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Execution of Palestinian exposes Israel's military culture

By       Message Jonathan Cook     Permalink
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It might have been a moment that jolted Israelis to their senses. Instead the video of an Israeli soldier shooting dead a young Palestinian man as he lay wounded and barely able to move has only intensified the tribal war dance of the Israeli public.

Last week, as the soldier was brought before a military court for investigation, hundreds of supporters protested outside. He enjoys vocal support too from half a dozen cabinet ministers, former army generals, rabbis and -- according to opinion polls -- a significant majority of the Israeli Jewish public.

It is worth reflecting on this generous act of solidarity.

It is hard to dispute the main facts. On March 24 two Palestinians -- Abdel Fattah Al Sharif and Ramzi Qasrawi, both aged 21 -- were shot during an attack on soldiers manning a checkpoint in the occupied city of Hebron in the West Bank.

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Ten minutes later, the 19-year-old soldier at the centre of the investigation arrived. Qasrawi was dead and Al Sharif was lying in the road wounded. Other soldiers milled around, close by.

At that point, the soldier -- who cannot be named because of a gag order -- approached Al Sharif, aimed his gun at the young man's head and pulled the trigger.

All of this was captured on video, as was a trail of blood that leaked from Al Sharif's head seconds later.

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This was not a killing in the fog of war; it was a cold-blooded execution. As Amnesty International noted, such an act constitutes a war crime.

And yet, for most Israelis the soldier is the victim of this story. Some 57 percent oppose an investigation, let alone prosecuting or jailing him. Some 66 percent describe his behavior in positive terms, and only 20 percent think criticism is warranted. Only a tiny 5 percent believe the killing should be judged "murder."

Should this video and the aftermath serve just one purpose, it is to open a window on the rotten state of the Israeli body politic.

The incontestable evidence of Al Sharif's execution is challenging Israeli Jews to maintain the deception, among themselves and to outsiders, that the institutions of their tribal, ethnic state have any abiding commitment to universal values and human rights.

For decades Israel has trumpeted its army as uniquely "moral." The claim was always risible. But in an era of phone cameras, hiding the systematic crimes of a belligerent occupying power has proved ever harder.

The past six months has seen a wave of desperate attacks by Palestinians -- mostly improvised, using knives and cars -- to end the occupation. Some 190 Palestinians have been killed in this period.

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A number of the incidents have been captured on film. In a shocking proportion, Palestinians -- including children -- have been shot dead even when they posed no threat to Israeli soldiers or civilians. In military parlance, this is called "confirming the kill."

The latest video is distinctive not only because the evidence is so indisputable but because it exposes Israel's wider military culture.

When the soldier took his shot, his comrades registered not the least surprise that their prisoner had just been executed. This looked suspiciously like an event that had played out many times before: standard operating procedure.

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www.jonathan-cook.net

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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