Shooting Probe Puts Israel’s Military Courts in Spotlight

Shooting Probe Puts Israel’s Military Courts in SpotlightShooting Probe Puts Israel’s Military Courts in Spotlight

Israel’s military justice system is in the spotlight as it investigates a soldier caught on tape shooting to death a subdued Palestinian attacker, a case that has polarized the nation.

While the military has stressed that its courts are independent, critics say the system has a poor record of punishing errant soldiers and perpetuates a culture of impunity. They say the same result is likely for the soldier who is expected to be formally charged in the coming days, AP reported.

The shooting took place last month in Al-Khalil, the volatile West Bank city that has been a focal point of the latest, seven-month wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The military initially said two Palestinians stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops shot and killed the pair.

In a video later released by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, one of the attackers was shown still alive after the initial shooting.

The video, taken by a Palestinian volunteer for the group, shows the wounded attacker lying on the ground, slowly moving his head. About a minute later, a soldier raises his rifle, cocks the weapon and fires. Blood is then seen streaming from the Palestinian’s head.

An autopsy determined the bullet to the head was the cause of death.

During the current wave of violence, the Palestinians have accused Israeli security forces of using excessive force against attackers who have already been stopped or wounded.

Of the 188 Palestinians killed during the outburst, Israel claims 142 were attacking or trying to attack Israelis, with the rest killed in clashes. A handful of amateur videos supporting the Palestinian claims have emerged, but the Al-Khalil killing was perhaps the clearest so far.

The incident triggered an uproar in Israel, with the country’s defense minister, military officials and many Israelis calling it contrary to the army’s values. That outcry in turn kicked up a counter-torrent of support for the soldier, with many calling his actions appropriate for a country reeling from months of Palestinian attacks that have killed 28 Israelis and two Americans.

Critics say only accountability can promise deterrence and prevent excessive force from being used against Palestinians, even if they are attacking Israelis. Few soldiers have been punished for their alleged roles in crimes against Palestinians, prompting criticism of the system.

“An investigation has to be independent, effective, could lead to actual measures, has to be timely, transparent and has to be fair and unbiased,” said B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli.

Israel’s military justice system “simply does not adhere to these standards,” she added.

Citing official army figures, the Israeli rights group Yesh Din said of the more than 2,600 investigations opened by the military into alleged crimes committed by soldiers against Palestinians between 2000 and 2014, only 136, or 5%, resulted in indictments, leading to 193 convictions. More than one soldier can be listed in a single indictment.

Wary of Israeli self-investigation, the Palestinians have turned to the International Criminal Court. One of the criteria for the ICC to intervene would be if Israel’s justice system were deemed insufficient.

Israel says its system is fair and independent, but B’Tselem and the Palestinians say Israeli investigations are merely a front to thwart an external inquiry.