The Military Advocate General Danny Efroni closed an investigation against a former IDF lieutenant for the death of a Palestinian he shot during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron in 2013.
Efroni decided last week not to pursue manslaughter charges against Menashe Aviv for the death of 19-year-old Muataz Idreis Sharawnah, Channel 2 reported on Sunday.
An army spokeswoman at the time said the Israel Defense Forces was carrying out a routine overnight operation in Dura, southwest of Hebron, when clashes broke out. She said that a group of Palestinians hurled rocks at soldiers, and two of them began to climb onto one of the jeeps. After the Palestinians ignored warnings to retreat, and were undeterred by standard riot-dispersal means, the spokeswoman said soldiers opened fire at one of them.
“There was a real fear that they would open the door, throw a grenade inside our jeep and kill all of us,” Aviv said of the incident.
“The soldiers sitting the back were stunned, and were not trained for this type of scenario. So I realized that, as a commander, I needed to take responsibility, as I was trained to do, and confront the attackers. I realized very quickly that we were in mortal danger,” he explained.
Aviv recounted to the TV station how he got out of the jeep and fired a warning shot in the ground near Sharawnah and the other protester. However, he said, the two did not retreat. He said he aimed a second shot at Sharawnah’s lower body, but accidentally struck him in the abdomen.
During the course of the two-year investigation into the incident, the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division interrogated Aviv four times and collected testimonies from his senior commanders and the other soldiers present during the incident.
The investigation revealed a series of operational failures within the Kfir Brigade, including inconsistent implementation of the rules of engagement regarding use of live fire during Palestinian protests in the West Bank.
The MPCID determined that IDF procedures were not being properly passed down to infantry soldiers by Kfir commanders.
The inquiry praised the courage displayed by Aviv, and said the ex-lieutenant engaged with the attackers in order to protect his soldiers.
As a result of the investigation, Aviv, hitherto regarded as a valued officer, was demoted in rank, his salary was reduced by NIS 2,000 ($500), and he was reassigned as a security guard on military transports.
Aviv’s attorney, Eyal Platak, had sent letters to Efroni and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein requesting a decision in the case against his client, saying the length of the investigation delayed justice.
“They fed a valued officer to the dogs,” Platak argued. “Instead of thanking or promoting him for saving soldiers and risking his life for them, they pursued a prosecution. Why not prosecute his commanding officers, who admitted to making critical errors?”
Aviv, who complained that he has been unable to find work since the investigation was launched in 2013, said he was thrilled with the decision.
“I’m so happy this legal nightmare is over,” he said. “It’s just too bad it took two years and cut my military career short.
“I hope that every company and regiment in the army will learn from this incident, so that similar incidents don’t happen to other junior officers like myself who could end up paying a heavy price,” Aviv added.
Platak said his client is considering taking legal action against the IDF for delay of justice and damage to his reputation, and will demand to be reinstated to the rank of lieutenant.