Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel’s military on Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of a widely shared video showing a soldier shoot a Palestinian on the Gaza border followed by rejoicing, actions that have added to scrutiny of the army’s use of live fire.
The video comes at a highly sensitive time for Israel’s military, which has faced mounting criticism over its use of live fire on the Gaza Strip border, where 31 Palestinians have been killed since late March as mass protests have led to clashes.
But the army alleged that the December 22 shooting in the video it said left the Palestinian with a leg wound followed rioting and warnings from troops.
Palestinians said it was proof that Gazans were being shot along the border fence while posing no threat to soldiers.
Israeli right-wing ministers meanwhile defended the actions of the soldiers in the video, which began to spread widely on Monday night.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the sniper deserved a medal — but that the soldier who filmed it should be demoted.
The army said in a statement that “the video depicts a short part of the response to a violent riot, which included rock hurling and attempts to sabotage the security fence, and lasted about two hours.”
It alleged the warnings including firing into the air were ignored.
“A single bullet was fired towards one of the Palestinians who is suspected of organising and leading this incident while he was a few metres from the fence,” it said.
It said the video was recorded by a soldier not part of the unit that fired the shot and that action would be taken against him.
“As for the unauthorised filming of an operational event, the distribution of the filmed material and the statements made there, it should be noted that these do not suit the degree of restraint expected of (Israeli) soldiers and will be dealt by commanders accordingly,” it said.
– ‘Time for world to see’ –
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said the video showed what Palestinians have long alleged regarding soldiers’ actions on the Gaza border, “but nobody has been listening”.
“The issue of sniper fire is not something new at all, but it is time for the world to see and to believe what we have been saying all along,” Ashrawi told AFP.
In the video, voices can be heard discussing opening fire on Palestinians on the other side of the fence dividing the Gaza Strip from Israel.
A shooter then opens fire on one, knocking the person to the ground.
“Wow. What a video! Yes! That son of a bitch,” one of the voices behind the camera says in Hebrew.
Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan downplayed the actions.
“We are going overboard with this video,” said Erdan, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
“It doesn’t show gunfire at everyone, but at a terrorist who approaches the barrier in an unauthorised zone coming from an area controlled by Hamas terrorists,” he told public radio.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home party also justified the soldiers’ actions.
“Judging soldiers because they are not expressing themselves elegantly while they are defending our borders is not serious,” Bennett told army radio.
Mass protests along the Gaza border beginning on March 30 have led to clashes in which Israeli forces have killed 31 Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others.
There have been no Israeli casualties.
Israel has faced criticism over its use of live fire, while the European Union and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have called for an independent investigation.
Israel says its forces only open fire to stop attempts to damage the fence, infiltrations, bids to carry out attacks and at those seeking to harm soldiers.
It accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of seeking to use the protests to carry out violence.
Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers.
– Manslaughter case –
For Israelis and Palestinians, the video was a reminder of another one from March 2016 that showed an Israeli soldier shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant.
It showed the 21-year-old Palestinian lying wounded on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after stabbing and wounding a soldier, according to the army.
Some 11 minutes after the initial shooting, Israeli soldier Elor Azaria shot him in the head without any apparent provocation.
Azaria was convicted of manslaughter after a trial that highlighted deep Israeli divisions between those who denounce the shooting and others who say it was justified.
Top military brass strongly denounced Azaria’s actions, but right-wing politicians, including Netanyahu, called for him to be pardoned.
Azaria was initially sentenced to 18 months in prison, but his sentence was later reduced to nine months.