday.

The video, which was apparently filmed through a scope or binoculars, was widely shared on the WhatsApp messaging application and condemned by politicians from various parties, including the governing Likud, while some ministers defended the soldiers involved.

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.

Before he is shot, the Palestinian shot does not appear to be armed and is not seen throwing rocks or firebombs at either the security fence or the Israeli troops on the other side.

The soldier who filmed the incident was standing next to the sniper who fired the shot during “operational activity” on the Gaza border, according to an initial investigation by the army cited by media reports on Tuesday.

Both troops were said to be part of the IDF’s Golani infantry brigade.

The investigation will be completed in the near future and handed to the Military Advocate General, who will then deliberate and decide whether the incident warrants an investigation by the military’s criminal investigation division, Hadashot news reported.

In a statement on Monday, the IDF said that 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.”

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

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 correspondents said it was not clear whether the Palestinian suspect had been injured or killed.

‘March of Return’

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, according to the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry.

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 said they were often used as cover for attempts at violence against Israeli troops and breaches of the border. The IDF said 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, a terror group that seeks the destroy Israel, acknowledged that several of its operatives were among the Palestinian dead. Hamas leaders have said the ultimate goal of the protests is to erase the border and liberate Palestine.

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.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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