Education Minister and Security Cabinet member Naftali Bennett refused on Tuesday to condemn the IDF soldiers caught on video cheering the shooting of what appears to be an unarmed Palestinian protester. The video, which according to the IDF was filmed several months ago, made waves on social media and called into question the behavior of the soldiers.
The video, filmed through the scope of a sniper's rifle, shows a Palestinian approaching the border fence and the soldiers are heard dividing targets among themselves. The field commander gives the instruction to open fire, but the sniper pauses, apparently because a child was in proximity. A short while later, the sniper pulls the trigger and the Palestinian falls. The surrounding soldiers can be heard cheering the accurate shot and the quality of the video, describing it in colorful, profanity-laced language. The video ends with other Palestinians rushing to retrieve the body of the fallen man.
The army said it would look into the incident and on Tuesday morning announced that it had identified the soldiers involved.
In an interview with Army Radio, Bennett, who heads the Bayit Yehudi Party, said he supports all Israeli soldiers and asked whether Israeli society has "gone crazy," for judging soldiers based on the "quality of their expressions."
"To sit in Tel Aviv and and criticize combat soldiers is illegitimate, to judge them while they protect our borders is illegitimate," Bennett said. "I support all IDF soldiers."
Other politicians were more tepid in their response to the video.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid tweeted on Monday that "I have full faith in the chief of staff and the IDF command that they will investigate the sniper video without hesitation and in line with the rules and values of the IDF. Israel's moral standing is part of its national security and gives it the qualitative advantage over our enemies."
Far more critical reactions could be heard from the left, with lawmakers from the Joint List heading the charge.
"This recording is an example that proves the rule. The Israeli snipers murdered unarmed Palestinian protesters, taking part in non-violent demonstrations, in cold blood. This is a killing spree commanded by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, [Defense Minister Avigdor] Liberman and [Chief of General Staff Gadi] Eisenkot," said Joint List chairman Jamal Zahalka. "No wonder the soldiers behave this way when ministers, lawmakers, the media and public opinion are party to the jubilation at the mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza."
Zahalka said that the video disproved Israeli claims that the IDF is the most moral military in the world and exposed the true face of the IDF as a culprit of war crimes.
The video, which went viral on social media, calls to mind the video of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria
, who was caught on tape shooting a Palestinian assailant in the head after he was incapacitated, following an attempted stabbing attack in Hebron two years ago. After that video surfaced, the army was quick to condemn the killing and launched a murder investigation into the case. Azaria was eventually convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison, but the case and its impact on Israeli society and its backing of soldiers placed in combat situations, continues to reverberate.
The video came out at a time when snipers are being used extensively along the Gaza border, ordered to prevent attempts by Palestinians to breach or sabotage the border fence, with orders to shoot to kill. For the last two weeks, thousands of Palestinians have been taking part in mass protests calling for their right of return to Israel. Thirty-two Palestinians, several of them with terrorist backgrounds, have been killed
since the protests began, while the IDF says it is using legal force to prevent breach of sovereignty and harm to soldiers.
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