JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli military tribunal has upheld a contentious plea bargain that avoids jail time for a soldier who killed a Palestinian man and seriously wounded another in the West Bank last year.
The plea deal offered the soldier — who remains unidentified — three months of military labor service for admitting to killing 22-year-old Ahmad Manasra and shooting Alaa Ghayadah at a junction near the West Bank town of Bethlehem in March 2019.
The soldier has claimed he mistook the victims for attackers, and said he had been instructed by commanding officers to be on high alert following a string of Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the vicinity.
Palestinians and Israeli rights groups have accused the military court of excessive leniency, and the deal was fiercely criticized by the victims’ families.
Critics say potentially criminal shootings of Palestinians rarely result in convictions or even indictments, and that the military justice system is biased in favor of soldiers. Indictments of Israeli soldiers are very rare.
In the March 20, 2019, incident, Ghadayah pulled off the road following a traffic dispute. When he got out of his car, the accused soldier, who was stationed in a nearby guard tower, shot him, according to witness testimony gathered by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
Manasra and three others were driving home from a wedding near Bethlehem when they saw Ghadayah’s wife on the side of the road asking for help. Manasra’s companions took Ghayadah to a hospital, while Manasra offered to drive Ghayadah’s wife and two young daughters behind them. When their car wouldn’t start, he got out of the vehicle and was shot himself, according to B’Tselem.
Manasra’s family appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to strike down the plea deal, but the court rejected the appeal in November.
In a ruling Wednesday, a majority of the military tribunal upheld the agreement, calling the shooting a “clear operational incident.” It said “mistaken identity is what brought the accused to a reckless act and not intent to harm innocents, desire to violate orders or readiness to take justice into his own hands.”
Jamal Manasra, the slain man’s father, said that “there is no justice” in the case of Ahmad’s killing.
“He wanted to help a family and was shot for no reason,” Manasra said. “I lost him and now I don’t see justice for him.”
B’Tselem said the tribunal’s decision was part of a policy of “systemic whitewashing and lack of accountability for Israeli security forces who shoot and kill Palestinian with no justification, instead of using law enforcement to protect the victims.”