A Grain Of Saul: Everyone Who Loves Israel Should Condemn What Israel Is Doing In Gaza

A 19-year-old was killed while fleeing. He was holding a tire.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

When I lived in Israel, I was told over and over again that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was the "most moral army" in the world.

Those three words have been repeated in columns written for Haaretz, in viral YouTube videos from conservative  media organization Prager U, and from Israel's own president Benjamin Netanyahu, who just this week told Turkish leaders that they were in no position to lecture the "world's most moral army." But the description feels more and more inconsistent with the IDF's actions. Does the army that last week gunned down an unarmed, fleeing teenager really deserve the superlative of "most moral"?

That's a question the IDF must answer. In the past week, at least 19 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza during a demonstration that was framed by Palestinians as a peaceful "March of Return." The march is an annual event that takes place on the anniversary of the day the Israeli government took over Arab-owned land in 1976. The killing of 19-year-old Abdul Fattah Abdul Nabi sparked the most outrage, and it's not hard to see why.

Warning: the video below is graphic.

Abdul Fattah attended the protest, and his family admitted to The Washington Post that he threw stones towards the border. His older brother described his actions to the paper as "a message, to throw a stone from our land." He said his brother never reached the border fence. 

In video footage that has been widely circulated online, Abdul Fattah is seen running away from the border, towards the Palestinian territory, with a tire in hand. As the teen approaches a group of fellow protesters, he crumples to the ground from an apparent sniper shot. He died on the scene.

The Israeli government appeared to respond to the outrage by trying to tie Abdul Fattah to armed groups. It released a list of demonstrators who were killed and included a 20-year-old member of Hamas whose name was very similar to Abdul Fattah, but Abdul Fattah was not listed. When The Washington Post prodded Israeli officials, pointing out that there were no members of armed groups at Abdul Fattah's funeral and no evidence that he was a member of Hamas, they did not answer follow up questions. Instead, Israeli officials claimed that Hamas — a U.S.- and EU-designated terrorist organization that has had a stranglehold on life in Gaza since an electoral win in 2007 — was publishing videos "some of which only depict parts of incidents while others are edited or completely fabricated." 

This may well be true, but the video of Abdul Fattah's death is not one of them. Video of him being shot was filmed from at least three different angles, with journalists and civilians capturing the moment on the ground. What's clear on the video and in the photos is clear to the world: an Israeli soldier shot and killed an unarmed, non-threatening teenager running away from the Israeli border. Family members insist that Abdul Fattah did not belong to any armed groups, and journalists who attended his funeral said it was absent any of the typical signs of allegiance to armed groups. Abdul Fattah's brother said he worked in a falafel shop and a kitchen. He was, by all appearances, an innocent young man. And he was not alone.

More than 773 protesters were shot with live ammunition this week, according to The Guardian. One man, Mohammed Sabbagh, told The Washington Post that his brother arrived to watch the protests, asked Sabbagh for a cigarette, took two puffs and then was shot in the head. 

Immediately after the killings were reported, Israel's defense minister and the leaders of the "most moral army in the world" refused to investigate. They refused to clarify the rules of engagement that were followed during the protests. They refused to acknowledge innocent people had been killed. They vaguely threatened more violence: "Israel will act firmly and decisively to protect its sovereignty and the security of its citizens," President Netanyahu said. 

People in Milan, Italy, march in protest of bombings in Gaza in July, 2014. Tinxi / Shutterstock.com
People in Milan, Italy, march in protest of bombings in Gaza in July, 2014. Tinxi / Shutterstock.com

Since then, with pressure mounting as videos of the protest circulate, and with the death toll rising through the weekend, members of Israel's army have changed their tune. Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, an army spokesperson, denied that soldiers acted "unlawfully" to The Washington Post but conceded that mistakes may have been made and would be investigated. 

Until those investigations are completed, the international community must speak out. It's no secret that this is a difficult, complex situation. More than 30,000 people protested and Hamas has been threatening to "breach the border" repeatedly. Palestinians in the Gaza strip are desperate to escape from their life of oppression. World leaders must condemn this violence. Jews, especially, must condemn the violence that killed Abdul Fattah. As a Jew who has lived in Jerusalem, and as a Jew who feels a deep love for Israel, the footage of these protests is proof that the IDF needs to hold itself to a higher standard.

President Netanyahu and Israeli soldiers across the country should apologize for the killing of Abdul Fattah. Jews everywhere should call on Israel to investigate and punish the soldier who was responsible. If the video is true to the story, that soldier should be discharged immediately and charged with a crime. Then, the IDF should propose policies and punishments that prevent killings like this from happening again. 

If the IDF really was the most moral army in the world, this column wouldn't be necessary. We'd see these actions being taken already.

Cover photo: Shutterstock / giulio napolitano 

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