An Israeli military tribunal upheld a contentious plea bargain that avoids jail time for a soldier who killed a Palestinian man and seriously wounded another in the occupied West Bank.
The plea deal offered the soldier – who remains unidentified – three months of military labour 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.
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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 criticised by the victims’ families.
Critics say potentially criminal shootings of Palestinians rarely result in convictions or even indictments, and the military justice system is biased in favour of soldiers. Indictments of Israeli soldiers are very rare.
In the March 20, 2019, incident, Ghayadah 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 Ghayadah’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 would not start, he got out of the vehicle and was shot, 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 on Wednesday, a majority of the military tribunal upheld the agreement calling the shooting a “clear operational incident”.
Jamal Manasra, the slain man’s father, said “there is no justice” in the case of his son’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 Palestinians with no justification, instead of using law enforcement to protect the victims”.