Fierce debate on why Israeli soldiers fled truck attack

Many see link with guilty verdict on soldier who shot dead wounded Palestinian last year


With Israel still mourning the four soldiers who were killed in Sunday’s truck ramming attack in Jerusalem, a fierce debate is raging over why so many soldiers fled the scene.

Many on the right were quick to make a direct link between the attack and the manslaughter verdict handed down last week against a soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron, arguing that many soldiers now prefer to hold fire.

Security camera footage of Sunday’s attack by a Palestinian at a popular Jerusalem promenade clearly showed many soldiers running away in the seconds after the truck ploughed at high speed into a group of soldiers.

The soldiers were part of a group of 300 non-combat cadets in an officers’ training course that was in Jerusalem as part of a cultural tour with the army.

The footage showed chaos as soldiers scrambled for cover and ran away while the driver tried to reverse back into them.

First to respond

Tour guide Eitan Rund was among the first to respond and, together with a few soldiers, shot and killed the truck driver.

Mr Rund made a clear link between the reaction of soldiers at the scene and the trial of Elor Azaria, convicted of manslaughter after killing a wounded Palestinian who had stabbed another soldier in an incident last March.

He told Army Radio he realised the incident was not an accident when the truck reversed after driving into the crowd.

“I ran toward him [the driver] and emptied my whole clip,” he said.

“There was hesitation by soldiers to open fire,” he said. “I have no doubt that the Azaria trial was a significant factor, because all they tell them [in the army] recently is to be careful.

“It could be that a few minutes less of hesitation and the situation would have been better.”

Right-wing bloggers on social media were quick to take up the theme, blaming the “Azaria factor”.

However, Noam Kedar, one of the soldiers at the scene, argued strongly that the Azaria case had no connection to what happened.

‘Dime-store psychoanalysis’

“Please stop your dime-store psychoanalysis,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “It has nothing to do with Elor Azaria. It’s unrelated. Let none of you dare compare a semitrailer going at 100km per hour with a disarmed terrorist who is lying down, already neutralised.”

An initial army investigation determined that at least two soldiers had fired at the truck driver at close range, while others were ordered to take cover.

Culture minister Miri Regev, of the ruling Likud party, called the image of soldiers fleeing the scene “embarrassing”.

Responding to claims by some politicians that the attack was the direct result of the verdict in the Azaria case, defence minister Avigdor Lieberman denied any link.

“Clearly there were soldiers who immediately understood, responded and shot the terrorist. Any attempt to connect this event to the Elor Azaria verdict is simply not true.

“Since the Azaria incident, we have taken out 39 terrorists, and wounded 15. What we do is not the only thing that is important, also what we say.”