By Daniel Leone
Ideological enemies cannot be defeated through reactive and vengeful tactics, and the nationalistic and anti-Palestinian sentiments coursing through Netanyahu’s Israel are only serving to escalate the conflict. The widespread Israeli support for an IDF soldier who casually executed an unarmed and injured Palestinian in the street exemplifies Israel’s dangerous move towards the right, and why this conflict will continue to worsen.
On March 24th, two Palestinian men reportedly attempted to stab an Israeli soldier, slightly injuring him. One assailant was shot dead immediately, while the other was shot and wounded. The wounded Palestinian Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif was then reportedly checked for explosives by IDF soldiers, who determined him to no longer be a threat. Several minutes later, witness video explicitly shows an Israeli soldier stepping forward towards the wounded man lying motionless on the ground and shooting him in the head from point blank range, killing him instantly. The graphic video was sent to B’Tselem, a human rights group who disseminated the video to news agencies across the world. The video clearly depicts an extrajudicial killing, and as a result, the UN issued a formal protest that coincided with international outrage over the callous shooting.
The soldier was detained for the shooting, but the court-martial has been widely opposed by the Israeli populace and many government figures. Last week, the Israeli prosecutors working on the case decided to review the possibility of a manslaughter charge instead of the originally suggested charge of murder, and granted the soldier “open detention”, allowing him to roam freely within his military base. Despite new revelations in the case, including the fact that the soldier reportedly told several friends after the incident that “my friend was stabbed and he [the Palestinian assailant] deserved to die”, the military judge in charge of reviewing possible charges stated that the evidence was “inconclusive” and that there was “reasonable doubt… given the complexity of the events.” As of April 10th, the IDF soldier has not been charged with a crime, and it’s unclear whether he will ever face trial. There seems to be little desire to convict the soldier, and it seems increasingly likely that he will escape with little or no punishment.
The Israeli people responded to the prospect of criminal charges against the soldier with anger, despite the clear and indisputable sequence of events the video depicts. A recent poll indicated that 42% of Israelis thought that the shooter had acted “responsibly”, and another 24% believed that it was a “natural response to a stressful situation.” Shockingly, out of all of the Israelis polled, only 5% believed that the shooting constituted “murder”, and 57% of Israelis stated that the soldier should never have been arrested on any charge. Israeli citizens have also protested in large number supporting the soldier, and many Israelis have called him a hero for his actions, often stating that a dead terrorist is better than a living one. Netanyahu recently backtracked on his initial condemnation of the shooting by reaching out to the shooter’s family and promising that he would be treated fairly. The Israeli PM also defended the soldier and the IDF, stating that “any challenge to the morality of the IDF is outrageous and unacceptable.” Other Israeli politicians also supported the soldier, with the Education Minister Naftali Bennett stating that the soldier is “not a murderer… have we lost our minds?”
This street execution is far from unique in the context of the recent “stabbing intifada” that has resulted in the deaths of at least 29 Israelis and 206 Palestinians since October 2015, and the outpouring of support for the soldier demonstrates the increasingly toxic political environment in Israel. Simply stated, a significant majority of Israelis are currently endorsing the street execution of a wounded and immobilized Palestinian suspect. The vehement justification of this shooting represents a step in a larger trend which has included the disastrous 2014 Israeli offensive in Gaza that killed 1,500 civilians, Netanyahu blaming Muslim leaders for the Holocaust, and increased Israeli expansion of settlements. Israeli rhetoric and actions towards Palestinians have become increasingly vengeful and emotional, and the recent spate of stabbings have perpetuated the cycle of extremism on both sides.
Though the extreme nature of politics in Israel may be understandable at times given the threats the country faces, Israel’s current strategy and political trajectory is neither morally defensible nor rational. Reactive, disproportional, and vengeful military actions and domestic policies only serve to cement the Palestinian view of Israel, while simultaneously prompting more attacks against the IDF and Israeli civilians and advancing the Palestinian cause globally. Destroying Palestinian houses, seizing land, and shooting Palestinians without cause represents a perversion of Jewish ideological values, and will never destroy an anti-Israeli ideology. There is no clear strategic advantage for Israel to continue to react emotionally instead of pragmatically, and if Israel truly desires a peaceful resolution to this conflict, drastic change is required. The jingoistic attitude consuming Israel is extremely dangerous for the future of the country – both in terms of safety and morality.
Daniel Leone is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.