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Daniel Wickham

Israel's ‘summary executions’ in Jerusalem and the West Bank

Date of publication: 22 December, 2015

Comment: Since October, at least 117 Palestinians have been killed during unrest in the region, as cases of unlawful conduct by Israeli forces comes to light, writes Daniel Wickham.

Israel is coming under heavy scrutiny over its response to a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers, police officers and civilians during the last three months.

The Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has accused the country’s security forces of carrying out summary executions and using excessive amounts of force — charges also levelled by Amnesty International and Palestinian human rights groups.

In a recent press release, B’Tselem outlined twelve cases of unlawful conduct by Israeli forces, all of which resulted in Palestinians being killed.

The group says the evidence “paints a grave and alarming picture of excessive and unwarranted use of lethal force, which in some cases was tantamount to the summary execution of assailants or suspected assailants.”

In one particularly shocking case in November, a 14-year-old Palestinian schoolgirl, Hadil Wajih ‘Abd al-Hamid ‘Awad, was shot dead by an Israeli police officer after apparently attacking a 70-year-old Arab man with a pair of scissors in downtown Jerusalem.

In one particularly shocking case in November, a 14-year-old Palestinian schoolgirl, Hadil Wajih ‘Abd al-Hamid ‘Awad, was shot dead by an Israeli police officer


Video footage
shows the police officer continuing to shoot the girl after she had fallen down and was lying motionless, killing her in the process.

Her 16-year-old sister was also shot several times during the incident, including after she had been injured and no longer posed any threat.

B’Tselem says that Israel’s own laws prohibit the use of lethal force except in situations where assailants pose a mortal danger to others. Hadil and her sister, however, were both shot while lying motionless on the ground, threatening nobody.

More to the point, it seems reasonable to expect that a trained police officer should have been able to apprehend two schoolgirls armed with scissors without resorting to lethal violence.

More to the point, it seems reasonable to expect that a trained police officer should have been able to apprehend two schoolgirls armed with scissors without resorting to lethal violence.

Looking through the rest of B’Tselem’s case examples, a similar pattern of extrajudicial killings and excessive force begins to emerge. On 14 October, Israeli border police shot dead 19-year-old Basel Bassam Ragheb Sidr after he apparently pulled a knife on them at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. According to B’Tselem’s investigations, the shooting continued after Basel was wounded and immobilised.

Two days later, Iyad Khalil Mahmoud al-’Awawdeh, 26, was killed while allegedly attempting to stab Israeli soldiers in Hebron; again, a video of the incident shows a soldier continuing to fire at Iyad as he lay injured and motionless on the ground.

On 26 October, Raed Saket ‘Abd a-Rahim Thalji, 22, was shot dead after stabbing an Israeli soldier in the neck. Video footage shows that, after Raed has already been shot and injured, a soldier then shot his motionless body again.

The next month, on 22 November, a 16-year-old girl, Ashraqat Taha Ahmad Qatnani, was killed during an alleged attempted stabbing attack on Israeli settlers in the northern West Bank. Again, the circumstances of her death indicate a summary execution.

According to B’Tselem, Ashraqat was lying on the ground, having been run over by a civilian car, when soldiers shot her dead rather than making any attempt to arrest her. B’Tselem are not the only critics of Israel’s heavy-handed approach to attacks in the Occupied Territories.

In late October, Amnesty International released a press release accusing Israeli forces of deliberately killing Palestinians “when they posed no imminent threat to life” during a number of incidents in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In one case, a 19-year-old boy was shot dead as he reached into his pocket to hand over an ID card at an Israeli soldier’s request.

In one case, a 19-year-old boy was shot dead as he reached into his pocket to hand over an ID card at an Israeli soldier’s request


An eyewitness said soldiers shot the teenager six or seven times, failed to provide medical care and then placed a knife into his hands as he lay dying. In September, Israeli soldiers shot dead Hadeel Hashlamoun at a checkpoint in Hebron. A witness told Amnesty that a soldier shot her once in the knee, forcing her to drop her bag and the knife she was carrying, and then fired four or five more bullets into her body as she lay motionless on the ground.

Seventeen-year-old, Dania Jihad Hussein Ershied, was also killed at a checkpoint in the West Bank on 25 October. Amnesty says the teenager had her hands raised and posed no threat to Israeli forces when police officers opened fire, shooting her six or seven times. 

Jacob Burns, research and campaigns assistant at Amnesty International, says that Palestinian attack on Israeli soldiers and civilians do not justify unlawful killings.

“Israeli forces and civilians have faced genuine attacks and threats to their lives, and there is no justification for deliberate attacks on civilians. But heavily armed soldiers and police wearing body armour facing a possible knife attack have a duty to use lethal force only as a last resort in cases where there is an imminent threat to life.”

According to Khaled Elgindy, a Palestinian analyst at the Brookings Institution, this kind of conduct from Israeli security forces is typical but unlikely to protect Israelis. “The use of excessive and disproportionate force is a standard feature of Israel’s security doctrine and is intended to be a deterrent. More often than not however such force actually escalates rather than deters violence.”

Since October, at least 117 Palestinians and 19 Israelis have been killed during unrest in the Occupied Territories and Israel. Israeli authorities claim that 69 of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were involved in attacks, while the majority of Israeli casualties were civilians.

Matthew Duss from the Foundation for Middle East Peace says the main cause of the current violence is Israel’s “near fifty-year occupation (of Palestinian territory) and the system of radical inequality that it sustains.” He warns that unless the international community, and in particular the United States, is willing to “enforce consequences on Israel for the occupation, it’s unlikely that anything will change.”


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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