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Israel’s excuses for shooting unarmed Palestinians don’t ring true

Israeli soldiers gather at the scene where a Palestinian was shot dead, near a check point in the the West Bank city of Hebron on 3 September 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Apaimages]
Israeli soldiers gather at the scene where a Palestinian was shot dead near a check point in the the West Bank city of Hebron on 3 September 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Apaimages]

Images of Palestinians girls or women lying in the middle of the road with blood seeping from their heads have become “normal” since the autumn of 2015. Women, children and men have all become victims to be added to the growing body of statistics that the global media never stops to consider when reporting on this most asymmetric of conflicts. They are the victims of the field executions committed by the Israeli occupation forces against Palestinians — women, children and men — at the humiliating and frequently fatal military checkpoints imposed across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The tragedy of these victims does not end with the hastily-fired gunshots; the wounded and dying are left to bleed while the soldiers sip their coffee and go about their regular activities, after “neutralising” the alleged threat. Images and videos circulated on social media demonstrate that Israeli soldiers and police officers do little to try to arrest suspected criminals; they shoot first and, maybe, ask questions later. It is obvious from the evidence that they are too keen to pull the trigger and shoot a target who could be as young as their own children or as old as their mothers.

It is even more of a tragedy that the victim is rarely named until hours or even days later, placing major psychological pressure on the community who have no real idea if a relative or friend has been shot and killed.

Last week, on 18 September to be precise, a Palestinian woman called Nayfa Ali Ka’abna, aged 50, was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. She was named officially four days after she was basically executed at the Qalandiya checkpoint, north of Jerusalem. After she was shot, she was left on the side of the road in a growing pool of blood for some time. To understand what happened to Nayfa, it is worth looking at the growing phenomenon of field executions over the past four years.

READ: Amnesty urges ‘international justice’ after Israel forces kill Palestinian woman at checkpoint

Hadeel Al-Hashlamoun was crossing through an Israeli military checkpoint in Hebron on 22 September, 2015, when she was shot. The Israeli narrative claimed that the 18 year old did not comply with the order to stop and therefore posed a danger to the soldiers. The young woman was in her first year of university, and was known in the local neighbourhoods for her solidarity with Palestinian families affected by settler harassment. She had to cross the checkpoints repeatedly for this purpose. On the day of the deadly attack, two soldiers ordered her to stop and then fired at least 10 bullets at her from their automatic rifles. Hadeel fell to the ground after being hit by the first bullet, but the soldiers continued to fire at her. Most of the bullets hit her chest and upper body.

The Israeli occupation army immediately claimed, as usual, that the young woman had tried to attack the soldiers with a knife, and that the heavily-armed soldiers acted “according to protocol” as their lives were in danger. Many pictures surfaced on social media proving the Israeli claim to be false. The reality of this heinous murder was documented by a passer-by; the two soldiers opened fire on Hadeel from a distance of 4 metres and no knife was seen. The brutality of the attack was escalated by the fact that she was left on the ground for about half an hour after being shot. Journalist Amira Hass reported the details of the crime in Haaretz on 3 November, 2015, based on documented facts which disprove the army’s narrative.

Hadeel Al-Hashlamoun’s family took the case to court, but the Israeli judicial system ensured that the army and its soldiers were acquitted, as usually happens. The family appealed, but the result was the same. The case was closed in February 2019, with the soldiers acquitted of all charges. This was no surprise; the so-called Israeli “Defence” Forces’ story is normally accepted as the truth without question.

The world ignored the tragedy of Hadeel Al-Hashlamoun at the time, giving the occupation authorities a tacit green light to continue the field executions on the pretext that the victims “pose a danger to the lives of soldiers”. Killing Palestinians in this way has become a recurring fact of life protected by carefully woven justifications. However, the idea of a fruit knife held by a schoolgirl, shining from afar, actually posing a threat to the lives of a group of armed soldiers wearing body armour just doesn’t ring true. Moreover, firing numerous bullets at a girl, woman, man or boy and at a part of the body where death is almost certain to result suggests that Israeli soldiers have little or no regard for Palestinian lives.

READ: Israel killed Palestinian civilians deliberately, so why is the UNHRC speculating about it? 

The official Israeli version of field executions is simply not credible. It is now a fact, though, that any Palestinian going about their lawful business can expect to be shot at random if they are on foot at a military checkpoint. Make a wrong move or display any “unusual behaviour” — a very loosely-defined term — and they can face a lethal volley of bullets.

This poses an even bigger threat to those with hearing or visual impairments, or those who do not understand the gestures or orders yelled by soldiers and police officers, not least due to the different language and means of expression. Israel’s military checkpoints may now be rooted deeply in Palestinian life, but they remain a threat to those with mental health issues or other communication difficulties. If someone has a seizure or fit at one of these checkpoints, they could pay for it with their life.

Palestinians cross Qalandiya checkpoint to perform the first Friday Prayer of Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in Ramallah, West Bank on 10 May, 2019 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinians cross Qalandiya checkpoint to perform the first Friday Prayer of Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in Ramallah, West Bank on 10 May, 2019 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Given the number of these incidents, the Palestinians are convinced that the occupation authorities do not hesitate to justify any field execution committed by their security forces even before any investigation can take place — if it takes place at all. The killers are not above planting a knife next to the victims lying on the ground to “prove” their dishonest narrative.

Furthermore, even if a schoolgirl is holding a knife with the intention of attacking the fully trained and armed soldiers, why are they incapable of disarming her? Shooting her when she is well beyond arms’ reach looks like an extremely disproportionate response. As the list of “knife-wielding attackers” shot dead grows longer, how many of their intended victims were actually killed? None whatsoever.

READ: Israel killed woman and child protesters at ‘significant distance’ from Gaza fence

What is certain in all of this, is that the Israeli occupation forces are able to kill Palestinians at will, and get away with it. The uncomfortable truth absent from the propaganda pushed out by Israel and its supporters is that the killers of dozens of indigenous Palestinian men, women and children in field executions across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem in recent years are actually members of an occupation army violating international law; they don’t deserve our sympathy. It is their victims who live — and die — under military occupation and oppression and are deserving of whatever we can do to help them.

Field executions are one of the “sovereign manifestations” that the Israeli occupation forces have monopolised at their many checkpoints intended to disrupt Palestinians in their daily lives. They impede freedom of movement, cause humiliation and provide opportunities for arrest and, as we have seen, murder.

Such serious violations led a number of anti-occupation Israelis to form a human rights group a few years ago to monitor what the security forces are doing at the checkpoints. It is called Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch, but the Israeli government is busy cracking down on groups like this one, claiming that they are “working against the state” and discrediting them.

Before we accept the Israeli excuses for the killing of Palestinians at the checkpoints, we must acknowledge the presence of occupation forces in the Palestinian territories; and that the deployment of heavily-armed troops to direct and disrupt everyday life poses a real and present threat to ordinary Palestinians of all ages, male and female alike.

No reasonable human being, let alone a member of a brutal occupation army and oppressive regime, can expect people who are deprived of their liberty, independence and control of their land and resources to pass around flowers to the soldiers who spend their days humiliating, torturing and killing them. The Palestinians don’t need anyone to incite them to act against the occupation forces; Israel’s policies and practices in the occupied territories do that job perfectly well without any need for any input from anyone else. The dozens of children and young people shot and killed by the occupation forces at checkpoints were eyewitnesses to the murder, arbitrary arrests, intimidation and humiliation of their families, friends and fellow citizens.

Ignoring the field executions that have taken place encourages the Israeli occupation soldiers to carry on shooting at will; we all appear to be immune to the sight of a Palestinian lying in a pool of blood for no apparent reason other than the ongoing Israeli propaganda about “incitement” and “knife attacks”. Nayfeh Ka’abna was the latest in a growing line of victims like Hadeel Al-Hashlamoun whose blood was shed and allowed to flow into the gutter so callously by young men and women armed to the teeth with the latest weapons and ammunition. These women were yet more victims of Israel and its ongoing occupation that the world does not care about.

READ: Israel killed 16 Palestinian children since start of 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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