Rights and Accountability 1 June 2016
According to Israel’s Channel 2, the footage “could indicate an attempt to tamper with evidence” in order to give the appearance that the youth “could have reached the knife and constituted a threat before he was shot.”
On 24 March, Israeli soldier Elor Azarya lifted his rifle, aimed and then fired at the head of 21-year-old Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif after he and another youth allegedly stabbed and moderately wounded a soldier in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron’s Old City in the occupied West Bank.
Al-Sharif was lying on the ground, injured and immobilized, when Azarya fired at his head.
The other youth, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, also 21, was shot dead by another soldier.
Azarya’s execution of al-Sharif was documented on video recorded by a Palestinian resident of the neighborhood and released by the human rights group B’Tselem.
A previously unreleased video, one of several shown in court, further undermines Azarya’s claims that the already gravely wounded al-Sharif could have presented any conceivable threat before Azarya fired the fatal shot.
The video shows al-Sharif’s body lying on the ground after Azarya shot him. A knife is visible at a distance from his body.
An ambulance drives by and its wheel moves the knife slightly. Then a person who cannot be seen in the video kicks the knife toward al-Sharif.
At the end of the short video clip a voice is heard asking, “Why did you throw it?”
A voice is also heard in the video referring to al-Sharif as “that dog.”
Testifying about the videos shown in court, Israeli military investigator Major Ran Keinan said, “You don’t need an expert to see that the knife is far and also note that the terrorist’s shirt is half open.”
Keinan referred to a video that showed this to be the case 30 seconds before the fatal shooting.
Keinan’s testimony at Azarya’s trial would appear to refute claims that the immobilized al-Sharif could have reached the knife, or that his body might have been booby-trapped.
Azarya’s lawyers have claimed, as The Jerusalem Post reported, that their client “thought that shooting al-Sharif was the only way to save his life and the lives of nearby soldiers, thinking that al-Sharif was about to attack with a knife and an explosive belt.”
Another witness told the court that the knife was kicked by Ofer Ohana, an ambulance driver.
According to Channel 2, all video clips in the possession of investigators were shown in court.
This includes one which shows Ohana photographing al-Sharif and saying “he’s alive, that dog,” and asking “where’s the knife?”
The knife is visible some ways away, according to Channel 2.
This report from the Mabat evening news program on Israel’s Channel 1 includes several video clips of the events surrounding the shooting that were shown in court:Another witness told investigators that moments before he shot al-Sharif, Azarya had said: “He stabbed my friend, he deserves to die.”
Prosecutors also told the court that they had retrieved a text message from Azarya’s phone.
A minute and a half after the shooting, Azarya texted his father: “We had an attack, a friend of mine was wounded. The friend killed the first one, I killed the second one.”
A military prosecutor told the court that evidence to be presented as the trial proceeds would show that “the defendant’s actions are done calmly, cool-headedly.”
Azarya has been defended by politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and treated as a hero by thousands of Israelis who have rallied in his support.
Moshe Yaalon clashed with Netanyahu over how severely to treat Azarya’s actions, a conflict seen as contributing to the former’s recent resignation as defense minister.
The new defense minister is Avigdor Lieberman, who accused Yaalon of rushing to judgment about Azarya.
Much of the popular support for Azarya appears to stem from a sense of betrayal that he was only doing what was expected of him by executing an injured Palestinian.
Indeed, human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Israeli leaders for inciting subordinates to carry out a wave of extrajudicial executions of Palestinians since a sharp increase in direct confrontations began last October.
In many cases, Palestinians were injured, immobilized or otherwise presented no conceivable threat when they were killed.
In November, B’Tselem pointed blame for “the transformation of police officers, and even of armed civilians, into judges and executioners” squarely at Netanyahu.
“Your silence in the face of Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan’s saying that ‘every terrorist should know that he will not survive the attack he is about to perpetrate’ is tantamount to consent to this unlawful policy,” B’Tselem said, addressing the Israeli prime minister.
These killings have seldom led to serious investigations, let alone prosecutions.
Azarya’s lawyers have demanded to know why their client has been singled out, while the army recently cleared a senior officer for killing an unarmed Palestinian youth.
In April, the army closed its investigation into Colonel Yisrael Shomer, who shot a 17-year-old Palestinian boy to death while he was fleeing.
Last July, Shomer, a commander of the Binyamin Brigade, shot Muhammad al-Kasbeh with live ammunition.
The boy had allegedly thrown a rock at Shomer’s jeep near the military checkpoint at Qalandiya in the occupied West Bank.
“The unlawful killing was immediately condoned by military commanders and government ministers,” B’Tselem noted.
Security camera footage from a nearby gas station supports B’Tselem’s claim that the soldiers were in no imminent danger when Shomer killed al-Kasbeh.
B’Tselem described the closure of the case as “an integral part of the whitewash mechanism which is Israel’s military investigative system.”
It remains to be seen whether Azarya will be convicted, and, if so, seriously punished.
What is not in doubt is that the attention his killing of al-Sharif has received is the exception, while impunity remains the rule.
Dena Shunra provided translation.
- Elor Azarya
- Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif
- extrajudicial executions
- Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi
- Ofer Ohana
- Moshe Yaalon
- Yisrael Shomer