Soldier arrested after shooting disarmed assailant in head

Army says it will investigate after video comes to light showing aftermath of a stabbing attack on Israeli forces in Hebron

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

An IDF soldier was arrested Thursday after a video appeared to show him shooting an incapacitated Palestinian assailant who had earlier stabbed an Israeli soldier in Hebron on Thursday morning.

In the video, which was first released on Palestinian social media, the disarmed Palestinian can be seen lying on the ground and barely moving.

The soldier then appears to speak with another soldier, before cocking his weapon and firing at the unarmed Palestinian assailant from a few meters away, hitting him in the head.

The Palestinian was one of two who attacked and moderately wounded an IDF soldier near the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, a tiny enclave of Jewish homes in the predominantly Palestinian city of Hebron.

An unnamed witness told the Palestinian Ma’an news he saw that the soldier walked up and “opened fire at him from zero range.” The witness also indicated the assailant may have still been alive before being shot.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health identified the two Palestinian attackers as Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, 21, and Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, 21.

It was not immediately clear which of the two appears in the video.

A picture showing the knife allegedly used in a Hebron stabbing attack, next to an IDF helmet, on March 24, 2016. (courtesy)
A picture showing the knife allegedly used in a Hebron stabbing attack, next to an IDF helmet, on March 24, 2016. (courtesy)

The soldier is partially blocked from view by other members of his unit when the shot is fired. However, the impact of the bullet can be seen in the video.

Afterward, the Palestinian can be seen bleeding from the head.

“This appears to be a serious violation of the IDF code and of what is expected of IDF soldiers and officers,” the army said in response to the video.

The Military Police will begin looking into the incident and the soldier has “been suspended from his position until the end of the investigation,” the IDF said. The soldier was detained for further questioning.

The shooting would appear to be part of a controversial practice known as “confirming the kill,” in which soldiers make sure assailants are dead by shooting them in the head. The army has disavowed the practice in the past.

“From time to time there have been some statements by senior officials on the side of abiding by the law and preventing unnecessary use of force,” B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli said. “However, these comments go against public remarks to the contrary,” she said, referring to statements by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

“It’s impossible to judge the situation the combatants are in,” Erdan told Channel 10 news last month after video surfaced of Border Police officers shooting a Palestinian assailant multiple times after he had been subdued. “Every day there are attempts to stab them and the civilians around them. There have been incidents in which (security forces) fired, the terrorist was not killed, and then he managed to stab again,” he said.

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Israel has come under criticism from Europe and the United States for allegedly using excessive force in stopping Palestinian terrorists. The Palestinian Authority and some countries, notably Sweden, have accused Israel of extra-judicial executions — something Israel has vigorously denied.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 15, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 15, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking to high school students in the coastal city of Bat Yam recently, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said that a soldier must shoot to kill perpetrators of terrorist attacks only if there is an immediate threat to human life.

“When there’s a 13-year-old girl holding scissors or a knife and there is some distance between her and the soldiers, I don’t want to see a soldier open fire and empty his magazine at a girl like that, even if she is committing a very serious act,” Eisenkot said. “Rather he should use the force necessary to fulfill the objective.”

“The army can not speak in slogans such as ‘kill or be killed,’” he said in response to a student’s question on the IDF’s “lenient” rules of engagement.

This incident in Hebron marked the first attack since Saturday, breaking a rare calm spell amid a wave of violence in the West Bank and Israel that has raged for nearly half a year.

In the nearly six months of Palestinian terrorism and violence since October, 29 Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed. About 190 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while attacking Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.

Israel closed off the West Bank from Wednesday to Saturday as a preventative measure against attacks during the Jewish holiday of Purim, the IDF announced on Tuesday.

The closure began at 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday and is expected to end at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, the army said.

Entering and exiting the West Bank will be forbidden for Palestinians during those three days, with the exception of “humanitarian, medical and exceptional cases,” according to an IDF statement.

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