On Thursday, two Palestinians stabbers attacked Israel Defense Forces soldiers near the Tel Rumeida neighborhood in Hebron. The soldiers returned fire. One of the assailants fell to the ground, wounded. Then, an IDF soldier shot and killed him.
Immediately, Israeli officialdom expressed its outrage over the killing, thundering that the shooting of a wounded suspect lying on the ground was nothing short of murder. “What happened in Hebron doesn’t represent the values of the IDF,” Prime Minister Netanyahu declared in a statement. “The IDF expects its soldiers to behave level-headedly and in accordance with the rules of engagement.” Military officials, from the chief of staff to the IDF spokesman, issued similarly strong denunciations.
All this moralizing is nice. It’s also, as is so often the case in situations like the one the accused soldier had to face—complex and fraught and wildly dangerous—entirely wrong.
As a new video released on Thursday and taken moments before the shooting clearly shows, the soldiers at the scene were deeply concerned that the Palestinian assailant was wearing an explosive vest and that he was about to detonate it. “It looks like he has a bomb on him!” shouts one voice in the video. “Until a sapper comes, nobody touches him!” Afraid for his life and the lives of his friends, the accused soldier took the shot and neutralized what he believed was still an imminent danger.
The video, which corroborates the suspect’s own testimony, is likely to clear him of any wrongdoing. But there’s a lesson to learn here regardless. Rules of engagement are crucial and are to be respected. War, difficult and protracted and bloody, is no excuse for excessive cruelty or wanton violence. But soldiers under attack, as the men and women of the IDF are every single day, must be free to defend themselves against those wishing to murder them and the citizens they’re entrusted to protect. Israel, unlike most of the world’s nations, plucks its young from high school, gives them guns, and sends them to protect the homeland. It’s a task at which they’re well-trained to excel, but it’s also an immensely layered one. As anyone who has been in combat knows, the whirl of the battle often leaves little room for patient and studious consultations with rules and regulations. Combat unfolds quickly and furiously, and those we send into combat on our behalf must know that they’ve our full support to simply do their jobs and defend themselves and their friends when savagely attacked.