Ahmad Manasra was traveling home from a wedding when he spotted a family in distress on the side of a West Bank road. Moments later, the 22-year-old Palestinian was fatally shot while another Palestinian driver was seriously wounded — both by an Israeli occupation soldier in a nearby watchtower.
The shootings took place on March 20, 2019 near the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem. At the time, Manasra and three others were in a car, heading home from a wedding. They spotted a parked car and a woman screaming for help on the side of the road.
The woman’s husband, Alaa Ghayadah, had pulled off the road after a traffic dispute with another driver. When Ghayadah got out of his car, a soldier in a nearby guard tower shot him in the stomach, according to witness testimony gathered by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
Manasra’s co-travelers took Ghayadah in their car 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. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The shootings are now the focus of a plea bargain offering the soldier three months of community service — a deal that has come under fierce criticism from the victims and their families.
Palestinians and human rights workers say Israel’s military justice system is hopelessly biased and creates an atmosphere of impunity for soldiers suspected of violent crimes against Palestinians.
While the killer soldier has claimed he mistook the victims for attackers, and any indictment of a soldier is extremely rare, the proposed deal is now being reviewed by the Israeli Supreme Court.
“When it comes to clashes with the army or the police, it is very very rare that you will find a fair trial,” said Shlomo Lecker, an Israeli lawyer who filed the appeal to the high court on behalf of the Palestinian families.
Even by what Lecker considers the military’s lenient standards, “it will be hard to justify the sentence that the army is interested in,” he said.
In a statement, the army, quoting from the indictment, said the soldier had opened fire after assuming Ghayadah was throwing stones at Israeli motorists. It said the soldier “wrongly assumed” Manasra was the same stone thrower and fired again. It also said forces had received a report about “the possibility of a terror attack in the area” shortly before the incident.
It said that in the Aug. 17 plea bargain, the soldier was indicted for “causing death by negligence.” It said victims were represented in legal proceedings and the various parties “jointly petitioned” for a sentence of “three months imprisonment served through military work,” probation and a demotion to the rank of private.
“Complex evidentiary and legal considerations, significant operational circumstances of the incident and the soldier’s willingness to take responsibility were all considered,” the army said. “In addition, the rights of the victims of the offense were preserved throughout the proceedings.”
The victims strongly disputed the military account and said they never accepted the plea bargain. The military did not explain what appears to be a sharp discrepancy between its claims and the families’ view of the plea deal.
Wafa Manasra, Ahmad’s mother, called the deal “unjust.”
“The soldier killed my son in cold blood,” she said. “My son wasn’t going to carry out any attack. He was going to help others when he was killed.”
Ghadayeh, a former tile layer, said he can no longer work because of the severe damage to his stomach. He said he tried to work as a taxi driver but that also was too grueling on his body.
“If the soldier was sentenced to life in prison, that won’t be enough for me,” he said.
Critics say potentially criminal shootings of Palestinians rarely result in convictions or even indictments.