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Israeli soldiers laughed as they shot him in the back. Now, he is speaking out Open in fullscreen

Yousef Alhelou

Israeli soldiers laughed as they shot him in the back. Now, he is speaking out

Date of publication: 11 November, 2019

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A video went viral last week showing a Palestinian as he was shot in the back by Israeli police officers, while they laughed. Karam al-Qawasmi spoke to The New Arab

A shocking video went viral last week showing a young Palestinian as he was shot in the back by Israeli police officers, while they laughed and joked. 

The footage, filmed in May 2018 by one of the officers at Al-Zaeim checkpoint just outside of Jerusalem, shows the man walking away with his hands above his head while officers shout at him in Arabic, ordering him to leave the area. That is before one of them shoots him in the back with a sponge-tipped bullet. Then he falls to the ground and is heard screaming in agony.

One of the police officers in the unit had filmed the incident on his phone. Last week, Israel’s Channel 13 broadcast the clip, but it remains unclear how it was leaked.

The Israeli justice ministry said a statement it may file charges against the border police officer in question, a woman in her twenties who allegedly shot the Palestinian man in the back without apparent reason.

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It added that it had completed a criminal investigation after holding four hearings into the incident at Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. It did not say when it would reveal its decision.

Israeli police said they removed the officer from the force after learning of the incident, while four other border police officers involved in the incident were re-assigned.

I thought I was going to die

Who was the victim?

Almost a week later, the young Palestinian man was identified as 23-year old Karam al-Qawasmi from the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, a graduate of Palestine Polytechnic University.

Al-Qawasmi spoke to The New Arab and agreed to share more details about his ordeal.

"The incident took place on 25 May 2018. I was making my way to work from Hebron...through Al-Zae’em checkpoint just outside Jerusalem," he said.

"All of a sudden a military Jeep tried to run me over. Then the soldiers got out of their vehicle and stopped me from crossing. They asked if I had a knife. I said no. I was detained for almost 3 hours and was subjected to cruel treatment. I was beaten and kicked."

"Then they ordered me to go to Anata area, which at the time I had no idea how to reach.

"Later, they started shouting at me in Arabic ordering me to leave. I left raising my hands and was expecting to be shot. They shot me in the back with a bullet that has a needle injecting me with a drug, which as a result I collapsed and felt unable to move for 5 minutes. I thought I was going to die."

"Then they approached me and started shooting around me while I was on the ground. I was able to stand up and then managed to flee while they continued to shout at me and shoot in my direction. I had to walk for about one and a half hours despite my pain til I spotted a Palestinian car and the driver took me back to a hospital in Hebron."

"One of the soldiers started filming me from the beginning of the ordeal on their phone. The 'punishment'
that the officer was subjected to is silly. What I went through is what we Palestinians are subjected to on an almost daily basis, especially when crossing through check points."

Culture of impunity

The shocking footage has caused outrage and drawn fresh attention to the repetetive use of excessive and/or unnecessary force by Israeli security forces against Palestinians throughout the occupied territories.

The Department of Human Rights and Civil Society of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has since called on the United Nations to take action consistent with international resolutions and agreements regarding this incident.

"What I went through is what we Palestinians are subjected to on an almost daily basis,
especially when crossing check points," Qawasmi told The New Arab [Getty]

"The video shows the extent of blind hatred and racism of Israeli occupation forces when dealing with Palestinians," the PLO statement said.

For its part, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate condemned the incident and called on international human rights and humanitarian institutions to investigate.

"The video is a clear indication of the Israeli occupation forces' deliberate shooting against Palestinians, sometimes for entertainment and sometimes to show their arrogance and in most cases the shooting is justified under the pretext of security," the syndicate said.

The leaked clip not only drew strong condemnation from Palestinian officials, human rights organizations but also from Israeli ones. B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group said that a culture of impunity was behind incidents like these. 

"This exceptional documentation shows what, sadly, is an unexceptional event: Israeli security forces hurting a Palestinian for absolutely no reason," said B’Tselem spokesman Amit Gilutz.

Click to enlarge

Documentation of incidents

In light of these violations, a number of human rights organisations have encouraged Palestinians and human rights defenders to use cameras and smart phones to film and document events to use it as evidence in case of criminal trials and court rulings.

B’Tselem, launched 'Project Camera' in January 2007 equipping a number of Palestinian families with small digital cameras to film attacks on them.

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This move angered Israeli authorities who have started to use the term 'Pallywood', claiming that the Palestinians are provoking and recording incidents with the goal of damaging Israel's image.

As a counter measure, Israeli forces started to use their own cameras and phones to film Palestinians for documentation as well.

One thing is clear, Karam’s story is not the first and won’t be the last. Thanks to pure coincidence, what happened to him has shed some light of what Palestinians have to live with under Israeli occupation.

Yousef al-Helou is a freelance Palestinian journalist.

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