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Israeli Judge: Evidence Against Soldier Who Allegedly Executed Palestinian is 'Inconclusive'

The Israeli army says the Palestinian, who was later identified as Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif, had tried to stab an Israeli soldier right before the camera started recording.
Screenshot via Youtube

An Israeli soldier who was caught on tape appearing to execute an injured Palestinian man will remain in custody, though the judge presiding over the case has called the evidence "inconclusive."

"Given the circumstances, I find that although there is reasonable suspicion that the shooting was illegal," Military judge Ronen Shor said at a hearing on Tuesday, before adding that that "the evidence accumulated so far is inconclusive regarding the key issues in dispute."


The soldier was arrested last week, and prosecutors had asked the military court for nine days to formulate a case against him — but on Tuesday, Judge Shor gave the prosecution just two days to build their case and formally announce charges.

On March 24, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem released a video showing the unnamed Israeli soldier shooting a wounded Palestinian man in the West Bank city of Hebron. The Israeli army say the man, who was later identified as Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif, had tried to stab an Israeli soldier right before the camera started recording.

In the video, Sharif lies incapacitated on the ground for two minutes before a soldier appears to beckon another soldier toward Sharif. The first soldier says something to the second, at which point, the second soldier calmly approaches Sharif, and stops two yards away, raises his rifle, and fires a round into his head. Before the shot is fired, several other soldiers and medical personnel put their hands to their ears, as if they expect a shot to fired. After he is shot the personnel continue to go about their business, as Sharif's blood begins to flow into a pool on the pavement.

Related: Companies Are Leaving the West Bank as International Boycott Campaign Gains Ground

Lawyers representing the soldier say that he feared his life was in danger, and in an audio recording of the incident voices can be heard discussing the possibility that Sharif was wearing a suicide vest. In a separate video released friday, the accused soldier is shown shaking hands with well known settler activist Baruch Marzel, who famously offers to buy any Israeli who "eliminates a terrorist" a pizza.


At Tuesday's hearing, Prosecutor Edoram Rigler has said there was "no military need" to execute the Palestinian man, and called into question the soldiers self-defense claim.

"The way that the suspect acted in real time, as we can see in the videos which were collected. His behavior doesn't seem like the behavior of someone whose life is in danger," Rigler said. Riger also accused the solder of changing his justification for the shooting under questioning.

The prosecution, however, has yet to settle on what charges to bring.

"We are trying to decide what he could be charged with, including manslaughter," Rigler said.

Over the past week, the killing has drawn criticism from some Israeli leaders, including the Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon and Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The subversion of the IDF's morality is outrageous and unacceptable," Netanyahu said after the video began to go viral online. "The IDF soldiers, our children, maintain high ethical standards at a time when they are bravely fighting bloodthirsty murderers in severe operational conditions."

But a poll released on Tuesday by Israel's Channel 2 shows widespread support for the soldier's actions. According to the poll 57 percent of Israelis opposed the soldier's arrest, while 42 percent described his actions as "responsible"— only 5 percent said they would describe the shooting as a "murder."

The incident has provoked a debate within Israel about military's rules of engagement. It has also divided political leaders. Education Minister Naftali Bennet called the family of the soldier several times since the shooting to express his support. "


Defense Minister Yaalon criticized politicians who defended the soldier publicly.

"There is a confusion, and the involvement of non-professional officials in issues of rules of engagement and what is happening now, is not useful," he said.

Related: After Shooting Video Goes Viral, Israeli Soldier Faces Murder Investigation

On the floor of the Israeli Knesset on Tuesday, Yaalon told lawmakers that "that the soldier… did something wrong," and that his actions were "not of a hero." Bennett then accused the Minister of Defense of "smearing" the soldiers.

"We send our children to protect us. [The incident took place in] a battlefield, not a sterile media studio," he said.

During Tuesday's' hearing, hundreds of demonstrators massed outside, hoisting placards and chanting in support of the soldier. Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman addressed the crowd.

"The claim [against the soldier] has collapsed," he said. "I'm sure he will be acquitted."

On Monday, the Palestinian Authority submitted a formal request to the UN for an investigation into what it calls 'extrajudicial" killings by the Israeli army. Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said that over 200 Palestinians have been executed since September, 2015 — Israel maintains that most of these incidents involve Palestinians shot in the midst of an attack.