In July last year, a Palestinian teenager hurled a rock at a passing Israeli military jeep near one of the checkpoints leading into the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The stone smashed through the window. The driver hit the brakes. Inside the jeep was a senior Israeli officer, Col. Yisrael Shomer, the commander of the Binyamin Brigade. Shomer and two soldiers jumped out of the vehicle and gave chase to the rock thrower.
This part was captured on CCTV video from a nearby gas station. The footage was acquired by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which released it to the media.
What didn't appear on the video were the three shots that Shomer fired. He killed the rock thrower, who was left in the street to await a Palestinian ambulance and a trip to the morgue.
On Sunday, Israel’s Chief Military Advocate General (MAG) announced that he was closing the investigation into the lethal shooting — without charges, without reprimand.
B’Tselem blasted the decision as a “whitewash” and said it proved that the Israeli military could not be trusted to investigate its own soldiers.
B’Tselem said: “The MAG’s assertion that the firing was legal, since the officer claimed that he aimed at the youth’s legs but missed, clearly indicates the investigative system’s willingness to ignore the law and the open-fire regulations, all in the interest of providing impunity to members of the security forces who unlawfully killed Palestinians.”
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, citing the MAG report, wrote that the colonel was following “protocol for arresting a suspect, which included a warning call, a shot that was fired in the air and two shots that were fired at the Palestinian man’s legs. The bullets that Shomer fired were inaccurate and ultimately resulted in the Palestinian man’s death.”
The reason the Palestinian, 17-year-old Mohammed al-Kasbah was shot three times — twice in the upper body and once in the head, according to B’Tselem — was that Shomer was running as he fired, the newspaper reported.
Palestinian witnesses said that Kasbah threw a large stone at Shomer’s jeep but was shot as he was running away from the colonel, not toward him. The Palestinians say the teen no longer posed a threat to Shomer when he was killed.
Hours after the incident, Israel’s top political leaders came out in support of the brigade commander, calling the shooting a “decisive” act of “self-defense” that would send a powerful “message” to rock throwers.
The Israeli newspaper noted that the decision to close the case was made amid an impassioned debate over a shooting in Hebron last month, which was also caught on video. In that incident, a Palestinian assailant was shot after he stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint. As the assailant is shown lying on the street, immobile, a nearby soldier cocks his rifle, aims and shoots the man in the head, killing him.
That incident has stirred division in Israel, with many politicians asserting that the soldier acted properly (his lawyer told investigators he feared that the assailant was wearing a suicide vest) or at worst made a mistake.
The Israeli military said it is considering filing manslaughter charges against the soldier. Human rights groups called the shooting an extrajudicial execution. Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, condemned the killing — and for that, opponents in his own political party, Likud, have circulated images of Yaalon with a target drawn over his head, calling for him to be “politically eliminated.”
“Social-media campaigns, some using the soldier’s name and photo, proclaim his innocence, and an online petition demanding that he receive a citation for his actions” has garnered tens of thousands of signatures, my Washington Post colleague Ruth Eglash reported.
Since the most recent wave of violence began six months ago, 29 Israelis and four foreign citizens have been killed in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks by Palestinians, while 180 Palestinians have been killed, most while carrying out assaults and the others during clashes with the Israeli military.