The Israel Defense Forces soldier who shot a disarmed Palestinian attacker in the head last week in Hebron may face charges of manslaughter and not murder, military prosecutors announced Thursday.
IDF attorney Lt. Col. Adoram Reigler told a hearing that “significant developments” in recent days necessitated the downgraded charges.
The still-unnamed soldier is suspected of shooting the assailant “deliberately and unnecessarily,” Reigler said, indicating he likely had enough evidence to go ahead with an indictment.
He did not detail what the new developments were.
The downgraded charges were announced at a hearing at the Qastina Military Court near Kiryat Malachi.
Military prosecutors requested the soldier’s detention be extended for seven more days.
“In our opinion, the evidence indicates serious suspicions against the suspect,” Reigler said.
The downgraded charge likely indicates the prosecution believes it would have difficulty proving the act was premeditated.
However, the soldier’s lawyer told the tribunal that there were several witnesses who could back up his claim that he feared the stabber had a bomb on him.
Last week, the Kfir Brigade soldier was caught on film shooting Palestinian assailant Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif in the head, some 10 minutes after the stabber had already been shot, wounded and disarmed.
Al-Sharif and another man, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, had attacked a soldier and an officer near the Tel Rumeida neighbor of Hebron. The pair stabbed the soldier in the shoulder and arm before the officer was able to shoot the two attackers. Al-Qasrawi was killed, but al-Sharif remained alive.
Six minutes later, the IDF soldier who is now in custody arrived on the scene and approximately five minutes later he was filmed shooting an apparently incapacitated al-Sharif in the head.
In his testimony, the soldier claimed he was concerned the Palestinian was wearing an explosive vest that could be used to harm the first responders and other soldiers on the scene.
According to the army, the soldier said before shooting the stabber that he should be killed, and told his commanders afterward that the assailant had deserved to die.
An army investigator said Thursday that the IDF has a longer video than the ones released that adds to the evidence against the soldier.
The IDF launched an investigation into the shooting immediately after the video emerged, and a day later the army prosecutor said he was considering murder charges against the soldier.
On Tuesday, judges extended the suspect’s remand for a second time to allow the Military Police more time to complete their investigation. The Tuesday hearing drew hundreds of people in support of the soldier, waving Israeli flags and banners reading “terrorists should be killed.”
The debate over the soldiers actions has also snowballed into a political battle, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing pressure from the far-right flank of his coalition for backing the army investigation.
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon issued statements condemning the soldier’s behavior as a violation of the IDF’s ethical code.
On Thursday, Joint (Arab) List MKs Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi condemned the military prosecutor’s decision to downgrade the charges being sought.
“This is a soldier who committed a criminal act of murder, as is clearly seen in the video, and the decision [to charge him with manslaughter] was influenced by the comments of the prime minister, who asked that the family of the soldier be considered,” said the two lawmakers in a statement. They added the decision “proves once again that such incidents must be investigated by an international war crimes tribunal.”
Top Israeli military officials have rejected assertions that the soldier was right to shoot the apparently incapacitated Palestinian attacker because he feared the man could be wearing an explosives vest, saying an officer had checked the assailant minutes earlier and confirmed that he was not wearing such a vest.
Other Israelis, however, believe the soldier was abiding by the IDF’s rules of engagement as he feared the assailant could still carry out a secondary attack.
In a separate hearing Thursday, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the family of al-Sharif would be allowed to choose a doctor to attend the autopsy of their son. The doctor, however, will not be allowed to participate in the autopsy. According to the official Palestinian news site Wafa, the Palestinian doctor will only be allowed to observe and have his notes inserted into the final autopsy report.