Widespread condemnation for video of soldiers cheering shooting of Palestinian

Lawmakers from several parties troubled by widely circulated footage from Gaza border, but back IDF to investigate; rights groups say incident is the rule, not the exception

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers take aim, as they lie on an earth barrier along the border with the Gaza Strip, near the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, on March 30, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers take aim, as they lie on an earth barrier along the border with the Gaza Strip, near the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, on March 30, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Officials from across the Israeli political spectrum on Monday condemned a video that surfaced showing what appears to be IDF soldiers cheering as one of them, a sniper, shoots and fells a Palestinian who approached the Gaza security fence. While most also expressed confidence that the army would investigate the incident, human rights groups claimed dozens of similar shootings have recently taken place.

“The IDF is a moral army, but immoral actions may be committed within it,” said MK Nachman Shai of the left-wing Zionist Union party. “This incident and all incidents require an investigation. The battle isn’t just between us and Hamas; it is also for ourselves, for our values and for the identity of Israel society.”

Yair Lapid, chairman of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said he had “full confidence” in IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and its top commanders to investigate the video “without hesitation and in accordance with the IDF’s values and orders.”

“Israel’s moral power is part of national security and is also what gives us the qualitative edge over our enemies,” Lapid said.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid addresses the Knesset plenum on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“A very hard video to watch,” wrote Yehudah Glick, a lawmaker from  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, on Twitter. “Disturbing and disappointing.”

The Israeli military said it was investigating the video, was widely shared on the WhatsApp messaging application Monday, which 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.

Likud MK Yehudah Glick (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

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,” it said.

Human rights organizations that have frequently been critical of the actions of the IDF said that the video represented the rule for the Israeli army, not the exception.

B’Tselem, which recently led a campaign urging soldiers to refuse to shoot “unarmed” Palestinian protesters in Gaza, said that the IDF issues “illegal orders telling soldiers to shoot people who endanger nobody.” It said incidents such as the one in the video have occurred “hundreds of times” over the last few weeks, and dismissed the promise to investigate the shooting as a “meaningless” stunt that would “cover up the truth.”

Another rights group, Breaking the Silence, which collects soldiers’ testimonies of alleged abuses carried out against the Palestinians, shared the video on Twitter and said, “These are the orders. Take responsibility.”

Footage filmed through a scope, publicized on April 9, 2018, showing the moment before an Israeli sniper shoots a Palestinian who approached the Gaza security fence. (Screen capture)

The NGO mocked the military’s response that the incident was a few months old: “It isn’t from several months ago; it has been like this for 51 years,” it said, referring to the years in which Israel has maintained military rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, along with Egypt, has maintained a blockade since the Hamas terror group took over the Strip in 2007. It says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, from importing weaponry.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List party, denounced the incident 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.

Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh leads a faction meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on October 31, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Odeh’s party colleague Ahmad Tibi mocked the branding of the IDF as the “most moral army in the world” and wrote on Twitter: “The snipers murder, the troops chuckle, and the Arabs die.”

“This is another murder by IDF soldiers of an unarmed Gazan,” he added, calling the footage “horrifying” and calling for an investigation.

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

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.

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 and hundreds wounded by Israeli troops during the Gaza border clashes over the past two weeks, 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 acknowledged that 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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