With international criticism of Israel’s response to the Gaza protests growing, video emerged on Monday appearing to show an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) sniper shooting a Palestinian man standing near the border fence.
After the Palestinian man falls to the ground, soldiers are heard cheering in the background. One yells, “What a legendary film!”
The video, which circulated on social media, appears to be through a scope, showing the Gaza border fence and a field behind it.
The sniper is heard discussing the shot with another soldier nearby.
“When he stops, you take him down,” the soldier says. “Are you on him?”
“I can’t fire because of the barbed wire,” the sniper responds a short time later.
“Take out the one in the pink,” the other soldier says after a few moments.
IDF soldiers cheer as you hear the gunshot and see the Palestinian man fall.
“Son of a bitch!” one soldier, who appears to have recorded the video, yells. “What a legendary film! I haven’t seen this kind of thing for a long time.”
A group of Palestinians can be seen in the video running to the fallen man’s side and removing him from the field.
IDF: Video filmed in December
In a response to the video issued Tuesday afternoon, the IDF said in a statement that the video was filmed on Friday, December 22, 2017 during what they termed “a violent riot.”
At the time, protests were held in Gaza and the West Bank following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“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. During the riot, means were taken in order to disperse it, including verbal warnings and calls to halt, using riot dispersal means and firing warning shots into the air,” the IDF statement said.
“After none of these were successful, a single bullet was fired towards one of the Palestinians who is suspected of organizing and leading this incident, while he was a few meters from the fence. He was hit in the leg and injured. The video was not filmed from the position of the shooting, and was filmed by a soldier who was not part of the unit of the soldiers who fired.”
The IDF also said “relevant commanders” would conduct a full operation inquiry, which will then be submitted to the Military Advocate General’s Office, a legal department that supervises and the rule of law in the military.
The military noted that the cheering heard in the video “[does] not suit the degree of restraint expected of IDF soldiers and will be dealt by commanders accordingly.”
The one minute, 20 second video led the news Monday evening on Israeli television channels and featured highly in local newspapers, reigniting a debate about the Israeli army’s principles and its soldiers’ actions.
It was not immediately clear who put out the video. The identity of the Palestinian – and his condition after the shot – are also unknown.
“The sniper deserves a medal, and the photographer deserves a demotion,” said Israeli Defence Minister Israeli Avigdor Liberman, speaking Tuesday afternoon.
“The IDF is the most moral army in the world, but there can be no doubt when you are at the front and under a lot of tension and there is a need to unwind your nerves, there are emotions and one can understand it.”
But condemnation of the video came swiftly and forcefully.
Ahmad Tibi, a politician from the Joint Arab List party in Israel’s Knesset, said on Facebook: “The crime and the evidence. The hunting of humans, and the gratification the sniper derives from the ruthless murder of an unarmed Palestinian civilian in Gaza. A video recorded by a soldier of the Israeli occupation forces who stood next to the sniper. Difficult to watch.”
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said: “This documented case of extrajudicial killing demands the world to end Israel’s impunity and highlights a further urgency for the International Criminal Court to open an immediate investigation into the war crimes committed by the Israeli occupying power.”
The video appears to contradict the IDF’s claim that it first fires warning shots into the air, then aims at protestors’ legs. When the Palestinian man is shot, he is standing still in the field, apparently posing no threat to Israeli soldiers.
As widespread protests along the Gaza border entered a second week last Friday, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus denied Israel is using excessive force against protesters in Gaza.
He told CNN last week: “We are using water, tear gas, and other means to try to create a distance between rioters and our security fence. We aim for the lower part of the body, to the feet to make sure those rioters are not able to sabotage the fence or pose a significant threat to our facilities.”
“We used tear gas and other means to create a distance between those rioters and our sensitive security infrastructure and if those things don’t work, if people don’t listen to our warnings and are hell bent on coming to the fence and sabotaging and trying to break through, we use very specific sharp shooters, snipers at specific persons who are trying to sabotage the fence. We aim for the lower part of the body, to the feet to make sure those rioters are not able to pose a significant threat to our facilities.”
In all, 31 Palestinians have been killed in violence in Gaza since an initial protest was held at the border fence on March 30, according to a CNN count based on the Palestinian Health Ministry figures.
Human rights organizations slammed the Israeli military, claiming the video shows the rule and not the exception.
“Incidents such as the one in the video published today occurred hundreds of times over the past few weeks in the Gaza strip, causing death and injuries - with the full support of policymakers and top military officials,” said Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for B’Tselem, a human rights organization that is regularly critical of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and its policies towards Palestinians.
“The professed shock they now express, as well as their promise to investigate, are just lip service: as before, their ‘thorough investigation’ will once again whitewash the truth,” he said.
Israel’s Minister of Education and leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, defended the soldier’s actions.
“Seriously do you know what they were doing three minutes before, two minutes before?” he said on Israel Army Radio Tuesday morning.
“Maybe they lost a friend a day before. Do you know what the context of the situation was?”
“I stand behind IDF soldiers. They are guarding us, and we should get back to that a basic understanding which somehow got lost.”
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify Jonathan Conricus’ comments to CNN.