Palestinian stabber killed by ‘shot to head' fired by IDF soldier, autopsy reportedly confirms

Israeli soldiers carry the dead body of one of two Palestinians, whom the Israeli military said were shot dead by Israeli troops after they attacked an Israeli soldier, in Tal Rumaida in the West Bank city of Hebron March 24, 2016. © Mussa Qawasma
Pathologists reportedly conclude that Abdel Fattah al-Sharif was killed by a gunshot to the head by an IDF soldier when the injured 21-year-old Palestinian, accused of stabbing another Israeli soldier minutes earlier, lay motionless on the ground.

Israel's Supreme Court allowed the Palestinian man's family to have a doctor of their choice observe the autopsy.

"After a full autopsy, the fatal wound was in the head," the Palestinian doctor, Rayan al-Ali, told AFP.

"There were several gunshot wounds. All those wounds were in the muscles, the lower limbs, and there was a wound in his right lung, but it was not fatal and did not lead to his death," he added.

Though the IDF refused to publicly confirm the determination or comment on the autopsy pending completion of the criminal investigation, there were several confirmations of the finding from military and medical sources who asked to remain anonymous, the Jerusalem Post reported.

One didn’t require a pathology determination to observe the execution-style killing and the total indifference of all those present at the scene,” Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh told the newspaper, responding to the autopsy.

“When the prime minister calls the murderer’s relatives to console them, the bias of the trial is a foregone conclusion. The days since the shooting have only provided further evidence of the necessity for immediate international intervention to investigate the crimes of the occupation,” he added.

Last week, an Israeli military tribunal softened charges from murder to manslaughter against the 19-year-old soldier accused of killing al-Sharif. Manslaughter charges in Israel imply that while the murder was intentional, it was not a premeditated killing. The premeditated killing of a person has a mandatory punishment of life imprisonment; manslaughter cases face a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail.

The March 24 incident was caught on camera and immediately went viral. Footage, which emerged via the B’Tselem human rights center, featured one of the IDF soldiers reloading his weapon and firing a headshot at the motionless victim on the ground. Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the incident “an apparent cold-blooded murder.” 

The soldier, whose identity remains a secret under a gag order, argued he “did the right thing,” alleging that the immobilized Palestinian “could blow himself up.” He claimed he had been acting in self-defense, believing that al-Sharif had been wearing a suicide belt. Other soldiers present at the scene of the crime challenged the defendant’s claim, however. One witness cited the soldier as saying that “terrorist was alive and he deserved to die” before he pulled the trigger.

Speaking in court on Thursday, prosecutor Lt. Col. Edoram Rigler used that quote to argue that it was the defendant's indirect confession to the crime.

“The soldier is suspected of shooting deliberately and without need from an operational standpoint while the terrorist lay on the ground after the same terrorist had previously been shot by IDF soldiers,” Riegler said, according to Haaretz, adding that there no need for self-defense based on review of the video footage.

Ahmad Tibi, leader of the Arab Movement for Change (an Arab party in Israel), has accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of influencing the tribunal's decision to downgrade charges against the accused soldier.

This is a soldier who is a murderer, who perpetrated a criminal act in plain view in the video. And the decision influenced by the remarks of the prime minister, who asked to take into account the soldier's family, shows again how such cases must be investigated by an international tribunal as war crimes,” Tibi told Haaretz last week.

The accused soldier has won an army of fans on Israeli social media, with over 58,000 people signing a petition backing his actions. 

Some 57 percent of Israelis recently said there was no need to arrest the soldier or launch an investigation, according to a poll, conducted for Israel’s Channel 2 last week. While over 40 percent of those polled deemed the soldier's actions ‘responsible’, only 5 percent described the shooting as ‘murder’.