To Israel’s military prosecutors, a soldier who fired a bullet into the head of a wounded and motionless Palestinian assailant may be guilty of homicide. To many Israelis, he is a hero.
That has fuelled an unprecedented debate over the role and ethics of Israel’s conscript armed forces, long the symbol of national unity among the majority Jewish population where deep concern about security is largely shared across social and political divisions.
So while Israel’s military chief has cautioned against the use of excessive force against a wave of Palestinian street attacks, an opinion poll last week found 57 percent of Israelis think the soldier should never been arrested.
Only 5 percent said they would characterise the shooting, in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, as murder.
The soldier – whose name has been barred from publication – was captured on video shooting the Palestinian as the man lay wounded from army fire after taking part in a stabbing attack. A Palestinian pathologist said the defendant fired the fatal shot.
The soldier was initially held on a murder warrant but prosecutors later told a military court they expected to file a manslaughter indictment. Even under the lighter charge, reflecting a view that the killing was not premeditated, he could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.
His lawyers say the soldier opened fire fearing the Palestinian had a hidden bomb. reuters.com