Video shows Israeli soldiers opened fire at fleeing rock thrower

The grainy security camera video was filmed at some distance, but the images that surfaced Monday are shedding new light on a controversial incident in which a senior Israeli commander in the West Bank killed a Palestinian teenager who’d stoned his vehicle.

The shooting on July 3 has drawn public attention because it involved a high-ranking officer who received backing from top army and political officials after firing at what the video suggests was a fleeing assailant.

The case has raised issues of credibility and accountability in the military, whose conduct recently came under scrutiny in a United Nations report on last year’s war against the militant Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The lethal incident, early on a Friday morning, followed an uptick in Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the West Bank in recent weeks, including two fatal shootings of motorists near Jewish settlements.

Col. Yisrael Shomer, the commander of the Israeli brigade stationed in the Ramallah area in the central West Bank, was traveling near a major checkpoint north of Jerusalem when a Palestinian hurled a rock at his SUV at close range, punching a hole in the windshield.

The colonel and other soldiers got out of the vehicle and he fired, killing 17-year-old Muhammad al Kasbah, from the Qalandia refugee camp.

Two of Kasbah’s brothers had been killed more than a decade ago in confrontations with Israel troops during the second Palestinian uprising.

An army account of the shooting said that Col. Shomer “felt that he was in real mortal danger,” left his vehicle and followed the “procedure for apprehending a suspect.” Those rules of engagement require soldiers to first shout warnings, then fire warning shots in the air, and finally shoot at the legs of a suspect who ignores orders to halt.

Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, the top Israeli commander in the West Bank, promptly visited the scene and backed his subordinate.

“I completely back the brigade commander and the way he functioned in this incident, in which the (army) force was in genuine mortal danger,” Numa said.

Naftali Bennett, the Israeli education minister and leader of the rightist Jewish Home party, declared, “Whoever seeks to kill you, kill him first. . . . That is how an army commander is expected to act. The people of Israel are behind you.”

And Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, a centrist opposition party, also voiced his support. “Rocks kill,” he said. “Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces should be able to defend themselves and know that the political echelon backs them completely.”

But details that have emerged since the shooting have called into question the official version of events, raising the possibility that the colonel violated the army’s rules of conduct.

Several Palestinians who witnessed the incident told reporters and an investigator for the Israeli human rights group B’tselem that after the military vehicle was stoned soldiers exited, and one opened fire as a group of youths fled.

A soldier then walked over to the fallen teenager, kicked or prodded him with his boot, then returned to the SUV and drove off without offering medical assistance, according to the witness accounts.

Hospital reports show that Kasbah was shot in the back and jaw.

Security camera video obtained by residents of the Qalandia camp was handed over to B’tselem, providing more evidence. It shows the colonel’s vehicle approaching and being stoned at close range by a youth who dashes toward the vehicle and then runs away.

Soldiers are then seen charging out of the vehicle, one kneels and seems to aim his weapon as another runs ahead, pointing what appears to be a rifle.

B’tselem has sent a copy of the video to the military police, which is investigating the incident in keeping with standard procedure in cases when Palestinians are killed by army gunfire.

Kasbah “was shot in the back after the fact, when he was already running away and posing no mortal threat to the soldiers,” B’tselem said in a statement. “Military open-fire regulations permit shooting at the legs of a suspect in order to facilitate his arrest. They do not permit killing him by firing three shots at his upper body.”

The Israeli army declined to comment on why the colonel was riding in a vehicle that lacked the standard armor and metal grills that cover the windows of army jeeps in the West Bank, protecting them from stone throwers.

Neither did the military comment on why Col. Shomer responded with live ammunition instead of nonlethal riot-control weapons often used by troops to disperse stone throwers, such as stun grenades, tear-gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets.

“The incident is still under a military police investigation to examine the circumstances, and as such, the Israel Defense Forces cannot elaborate on the details,” the army’s press office said in an email. Conclusions of the investigation are to be examined by the army’s chief legal officer, who has the authority to decide on possible prosecution.