An Israeli soldier shown on video executing an incapacitated Palestinian last week was arrested only “to avoid embarrassment in front of the world,” according to the human rights group Al-Haq.
The group’s investigation sheds new light on the incident in which two Palestinian youths were slain, and comes as the arrested soldier, Elor Azarya, faces manslaughter charges, rather than the murder charges previously announced by military prosecutors. He may be released within days.
Al-Haq, based in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, asserts that both the slaying of Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif, shown on video, and that of Ramzi al-Qasrawi, which was not recorded, constitute deliberate killings and are thus war crimes.
The group adds that statements made by Israeli leaders – including former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who endorsed the videotaped killing and asserted that “the soldier carried out orders” – indicate that soldiers have been given orders to kill rather than neutralize Palestinians who pose a threat.
“The occupation authorities’ detention of the accused soldier is a cover-up of the crime, to show the occupier state as law abiding and holds violators accountable,” Al-Haq’s Arabic-language report states.
“The arrest of one soldier and not the other suggests that what the other soldier had done was not a crime because it was not captured on camera,” the group adds.
Al-Sharif and al-Qasrawi, both 21, were shot dead after allegedly stabbing a soldier, who was lightly injured, in the West Bank city of Hebron on the morning of Thursday, 24 March.
A resident of the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron’s Old City testified to Al-Haq that after shots were heard around the nearby Gilbert military checkpoint, he took his camera and looked out the window of his home, recording the scene.
He saw a young man in a black jacket, apparently al-Sharif, carrying a knife running around the area, seemingly confused and trying to flee.
The witness told Al-Haq that an Israeli soldier fired two shots at the young man from a distance of 10 meters, causing him to fall to the ground. The same soldier then fired two bullets at the head of a youth wearing a grey top, apparently al-Qasrawi, who was lying on the ground, from a distance of three to five meters.
“It appears that [al-Qasrawi] was injured as a result of the gunfire the witness heard at the beginning while he was inside his house,” Al-Haq states.
Al-Haq’s chronology also recounts what is shown on the video of the incident released last week:
Israeli ambulances arrived at the scene and paramedics treated the wounded soldier but not the Palestinians who were bleeding heavily.
After the wounded soldier was loaded into an ambulance, another soldier, who was not the same one who initially shot the two youths, approached al-Sharif, who was lying on the ground and moving his head from side to side, while settlers roaming the scene shouted that “the terrorist is still alive.”
The soldier shot al-Sharif in the head at a distance of three meters and some 20 minutes after the initial shooting.
Intent to kill
The cries of the settlers that al-Sharif was still alive demonstrate that the purpose of the shooting was murder and to confirm the youth was dead, according to Al-Haq.
Such was also the case with al-Qasrawi, who was shot in the head by a soldier with the clear intention to confirm he was killed, after the youth had already been shot and was lying on the ground, posing a threat to no one, according to the rights group.
Al-Haq adds that many of the dozens of killings of Palestinians in recent months constitute avoidable cases of extrajudicial executions, at the very least, and that alleged attackers could have been apprehended instead of shot dead.
The group calls for accountability of not just the soldiers who killed al-Qasrawi and al-Sharif, but for all of those who participated in this and other similar crimes, whether they planned, gave orders, or were otherwise complicit.
Al-Haq also calls for the investigation of paramedics and doctors such as the ones in Hebron to determine their level of involvement and responsibility.
The group adds that it is preparing a file on this and other crimes which will be submitted to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
In November, Al-Haq joined several other human rights groups in delivering documentation of alleged crimes committed by the Israeli army during its 2014 assault on Gaza to the ICC prosecutor.
The group’s director, Shawan Jabarin, told The Electronic Intifada in March that he believes these efforts towards accountability are why there are increased attempts to undermine Al-Haq’s work, including death threats against its staff.
Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, the Palestinian volunteer who recorded the footage of al-Sharif’s killing, has also been subjected to death threats, according to B’Tselem, the Israeli rights group which released the footage.
The group called on Israeli military and police commanders “to do all that is in their power to protect the family from further violence, including issuing clear, adequate directives to soldiers and police officers stationed in Hebron.”
Yet the soldiers and police deployed in Hebron are there to support and protect the very settlers threatening Abu Shamsiyeh and his family.
Abu Shamsiyeh recorded video of Elor Azarya shaking hands with notorious settler leader Baruch Marzel just after he executed al-Sharif.
Meanwhile, Israel’s top court has reportedly refused an appeal to allow a Palestinian doctor to participate in the autopsy of al-Sharif, scheduled for Sunday.
“A number of Palestinian families signed a letter late last year demanding that families should be allotted time to request an official autopsy report on their dead relatives. Autopsy reports are used in official paperwork necessary to file cases against Israeli authorities at the International Criminal Court,” the Ma’an News Agency reported.
Since October Israel has withheld the bodies of dozens of Palestinians killed during alleged attacks, effectively preventing autopsies and independent investigation.
On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also called for the protection of Abu Shamsiyeh and for the full investigation of other incidents in which Israeli forces have caused death and injury.
“We are concerned this killing may not be a lone incident: a disturbing number of Palestinians – reportedly more than 130 in all – have been killed in recent months during or after attacks on Israeli civilians and members of the security forces, during which 28 Israelis have been killed,” the body stated.
US Senator calls for investigation
It was revealed this week that a ranking US Senator, along with 10 members of Congress, has asked the State Department to investigate “possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel and Egypt – incidents that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of US military assistance.”
The letter, initiated by Patrick Leahy, head of the US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, adds that “Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have reported what may be extrajudicial killings by the Israeli military and police,” mentioning the slayings of Fadi Alloun, Saad al-Atrash, Hadil Hashlamoun and Mutaz Uweisat, and raises “reports of the use of torture” in the cases of Wasim Marouf and the child Ahmad Manasra.
A law named after Leahy, enacted in 1997, prohibits the US from providing military assistance to units of foreign militaries when there is credible information that those units violated human rights with impunity.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out against the senior Senator from Vermont, insisting that “The IDF [Israeli military] and security forces are not murderers.”
“IDF soldiers and Israeli police put their lives on the line to defend themselves and innocent civilians from bloodthirsty terrorists who try to kill them,” Netanyahu added.
Another boy, 16-year-old Nadim Siam Nuwara, was also shot and killed during the incident.
The youths were unarmed and no confrontations with Israeli soldiers were happening when they were slain.
Military prosecutors said this week that there was no evidence Abu al-Thahir died as a result of Israeli army gunfire.
An Israeli Border Police combatant was indicted over Nuwara’s death.
An independent forensic investigation determined that “both deaths were the result of Israeli security personnel masking the firing of live ammunition” through a barrel extension designed to fire rubber-coated bullets.
- Elor Azarya
- Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif
- Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi
- Avigdor Lieberman
- Tel Rumeida
- International Criminal Court
- Imad Abu Shamsiyeh
- extrajudicial executions
- Baruch Marzel
- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
- Patrick Leahy
- US State Department
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Muhammad Abu al-Thahir