Hearings Begin for Soldier Accused of Murdering Terrorist

YERUSHALAYIM -

The IDF soldier accused of killing a Palestinian terrorist after he had been neutralized was brought before a military court on Tuesday, where the prosecution argued that there was no justification for the shooting, rejecting the soldier’s defense that he was concerned the man was still a threat.

The case, which has inflamed public opinion in Israel and abroad, was heard in a court in Kastina near Ashdod, rather than the originally scheduled venue in Jaffa, in order to conduct proceedings farther away from the glare of publicity.

Nonetheless, hundreds of people gathered outside the courtroom to protest the trial, which they say has been launched in a lynch atmosphere in which senior public officials — including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon — rushed to judge the soldier as guilty only hours after the incident occurred in Chevron last Thursday.

About a dozen of the defendant’s family members were inside the courtroom, some of them in tears.

Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who had called for the demonstration, appeared in the gallery in solidarity with the soldier.

Lieberman told the demonstrators, “We came here to support the soldier, and to compensate for the blatant interference by the Prime Minister and Defense Minister.

“From the very beginning there was inexplicable [effort] to interfere; [even] before the investigation began they were jumping on this 19-year-old soldier. I’m not deciding whether he behaved correctly or not; (but) I prefer a soldier who errs and lives rather than a soldier who hesitates and, G-d forbid, is murdered by terrorists.”

The prosecution termed the shooting a “grave offense,” terminology usually reserved for murder or manslaughter, as opposed to the lesser charge of negligent homicide, which covers mistaken killing violating the rules of engagement but without murderous intent.

But formal charges have yet to be filed. The prosecutor said on Tuesday that “we are trying to decide what he could be charged with, including manslaughter.”

Meanwhile, the investigation is ongoing, and the prosecution requested nine more days of pre-indictment detention until the fact-gathering phase has been completed.

The soldier, 19, whose name has been withheld from publication, has reportedly told IDF investigators that he acted under duress, and shot the terrorist lying on the ground out of fear that he might still detonate an explosive belt under his coat. The coat was unusually heavy for the mild weather, the kind of garb which in past incidents has been used to conceal explosive devices.

Defense lawyers argued that the terrorist could have had an explosive device despite unconfirmed reports that he had already been checked for a suicide belt before the shooting.

“There was no bomb-squad investigation, even if the officer kicked away the knife,” said defense lawyer Ilan Katz.

The state accused the soldier of killing the terrorist “without need,” seeking to adduce evidence that a claim of self-defense or imminent danger was not credible.

“The suspicion emanating from the investigation is that the shooting was carried out intentionally and without need,” prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Adoram Rigler told the court.

Meanwhile, IDF commanders in Yehudah and Shomron reviewed protocols with soldiers serving in the region, in the wake of the Chevron incident.

According to established protocol, when there is a fear of a terrorist wearing an explosive belt, soldiers must maintain a 75-foot distance and warn others nearby, because firing at the terrorist could detonate the explosive.