JERUSALEM — A video appearing to show an Israeli soldier fatally shooting an alleged Palestinian assailant as he lay injured on the ground has opened a fierce debate among Israelis over whether the soldier’s actions constitute murder or heroism.
It is a question that has divided some of Israel’s political and military leaders and has sparked a wider discussion about what it means to serve on the front line of a low-intensity conflict with a surge of violence in recent months.
Since Oct. 1, 29 Israelis and five foreign citizens have been killed in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks by Palestinians, while more than 180 Palestinians have been killed, either carrying out attacks against Israelis or during clashes with the Israeli military.
Some political leaders and tens of thousands of citizens have voiced support for the soldier, even as military prosecutors investigate him on suspicion of murder.
Solidarity rallies are being planned in at least two cities. 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 had garnered more than 50,000 names by Monday.
Thursday’s shooting in Hebron, which was caught on video by a field worker from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, shows the injured Palestinian, Abdul Fattah al-Sharif, on the ground minutes after he attacked and wounded an Israeli soldier. As Israeli medical teams evacuate the soldier, military personnel wander around the wounded Palestinian. A few minutes later, a shot is heard, and blood is seen streaming from Sharif’s head.
Another video taken at the scene and published online shows paramedics screaming at soldiers not to touch the wounded Palestinian, because, at that point, he was still alive, might have been booby-trapped or still posed a threat.
Still another clip purports to show the suspected soldier shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with an extreme right-wing Hebron activist, U.S.-born Baruch Marzel, just after the shooting.
Using the incident as an example of illegal Israeli actions, the Palestinian Authority announced Monday that it asked the United Nations to launch an official investigation into extrajudicial killings of Palestinians by Israelis. To Palestinians, including Sharif’s relatives who were interviewed by local media, the case is clearly murder.
Israel Defense Forces leaders condemned the shooting, saying the action of one soldier should not be held against an entire army.
“This is not the IDF, these are not the values of the IDF, and these are not the values of the Jewish people,” an Israeli army spokesman, Moti Almoz, said at a news conference Thursday.
Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said the shooting was an “utter breach of the army’s values and its code of ethics in combat.”
The accused soldier’s family plans to protest outside his military hearing Tuesday, and his mother sent a letter to Yaalon accusing the military of “abandoning her son.”
The debate has reached the Israeli cabinet, where an argument broke out Sunday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition partner, Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Bennett demanded that the government intervene on behalf of the soldier and slammed the military for releasing information about the soldier to the media. He also accused the prime minister of not giving enough support to Israeli soldiers.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, Netanyahu responded: “I have always given support to soldiers and have led more soldiers into battle than you. So don’t preach to me on this matter.”