Jerusalem - Israel's military said Tuesday it was investigating a video clip widely circulated on social media networks showing what appears to be soldiers loudly celebrating as an Israeli sniper shoots a Palestinian demonstrator standing near the Gaza border fence.
In the short clip, seemingly shot through the lens of a rifle scope or binoculars, soldiers watch a few Palestinian youths running and then walking along the border area. In the few minutes they are caught on screen, the Palestinians do not appear to be engaged in any hostile acts.
"The moment he stops, you drop him," says one soldier. "Do you have a bullet in the chamber?" "Yes," comes a reply, presumably from the sniper. Then he complains about not getting a clear enough view because of the rolls of barbed wire fencing along the border and about his target ducking each time he gears up to shoot. The soldiers then debate whether to take out the person wearing a pink shirt or a blue shirt right before the crack of a shot is heard and one of the figures crumples.
Then one of the soldiers whoops "what a video, they're running to evacuate him, yeah of course I filmed it." As the injured person is carried out of view, one of the soldiers laughs: "He fell into the air with his legs up like that..."
One soldier calls it a "legendary clip" and then curses, calling the Palestinian "son of a w**re."
The video comes out at a particularly tense time, following two weeks of deadly Gaza protests with Palestinians facing off against Israel's military at the border that separates the two territories. Some nine Palestinians were killed this past Friday, including a photojournalist wearing a vest marked PRESS, and the previous week 22 protesters were killed.
Gaza's Health Ministry has said more than a thousand people were injured by Israel during the protests, including a few hundred from gunshot wounds.
The Israeli military has said it was forced to use live ammunition to prevent demonstrators from breaking through the fence. It said Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza and which is seen as a terrorist group by Israel and the United States, is exploiting the unrest to carry out terrorist attacks. The army estimated that around 20 000 people turned out to protest last Friday, a significantly lower number than the previous week.
But organizers of the Friday protests have said they will continue until the May 15 commemoration of the Nakba, or catastrophe, marking the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700 000 Palestinians seven decades ago upon Israel's creation. It is also the date the U.S. plans to officially move its embassy to Jerusalem.
In response to the video, which was first tweeted Monday by Or Heller, a military correspondent for Israel's Channel 10 News, the army said the clip was not from the recent protests but an incident that took place along the border fence a few months ago. They said they were examining the matter in more depth.
On Tuesday, Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the nationalist Jewish Home party, defended the soldiers and said they should not be criticized.
"Anyone who was ever on the battlefield knows that to sit in Tel Aviv or studios and judge soldiers according to their comments, when they are busy defending our borders, is not something serious," he told Israeli Army Radio.
He also tweeted in Hebrew: "They guard our lives. We guard them. We do not abandon soldiers."
Bennett was the first minister to rise to the defense of soldier Elor Azaria who was found guilty last year of shooting an already neutralized Palestinian assailant in Hebron on March 24, 2016. Azaria was put on trial by the military for his actions and sentenced to 18 months in jail. Bennett has consistently called for Azaria to be pardoned for his actions.
The Washington Post