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Israeli public opinion solidly backs Hebron soldier

Only one-fifth of Israelis say the prime minister, defense minister, and the IDF chief of staff did the right thing when they condemned the killing. Fully 68 percent believe otherwise.

A Magen David Adom ambulance attempts to navigate around the body of a Palestinian man who shot in the head by an Israeli soldier in the occupied city of Hebron. The man, who reportedly took part in stabbing another soldier, had already been shot and incapacitated. March 24, 2016. (Screenshot/B’Tselem)

A Magen David Adom ambulance attempts to navigate around the body of a Palestinian man who shot in the head by an Israeli soldier in the occupied city of Hebron. The man, who reportedly took part in stabbing another soldier, had already been shot and incapacitated. March 24, 2016. (Screenshot/B’Tselem)

Based on the condemnations from top levels of the political and defense establishment, it appears that Israelis were actually disturbed by the video of an IDF soldier killing a wounded Palestinian who lay motionless on the ground. The issue still topped the news media on Sunday, with new details emerging: Haaretz reported on early investigations indicating the soldier acted of his own accord, then updated that the soldier had said “the terrorist has to die” before shooting the motionless man, who had been on the ground for approximately six minutes, according to other news reports.

But as +972’s Natasha Roth wrote, the killing of 21-year-old Abed Fatah al-Sharif happened in a climate that largely supports — rather than discourages — this sort of action. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon condemned the attack, but not long ago he and other officials called for the killing of all terrorists rather than have them arrested. The same goes for political leaders from the right and the center, as well as religious authorities. To the public, it appears that killing an incapacitated terrorist six minutes later isn’t so different from killing one in action.

The public is apparently confused and perhaps frustrated with the mixed messages. A female family member of the soldier (they have not been formally identified by the press) who sounded young enough to be his sister spoke to the news. Sobbing and shattered, she pleaded with the country to view the soldier as a hero. Her voice shook with agony; she seemed incapable of understanding how he could be a model child one minute and an enemy of the people the next.

The public is apparently on her side. A poll conducted for Channel 2 showed 57 percent of Israelis opposed his very arrest – not a conviction, not even an indictment. Actually the question asked about the “arrest and investigation” – so we can infer that the majority did not even want the investigation at all.

A plurality of respondents, 42 percent, described his action as “responsible,” while another 24 percent said it was the natural response to the situation. The first response can be qualified because the wording actually stated that shooting was a “responsible action to ensure the man wouldn’t detonate a suicide bombing” – which in a sense redefines the notion of leading question.

But whether al-Sharif had such a bomb was hard to discern at the moment. There haven’t been any definitive suicide bombings in this wave of violence. In fact there haven’t been any since 2008. When one person suspected the wounded attacker of having a suicide belt, his instruction (caught on the audio of another tape) was not to touch him and wait for bomb squads. None of the personnel standing around felt the need to shoot the al-Sharif again – perhaps because, according to one report, he had already been checked by an officer to ensure he wasn’t wearing a bomb.

In the same question from the survey, fewer than one-fifth (19 percent) said the soldier overstepped his orders, while only five percent called it murder. Without pre-judging the outcome of an investigation myself, it is still significant that 66 percent in total gave a laudable description, and just a tiny minority saw the point-blank shooting of a motionless person as murder.

The social media scene is typically even more extreme than the representative sample. Channel 2 gets credit for a valuable survey of social media conversations. Buzzilla, the research company, found an overwhelming 82 percent of conversation across a range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and a range of blogs – that were favorable towards the soldier. Over 13,000 people have joined Facebook support groups for him, and 50,000 have signed a petition in his favor.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Photo by Activestills.org)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Photo by Activestills.org)

But perhaps the most striking finding for me was the final question in the Channel 2 regular (representative sample) poll. Only one-fifth of respondents said the prime minister, defense minister, and the IDF chief of staff did the right thing when they condemned the killing. Fully 68 percent said it was not.

There is something ominous in this finding. Netanyahu is the hero of the Right, and has been rewarded at the ballot box for his nationalist triumphalism and incitement against Arabs. Defense Minister Ya’alon is similarly lauded by the Right. The moment Chief of Staff Eizenkot expressed doubts about killing a 13-year old girl holding scissors back in February, he was unceremoniously thrashed. On Sunday someone hung notices near the defense ministry in Tel Aviv portraying him as Haman.

One wonders if the waves of violent sentiments the leadership has blissfully stirred for years to such great political lucre, are bursting their banks — perhaps no longer controllable by the sorcerers who conjured them.

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    1. Carmen

      “There is something ominous in this finding. Netanyahu is the hero of the Right, and has been rewarded at the ballot box for his nationalist triumphalism and incitement against Arabs. Defense Minister Ya’alon is similarly lauded by the Right. The moment Chief of Staff Eizenkot expressed doubts about killing a 13-year old girl holding scissors back in February, he was unceremoniously thrashed. On Sunday someone hung notices near the defense ministry in Tel Aviv portraying him as Haman.”

      I think there is going to be a power struggle of epic proportions. Bennett is the man for the 68% and has publicly disagreed with netanyahu’s decision, along with his partner in crime A. Shaked. They’re all a bunch of crabs in a barrel now, fighting for the top position. I find all of them deplorable, but I actually find Bennett’s behavior and obvious pandering to his base treasoness. Don’t misunderstand, I hate the lot of them, but this is also very disgusting. There isn’t a voice of reason or sanity in this bunch of lunatics and they’re happily taking everyone with them on their road to perdition.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      The remarkable hypocrisy of Netanyahu and Ya’alon. They rushed to dissociate themselves from the soldier’s act only because it was caught on film. In the many other similar instances of summary executions of Palestinians these leaders totally supported the action, saw no need for any investigation, and went right along with the army’s routine dismissals of a problem as being so much made up Palestinian nonsense. Amira Hass in today’s Haaretz lays this out in detail with many examples, and illuminates how Israelis view the current violence “with the typical egoism of an occupier.”

      So when Ms. Scheindlin says that these hypocrites — Netanyahu, Ya’alon, et al. — have engaged in nationalist triumphalism and incitement against Arabs and blissfully stirred violent sentiment for years to great political lucre she is correct, but when it comes down to it there is no actual disagreement between these leaders and the four-fifths of Israelis who think these leaders did *not* do the right thing when they condemned the killing. These leaders in some real sense are just forced for outside consumption purposes to pretend they condemn the killing — because it was caught on film. Either that, or they have no real idea what goes on in their armed forces. Anyone think that’s true? But these leaders will quickly drop the matter and some excuse will be found to quickly let the killer off with minimal if any punishment, because with the world’s media distracted by Brussels, American internal politics, Obama in Cuba, etc., Netanyahu and Ya’alon see little reason to maintain the facade. No one’s paying much attention–good–minimal Hasbara needed–so back to business as usual.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Interesting. Benny talks about incitement in Israel.

        …but he forgot to mention the cause of the 100 year old practice by Palestinian Arabs of murdering Israelis whenever they can.

        …please don’t mention the occupation because Arab terrorism against Palestionian Jews started way before the occupation and even way before Irgun was even heard of. It started because the Arabs were hoping to convince the Jews that the return of Jews to our ancestral homeland is a health hazard. Evidently they still have not given up on that tactic. Yet they and their puppy-dog-like supporters complain when some Israelis act with equal hatefulness.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          Then why don’t the Palestnians speak the Philistine language which was related to Greek, why do they not worship the Philistine deities and now speaking Arabic and practicing a religion that came from Arabia, why don’t they have an Arabic name for the country?

          Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Super parrot, Alex, is here again repeating his lies.

          He denies that the Arabs who swept out of Saudi Arabia in the 6th century took over Palestine too. Pssst…. jerk…. they still speak Arabic…. is that a hint for you or what….?

          And he denies that the kingdom of Judea and Israel existed 3000 years ago even though archeological evidence and respectable history books provide overwhelming evidence for it, not just the bible.

          How does one argue against jerks like Alex who think that simply by denying something he can negate facts?

          Reply to Comment
    3. Baladi Akka 1948

      “it appears that killing an incapacitated terrorist six minutes later isn’t so different from killing one in action”
      When an American ‘immigrant’ on one of the most left-wing blogs in the colonial State of Israel calls a young man who attacked a foreign soldier occupying his land a terrorist, then we’re into deep brain-washing.
      In Europe, the resistance killed German soldiers occupying their land during WW2, and they’re considered national heroes, and rightly so. As Avraham Shalom, former director of Shin Beth said in the documentary “Gatekeepers”: the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is comparable to Nazi occupation of France or Belgium, and I add; they didn’t move German settler thugs into the lands they were occyupying.

      Reply to Comment
      • Maybe it wasn’t clear, I was putting myself inside the mind of the Israeli public in that statement – how they hear the preceding statements and how they interpret the killing.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      @Gustav: As Baladi Akka makes clear, a young man who attacked a foreign soldier occupying, oppressing and dispossessing his land is not a “terrorist” he’s a resistance fighter. And as Rami Younis made clear in his excellent piece yesterday, that resistance is legal. (Whereas your occupation is not.) I think Rami Younis’ critique of how you and most Israelis view reality, and of how you use Orwellian language, as you do here and all over the place, is penetrating. There is nothing more to add. Except the comment on that page of ‘Yeah Right’ to you about your incessant strawman erecting.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        …but he forgot to mention the cause of the 100 year old practice by Palestinian Arabs of murdering Israelis whenever they can.

        …PLEASE DON’T MENTION THE OCCUPATION because Arab terrorism against Palestionian Jews started way before the occupation and even way before Irgun was even heard of. It started because the Arabs were hoping to convince the Jews that the return of Jews to our ancestral homeland is a health hazard. Evidently they still have not given up on that tactic. Yet they and their puppy-dog-like supporters complain when some Israelis act with equal hatefulness.

        …Baladi and Benny are still forgetting the above inconvenient fact. Unless of course they mean to say that the land that Israel is on, is itself occupied land? I am sure that Baladi means exactly that. In which case there is no one to talk to…

        …but Benny, do you mean that too? Yoo hoo Benny… Yes, I am talking to you…

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Sorry Gustav, I am going to mention the occupation. History is way more complicated and two-sided than your canned pseudo-history. History does not give a ticket to occupy. It challenges you to see the obligations you have to the other side. Reread Younis’ article and also the one by Orly Noy that he links to, on remembering the Nakba and needing to “gain the courage to take apart the human food chain that has become entrenched in this land since 1948.” As well as the words of Sternhell I quote on Noy’s page. So Baladi and Benny are forgetting nothing of the past, even as we agree with authors who are forward looking and bridge building.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            This is the usual Benny response. Lotsa general words which prove nothing and deny history.

            FACT: there would not now be an occupation had the Arabs accepted a simple proposition.

            THE PROPOSITION: to share the land of the British mandate between it’s two major ethnic groups by forming two states. One for Jews and the other for Arabs. It is the Arab refusal to accept that proposition that led to the occupation.

            And their refusal to accept it to this very day which causes the occupation to continue. They still refuse to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

            So Benny, all your claims are bunk. The Palestinian Arabs hold their fate in their own hands. Refuse recognition and the occupation continues. Recognize, accept the other’s (us) right to self determination and the occupation will end.

            Reply to Comment