The release of video footage showing the extrajudicial killing of a wounded Palestinian man on Thursday has led to the arrest of the Israeli Defense Force soldier who pulled the trigger, but rights groups say the documented incident only confirms their warnings regarding how the Israeli military routinely behaves in the Occupied Palestinian Territories when cameras are not rolling.
The Palestinian man who was shot and killed, identified as Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif, was one of two Palestinians reported as being involved in the stabbing of an Israeli soldier, who was slightly wounded in an attack.
In the video, released by the Israeli human rights groups B'Tselem, al-Sharif is seen wounded and unconscious in the middle of the street in the city of Hebron. While al-Sharif lies nearly motionless—though clearly still alive—numerous soldiers, police officers and medical personnel make no effort to administer aid, and largely ignore he's there at all. After approximately two minutes, a soldier is seen stepping forward, aiming his weapon at and shooting al-Sharif in the head from close range, killing him. "Although this occurs in the plain view of other soldiers and officers," B'Tselem noted, "they do not seem to take any notice."
As the footage continues, blood can be seen pouring from al-Sharif's head and flowing in streams down the street.
The footage released by B'Tselem follows [Warning: very graphic]:
As journalist Robert Mackey of The Intercept reports, "Several Palestinian and Israeli observers were struck by the fact that no one around the soldier who fired the shot seemed to treat the incident as unusual — suggesting that such extrajudicial killings of suspected attackers have now become 'routine,' as critics have charged."
Speaking with the Guardian, B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli said, "In this case it seems crystal clear a soldier executed a wounded Palestinian assailant while he was on the ground. You can see he is alive [but] injured. It is also clear from the video that an Israeli soldier has been injured. But this kind of conduct is shocking, especially considering the blasé response of the other soldiers and security forces who are also seen. It raises quite serious questions about why these appear so unsurprising to these other soldiers and that needs to be seriously investigated."
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov condemned the apparent "extrajudicial execution" of al-Sharif. "This was a gruesome, immoral, and unjust act that can only fuel more violence and escalate an already volatile situation," Mladenov said, according to the Ma-an News Agency.
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B'Tselem called the incident beyond troubling. "The law is clear," the group said in a statement: "Shooting to kill is only permitted when the person is endangering the lives of others. Once the danger is over, he or she must not be harmed."
Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International, agreed. "The shooting of a wounded and incapacitated person, even if they have been involved in an attack, has absolutely no justification and must be prosecuted as a potential war crime," Luther said.
According to Haaretz, a lawyer representing the soldier says he readily admits to killing the already wounded and motionless man, but defended his actions "because he felt that his life was in danger."
But Amos Harel, who covers the media and military matters for Haaretz, described the killing as nothing less than a 'cold-blooded execution'—one, however, that will surprise very few people who understand how the Occupation works. "The public atmosphere in Israel being what it is, a cold-blooded execution should come as no surprise," Harel wrote on Friday. "Politicians and rabbis are repeatedly calling on soldiers to kill terrorists without thinking too much about it."
Though the IDF soldier was detained and faces possible criminal charges, Luther said the implications of this case go far beyond the fate of one individual, citing how groups including Amnesty and B'Tselem have documented similar incidents since the uptick of Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent months.
Earlier this month, though the video evidence was less clear, groups charged that another Palestinian man accused of being involved in a knife attack was shot in the head and killed by an Israeli police officer as he lay on the ground wounded.
"Israeli forces have a long history of carrying out unlawful killings – including extrajudicial executions – in the Occupied Palestinian Territories with impunity," Luther said. "While it is encouraging that the soldier in the video has reportedly been suspended and placed under investigation, previous Israeli investigations have failed to hold members of the Israeli forces accountable even when there has been clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The Israeli authorities must use this opportunity to end the culture of impunity that has made such killings increasingly commonplace."