The Israeli army detained a soldier on Thursday after he shot an unarmed Palestinian man in the head as he lay motionless on the ground in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. Human rights activists circulated a video of the incident, prompting wide condemnation from Israeli leaders. Palestinian officials called the shooting a war crime.
"What happened in Hebron doesn't represent the values of the IDF," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement issued after the video of the shooting went viral. "The IDF expects its soldiers to behave level-headedly and in accordance with the rules of engagement."
The incident occurred in the occupied-West Bank city of Hebron on early Thursday morning. At first, Israeli media reported only that two Palestinian men had been killed after stabbing and wounding an Israeli soldier in Tel Rumeida, a Palestinian neighbourhood located near several Jewish-only settlements in the city center. The Jewish Telegraph Agency wire service filed a brief dispatch that morning reporting that "two attackers were shot dead by security forces at the scene."
But later in the day, the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem published a video of the incident that shows a summary execution of a seemingly defenseless and wounded Palestinian man.
In the video, two Palestinians, later identifed as Abed al Fatah al-Sharif and Ramzi al-Qasrawi, are lying face-up motionless on the ground as Israeli medical workers attend to a wounded soldier.
Minutes before the film began, the Israeli media is reporting, both Sharif and Qasrawi attacked a group of soldiers with knives, managing to slightly wound one. Qasrawi was shot dead immediately following the attack, but Sharif was only wounded.
In the video, the medical personnel can be seen attending to the injured soldier, while ignoring both Palestinian men. Two minutes into the recording, one soldier beckons another one to his side. He leans in and says something to him, then reaches over to grab his helmet. A voice can be heard saying in Hebrew: "This dog is still alive." The second soldier then walks forward, raises his rifle to his shoulder, and takes aim at Sharif, who is laying a few meters away. Several men nearby then cover their ears — and the soldier fires a bullet into Sharif's head. Sharif's head and arms jerk, dust from the road kicks up near his head, then blood begins to run down the street.
Dotan Greenvald served with the IDF in Hebron between 2002-2003 and is one of the founding members of Breaking the Silence — a group of Israeli veterans who are critical of the army's human rights record. While such assassinations are not everyday occurrences, Greenvald noted how "unconcerned" the soldiers in the video appear as their comrade calmly shoots Sharif dead.
"The soldier took it upon himself to be the judge in this case," Greenvald told VICE News. "What really frightens me is that it seems normal for everyone in the video."
This level of violence, Geenvald said, is to be expected in Hebron — where 1,000 Israeli settlers live in the middle of a city with 200,000 Arab residents. Certain sections of the city are walled-off to the Arab population, and the Jewish settlers have their own private security personnel, in addition to the contingent of IDF troops sent there protect them.
"It's the wild west out there, these are the results, and its not surprising," he said.
B'Tselem, the group that first circulated the video, labeled the shooting an "assassination."
"The law is clear: Shooting to kill is only permitted when the person is endangering the lives of others. Once the danger is over, he or she must not be harmed," the group said in a statement.
The IDF released a statement Thursday saying the shooting was being reviewed.
"An initial investigation shows that this is a severe incident that contradicts the IDF's ethical code and what is expected from the IDF's soldiers and commanders," the statement said. "A military police investigation has been opened following the findings of the initial investigation that was carried out by the commanders. The soldier has been suspended from his position until the culmination of the investigation."
The Palestinian Authority accused the Israeli army of perpetrating "a war crime. Health Minister Jawad Awwad said that the video provides "irrefutable evidence that Israeli soldiers commit field executions."
The incident is part of larger trend of stabbings and shootings that's rocked Israel and the occupied territories over the past 5 months. Since November, 2015 Palestinians have killed 30 Israelis, two Americans and a Palestinian bystander, mostly in stabbing attacks. In the same period, Israelis have killed nearly 180 Palestinians during demonstrations or allegedly in the midst of attempted stabbings.