Yoav Zitun, Attila Somfalvi and Alexandra Lukash|Published: 04.10.18 , 16:12
Offering a more detailed account Tuesday of its inquiry into a video of a sniper shooting a Palestinian while soldiers cheered on in the background, the IDF said that the incident “took place in the afternoon hours of Friday, December 22, 2017, during violent riots in the vicinity of Kissufim.
“The video showed only a small portion of (the forces’) handling of a protracted violent riot, which included stone throwing and attempts to sabotage the fence, and which lasted some two hours.”
The army’s statement continued, “Multiple measures were taken to disperse rioters throughout, including using public address to order them to stop, deploying crowd control measures and firing into the air.
“Once these steps proved inefficient, a single bullet was fired at one of the suspects of organizing and spearheading the protest while he was meters away from the fence. As a result, he was struck in the leg and subsequently wounded.
“The video was not filmed from the exact position from which the fire emanated, and was shot by a soldier who is not an organic part of the force that fired. After completion of the full operational inquiry by the relevant chain of command, its findings will be submitted, as is the norm, for inspection by the Military Advocate General.
“Regarding the unauthorized filming of an operations, the dissemination of said materials and expressions contained therein, it should be noted these actions and statements are not congruent with the spirit and degree of restraint expected of IDF soldiers.”
Soldiers involved with the video, in which some servicemen were heard enthusiastically lauding the sniper whose shot took down a Palestinian several months ago in the Gaza Strip, have been questioned by their commanders since the video was made public Monday and have provided an initial account.
Bayit Yehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett commented in a Ynet studio interview Tuesday on the footage, saying, “I prefer a whooping soldier to a grieving father.”
The Bayit Yehudi chief said regarding the video, most likely taken three months ago, that, “First of all, I’m throwing my support behind the IDF’s soldiers. I will not be dragged into a festival of denunciations when people don’t know what went on, when it happened and what the circumstances were.”
“Since when do we judge soldiers by the elegance of their speech? I prefer a whooping soldier to a grieving father,” he stated.
The minister continued, “You can hear jubilant calls of ‘Yes’ in the air force’s headquarters after a successful mission, even if enemy soldiers were killed. Because they succeeded in their mission.
“We send IDF soldiers to defend our borders from the thousands of terrorists who want to come in and slaughter us, and we mustn’t get lost in the bigger picture. Right now, I’m placing my trust with commanders. They will carry out an inquiry, and I won’t have that soldier judged in the media’s court.”
Responding to being asked whether the video could nonetheless still damage Israel, Bennett said, “It needs to be examined and understood. I still have not gotten a sense of who the figure was and what he was trying to do. Whether he held an explosive charge or not.
“I’m not judging soldiers for their table manners, but want them to safeguard us, and would prefer offensive-minded soldiers preventing terrorists from entering Israel over soldiers too scared to act for fear of being trialed in court.”
Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan said during a Ynet studio interview Tuesday, “On a general level, I believe in IDF soldiers’ purity of arms and ethics, and my policy is therefore to always afford them support, certainly to soldiers on the field.”
“I think we have forgotten that the situation is one in which that if someone crosses the fence, with a run of a minute or two they’ll already be in the Israeli communities around Gaza. I refuse to be taken aback by partial footage. If you’re insisting on drawing conclusions, by the way, this shooting seems to have been highly focused,” Erdan said.
On the expressions of jubilation heard in the video, Erdan said, “I think this discourse is hypocritical. I don’t think you can judge soldiers who are risking their lives and are under a great deal of stress, several meters away from Hamas terrorists, and it’s really not serious to judge these responses when we’re sitting in some room watching partial videos.”
“If people are truly appalled, they should direct their energies towards being appalled by what’s been going on in Syria and exert pressure on the United States and Western states to act militarily and raise this issue publicly,” the minister advised.
An officer who served in one of the Gaza Division’s field units over the past year and has attained knowledge of the complex operational realities engendered by border protests told Ynet, “The entire picture is still unclear, and the conduct of the soldier shooting the video and the response from his comrade should be separated from the conduct of the unit itself.”
“Before shooting at the feet of a main instigator (of riots), he must be warned by either PA announcement or by firing into the air. That may have been done but was not shown in the video,” he added.
“A central instigator,” he continued, “does not necessarily have to be armed or trying to cut or climb over the fence. A central instigator is the riot’s driving force, leading the other protesters towards the fence and not heeding our forces’ warnings.”
“Even in the 90 second video, you can see the post’s commander exercised judgment on the field and gave a reasonable authorization to fire. It can also be seen that the force aimed at the lower portion of the Palestinian’s foot—since directions are to shoot at the ankle rather than the knee to prevent a fatal outcome. Palestinians have undoubtedly been within the zone of the perimeter, the strip of land where they are not allowed to be in,” he explained.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman echoed the officer’s comments Tuesday, saying, “The sniper deserves promotion, whereas the cameraman deserves demotion. There has to be a clear equation. IDF is the world’s most moral army, but when you’re on the frontlines and under considerable stress, sometimes aggressions are let loose. That’s understandable. At the end of the day, the army, snipers and soldiers—they’re the best of us, and the IDF is the most moral army.”
An initial inquiry into the matter by the IDF Tuesday morning showed the force—which ambushed a group of Palestinians protesters—stayed relatively far from the border fence, at a distance of several dozen meters, but still well within effective range for a precise hit.
Other forces were active in the vicinity as well, however, and it remains possible the Palestinian was hit by fire from one of the other soldiers.
The soldier who filmed the incident—thereby sparking the controversy in the first place—was questioned by his commanders as well and army officials’ estimates said he will be punished at least for breaking strict orders to never film during operational activity.
To achieve that end, the army has forbidden soldiers operating on the Gaza frontier over the past few weeks to bring their cellular phones with them when they carry out operations against rioters.
The IDF has yet to announce whether a Criminal Investigation Division (CID) inquiry into the matter will be launched. The General Staff’s inquiry apparatus, which began operating his week, is expected to prevent—at least for the time being—the opening of any CID investigations regarding the incidents taking place opposite the Gaza border recently.
Only after the General Staff’s review is completed and on the basis of its findings will it be determined whether any criminal action is warranted.
Since the aforementioned incident took place before Hamas’s “March of Return” campaign, and may be excluded from the General Staff’s review and be examined more rapidly by CID.
The army’s rules of engagement are determined by the Operations Directorate, but may be made harsher depending on the specific sector in which forces operate, or tailored to the specifications of current intelligence warnings or developing threats.
The video, which was filmed through the lenses of a rifle’s sights or binoculars, shows several Palestinians close to the border fence.
A commander is heard instructing the sniper, telling him “When he comes out, you get him. Do you have a bullet in the barrel? Are you on him?” After the sniper responds in the affirmative, the commander tells him “Go.”
The sniper tells the commander that he cannot shoot, because the barbed-wire near the fence was in the way.
Several moments later, the commander speaks again, this time telling the sniper to hold fire after he spots a child.
Later two snipers are heard discussing who was on which Palestinian, following which a single shot is heard and one Palestinian is seen falling to the ground, with dozens of others immediately converging on him.
“Wow, what a video! YES! Son of a b****,” one of the soldiers is heard exclaiming. Another is heard commenting that “Someone was hit in the head.”
An initial analysis of the footage a soldier not firing but present nearby was filming using a telescopic lens.
The IDF said the clip might have been filmed months ago.
In an initial tweeted statement, the IDF said, “With regard to the video of the soldiers at the Gaza Strip border – it was probably an event that occurred a number of months ago. The event will be investigated and examined thoroughly.”
Yoav Zitun, Attila Somfalvi, Alexandra Lukash and Ahiya Raved.