In a dramatic opening to Thursday’s military court remand hearing over the continued custody of the soldier who shot a subdued Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last week, IDF Prosecutor Lt.-Col. Edoram Rigler announced the charge against him would be reduced from murder to manslaughter.
At the same time, Rigler told IDF Lt.-Col. Judge Ronen Shor at the hearing in Kastina that the IDF feels highly confident it would get a conviction for manslaughter, which carries heavy jail time.
The autopsy of terrorist Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, which could answer vital questions that will be addressed during the trial, has been delayed until Sunday due to disagreements between the IDF and the Palestinian’s family, over who will perform the autopsy. The Supreme Court ruled that Israel will perform the procedure, but a Palestinian coroner may observe.
The Palestinian and an accomplice had attacked another soldier with knives, and then was wounded. He is seen on a video, which immediately went viral, lying on the ground motionless for an extended period until the accused soldier shot him dead.
During the hearing, Shor ordered the suspect soldier be confined to base under remand for an additional seven days.
Shor wrote that he previously thought there was “contradictory evidence regarding the issue of the motivation for the act of shooting. And even after the updated evidence... I retain this view” – with the bottom- line that he did not define the soldier’s actions with the same severity as the prosecution.
After Shor’s ruling, the prosecution immediately announced they would appeal. They convinced Shor to freeze his release order until they file the appeal early Friday morning.
The soldier’s defense lawyer, Ilan Katz said, “We should respect and appreciate the decision of the judge despite other kinds of statements which should be regretted. The judge reviewed the evidence for a long time, four hours, and wrote in a well-grounded decision his perception of the evidence, including his perception of the issues in the area, including the atmosphere in the area... and the prosecution should stop...
causing injustice” to their treatment of the soldier. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with soldier’s father by phone on Thursday and assured him that his son will be treated fairly.
According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu’s said he understands the distress of the family, but that they should think that the IDF will conduct “the most objective and fair investigation of your son.” The call, according to the PMO, came at the request of the soldier’s family.
“I heard your words and as the father of a soldier, I understand your distress,” said Netanyahu, whose son Avner is currently in the IDF.
“In recent months our soldiers have bravely and resolutely stood up in the face of terrorist attacks and murderers who set out to kill them. The soldiers are forced to make decisions in the field, in real time, under stress and conditions of uncertainty,” he said. “This is not a simple reality and I’m sure that the investigation is taking the entirety of these circumstances into account. I am convinced that the investigation will be professional and fair towards your son.”
Netanyahu urged the father to trust the IDF, the chief of staff and the investigation. “The people of Israel must remain united around the army because we have just one army and we have many great challenges ahead of us,” he added.
Regarding new evidence which the IDF prosecution presented to back up the expected manslaughter charge, Rigler on Thursday officially confirmed leaked accounts that the shooter, when asked immediately after by his commander about why he shot the Palestinian, had responded “the terrorist needed to die.”
The prosecutor added that the soldier had told another fellow soldier on the spot that he had killed the Palestinian because “he stabbed my friend and tried to kill him, he deserved to die.”
He said that this was hard proof of the illegal motivations of the soldier for killing the Palestinian that pile up alongside the video of the shooting and other evidence in trumping the soldier’s claim of self-defense.
Further, he said that the soldier’s top commander, a lieutenant colonel, had believed the soldier was lying when suddenly, two hours after the event, he told him that he shot the Palestinian because he thought he had a knife. Later, still, the prosecutor said, the soldier changed his narrative again from self-defense from a knife to self-defense from an explosive.
However, according to this narrative, the soldier’s narrative continued to evolve farther and farther from the truth as time passed and he realized how much trouble he was in. This was in contrast from his initial spontaneous reactions which the prosecutor said were truthful, unfiltered and did not mention self-defense, but revenge.
On Tuesday, Rigler had already told Shor that there was no military need for the soldier to kill the Palestinian.
The picture had initially appeared grim for the soldier as the prosecution deemed on Tuesday the shooting a “grave offense,” terminology usually reserved for murder or manslaughter and not mere negligent homicide – a mistaken killing violating the rules of engagement, but without murderous intent.
Further, the prosecutor stated that by the time the soldier had arrived on the scene, the Palestinian had already been checked for the possibility of having explosives attached to himself, and that this had been ruled out.
The prosecutor noted that even the shooter himself did not act with any immediacy or desperation when he shot the Palestinian, indicating he felt in no danger.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.