Netanyahu defends morality of IDF in wake of Hebron incident
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Netanyahu defends morality of IDF in wake of Hebron incident

Israeli soldiers removing the body of a Palestinian man who stabbed a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 24, 2016. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers removing the body of a Palestinian man who stabbed a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 24, 2016. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash 90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the morality of Israel’s military in the wake of a soldier shooting a prone assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron.

“Any challenge to the morality of the IDF is outrageous and unacceptable,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. “The soldiers of the IDF, our children, maintain high ethical values while courageously fighting against bloodthirsty murderers under difficult operational conditions.”

video published Thursday by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem showed an Israeli soldier shooting a Palestinian attacker in the head while he lay unattended on the pavement. The incident took place shortly after the Palestinian and another assailant stabbed an Israeli soldier in the area. The other assailant was immediately killed, while the wounded assailant was felled.

In the video, the wounded Palestinian can be seen lying on the pavement and slightly moving his head, which had blood around it. A minute or so into the video, a soldier shoots the prone attacker in the head.

The incident triggered an immediate inquiry by the Israeli military police, and the soldier was suspended, arrested and questioned in what is being considered a murder investigation.

On Friday, a second video published by Army Radio on its website and Twitter feed showed paramedics carrying the soldier wounded by the two assailants when someone out of the camera frame and purposely blurred by the army exclaims, “He apparently has an explosive on him, pay attention! Nobody touches him until bomb disposal arrives.”

Four seconds later, one of the paramedics carrying the soldier — a man who 20 seconds earlier had said, “That terrorist is still alive, the dog. Don’t let him get up!” — cries in a panic, “He’s alive! Somebody do something!”

Senior Israel Defense Forces officials said Saturday night that an officer had checked the downed Palestinian assailant for explosives just moments before he was shot and had not found any. However, the soldier who shot the Palestinian was not in the area at the time the attacker was cleared of having explosives.

The soldier reportedly said the Palestinian assailant “deserved to die” before shooting him, according to the army investigation.

On Saturday evening, the soldier’s sister said the family believes the State of Israel “stabbed him in the back and abandoned him.”

Netanyahu had said immediately following the release of the B’Tselem video that the incident “doesn’t represent the values of the Israel Defense Forces.”

Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said in a Facebook post late Saturday night that having the back of Israel’s soldiers is essential, no matter what they are accused of.

“Why, for God’s sake, did politicians and the media jump to conclusions so quickly?” Bennett asked. “Why would they be in such a hurry to condemn the soldier right after the video?

“(T)he minimum we can do is to wait for a thorough and fair investigation before we seal someone’s fate. We must investigate the incident in its entirety, but we must investigate it as an event that took place as part of a dangerous ground operation.”

“Soldiers, we are with you. Always,” Bennett concluded.