Killings of Palestinians in West Bank hit 10-year high

Palestinians carry the body of Ahmad Kawazba during his funeral in the West Bank village of Sair near Hebron on 6 January. The teenager was shot dead the day before by Israeli forces who say he attempted to stab a soldier.

Wisam Hashlamoun APA images

The first days of 2016 offered no let up in the surge of violence that began in early October, provoked by Israel’s assaults and incursions in occupied East Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Since the start of January, at least five Palestinians and three Israeli citizens have been slain.

The latest deaths came after the number of Palestinians killed in violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank hit a 10-year high in 2015.

By the end of the year, at least 136 Palestinians had been killed and nearly 14,000 injured in the West Bank, according to the UN monitoring group OCHA, the highest figures since 2005.

Twenty-four Palestinians were killed in Gaza, the vast majority by Israeli forces firing at demonstrators across the boundary fence, and around 1,500 were injured.

Israeli casualties from violence by Palestinians in 2015 were the highest recorded since 2008, with 24 deaths and 350 injuries, according to OCHA.

Four youths killed

On Thursday evening, Israeli forces shot dead four Palestinians from the village of Sair, near Hebron in the occupied West Bank.

Three cousins, Ahmad Salim Abd al-Majid Kawazba, 21, Alaa Abed Muhammad Kawazba, 17, and Muhannad Ziyad Kawazba, 20, were fatally shot near the Gush Etzion bloc of Israeli settlements north of Hebron.

An Israeli army spokesperson alleged that all three were “armed with knives” and attempted to “attack Israeli soldiers guarding the Gush Etzion junction,” Ma’an News Agency reported.

The Palestinian news site Quds quoted local sources who said the three young men all worked as laborers inside present-day Israel.

A short time later, 16-year-old Khalil Muhammad al-Shalalda was shot dead by Israeli forces after he allegedly attempted to stab a soldier at the Beit Einoun junction near Hebron, according to Ma’an News Agency.

No Israelis were reported injured.

Khalil al-Shalada’s brother, Mahmoud, was fatally shot by Israeli occupation forces during confrontations near Beit Einoun junction on 13 November.

As news of the killings spread, residents of Sair gathered at the family homes of the dead youths and confrontations broke out with Israeli occupation forces.

Sair villagers have witnessed intense violence by Israeli forces in recent months. At least 10 villagers have been killed since the start of October, including the November execution in a Hebron hospital room of Abdallah Azzam al-Shalalda and the killing of a disabled father of a young baby in December.

On New Year’s Eve, Israeli occupation forces seized a plot of land belonging to Sair villager Ismail Abed Rabbu al-Shalalda in order to set up a military post, a provocation likely only to further inflame tension.

On Wednesday this week, thousands of people in Sair attended the funeral of Ahmad Younis Ahmad Kawazba.

In his memory, Kawazba’s high school posted this YouTube video of him reciting the Quran over the school’s loudspeaker system:

Kawazba was buried next to his friend and schoolmate Mahmoud al-Shalalda.

A day earlier, the 18-year-old Kawazba was shot by Israeli soldiers at the Gush Etzion junction, where Israel claims he tried to stab a soldier.

“The Israeli soldiers detained the wounded person and closed the main road,” according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

An Israeli ambulance took Kawazba to an unknown destination, PCHR added, and hours later his body was handed over to the Palestinian Authority.

Hebron’s District Attorney Alaa Tamimi told the Ma’an News Agency that an autopsy indicated the youth had received no medical treatment and had been allowed to bleed to death.

More than half the Palestinians killed since October were shot dead by police and soldiers during what Israel says were attacks or attempted stabbing and car ramming attacks on its forces and civilians.

But investigations have found that Israeli forces are using lethal force when alleged Palestinian attackers do not pose an immediate threat, as part of what human rights groups have previously condemned as a “shoot to kill policy” used as a matter of first resort.

In some cases, Palestinians were slain when there was no attack attempt, despite police and army claims.

Israeli forces have routinely deprived injured Palestinians of urgent medical care, allowing them to bleed to death.

Pub shootings

On New Year’s Day, a gunman opened fire at patrons of the Simta pub in central Tel Aviv, killing its 26-year-old manager Alon Bakal and a customer, Shimon Ruimi, 30, a civilian employee of the Israeli army.

At least six other people were wounded.

Security camera footage showed the gunman in a grocery store next to the pub. Moments later he pulled an automatic weapon from a backpack and began firing at the patrons.

The suspect was identified by his father as Nashat Milhem. Muhammad Milhem had seen the security camera footage in the media and called police.

Nashat Milhem, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from the town of Arara in the north, had served a prison sentence for attacking an Israeli soldier and attempting to grab his weapon in 2007.

Israeli forces search the area after a gunman opened fire at the Simta pub in Tel Aviv killing two people and injuring several more on 1 January.

Yotam Ronen ActiveStills

After attacking the pub, Milhem allegedly commandeered a taxi driven by Amin Shaban, a 42-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel from the town of Lydd.

Police said that the taxi headed north from central Tel Aviv and, as it approached a police roadblock, Milhem shot Shaban and dumped his body.

Milhem then stole the car, but abandoned it after a short distance and escaped on foot.

An Israeli police spokesperson said that Shaban was gravely injured when he was found and died in hospital.

In Lydd, Yousif Shaaban, a relative of the victim, told local media that a video camera was installed in his cousin Amin’s taxi and that the family have asked police to let them see what occurred in the car.

Israelis attend a candlelight vigil on 2 January at the site where a gunman opened fire on patrons at a Tel Aviv pub the day before, killing two people and injuring several more.

Oren Ziv ActiveStills

The day after the shootings, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a televised speech outside the pub. Haaretz described it as “a harsh, shameful, near-racist diatribe against Israel’s Arabs,” the term the Tel Aviv newspaper uses to describe the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel.

On Tuesday, Israeli police arrested Muhammad Milhem, the suspect’s father.

Authorities accuse him of helping his son evade capture, despite the fact that it was Muhammad Milhem who alerted police that he suspected his son of being the shooter.

Police say that Nashat Milhem used a licensed firearm stolen from his father, who owned it for his work as a guard with a private security firm.

A court in Haifa extended Muhammad Milhem’s detention on Thursday for an additional three days.

Police have so far detained eight members of the Milhem family, most of whom have been released, despite the fact that relatives, including Muhammad Milhem, have repeatedly denounced Nashat’s alleged crimes and urged him to surrender.

“We implore you, it’s tearing our family apart. Mother and father and everyone are traumatized by what we’re going through. Think of your parents and your siblings and turn yourself in,” Nashat’s brother Jawdat pleaded.

“This is police helplessness,” a lawyer for the Milhem family told Israeli media in reference to the arrests. “In the end they will arrest the whole family. The Shin Bet [secret service] is under pressure. No one in the family has any connection to what the son did.”

Nashat Milhem is still at large and Israel believes he has fled to the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has reportedly agreed to assist Israel in tracking him down.

(Update, Friday, 8 January: Israeli media report that Milhem was tracked down and killed by police near his hometown of Arara.)

Delayed funerals

Across the occupied West Bank, Palestinian families continued to bury loved ones whose bodies had been withheld by Israel.

Thousands attended the funeral of 19-year-old Muhammad Saed Ali in occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday after Israel returned his body which it had held for 88 days.

“I hugged my son after he was held three months in the Israeli morgue. I hugged him, talked to him, warmed him and forgave him,” Ali’s mother told the Ma’an News Agency.

Ali, who lived in Shuafat refugee camp, was shot dead after injuring two Israeli soldiers in a stabbing in occupied East Jerusalem on 10 October.

A Palestinian woman holds a placard with pictures of two Palestinians killed by Israeli forces during alleged attacks, at a protest in occupied East Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate on 5 January demanding the return of bodies withheld by Israel.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

Families in Hebron held a joint funeral for 14 Palestinians on 2 January. Their bodies were among 23 transferred by Israel to the Palestinian Authority the previous day.

The bodies of at least 80 Palestinians slain during alleged attacks, including several children, have been withheld from their families.

Relatives mourn near the body of Fadil Qawasmi, in Hebron on 2 January. Qawasmi’s was among dozens of withheld bodies Israel transferred to the Palestinian Authority in recent days. Qawasmi was shot dead by an Israeli settler on 17 October 2015.

Wisam Hashlamoun APA images

Israel began transferring many of them at the end of December, imposing restrictions on their burial.

Israel’s treatment of the bodies effectively makes it impossible for Palestinians to properly examine them and determine the circumstances of their deaths.

“Security coordination”

While the deaths of Palestinians sometimes make headlines around the world, the full scale of the routine violence perpetrated by the Israeli occupation rarely does.

In the first week of 2016, Israeli forces carried out nearly 80 raids into Palestinian communities in the West Bank. They arrested dozens of Palestinians, including nine children, and demolished several homes in Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

Palestinians inspect their house that was demolished by Israeli occupation forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ein al-Lawza on 7 January on the pretext that it lacked a construction permit.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

On 6 January, Israeli forces raided the Red Cross offices in occupied East Jerusalem and detained Samer Abu Eisheh and Hijazi Abu Sbeih. The two Jerusalemites, recently profiled by The Electronic Intifada, had been staging a sit-in to defy and protest Israeli orders banishing them from their city.

It was, all in all, a typical week.

Meanwhile, Israel praised the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas for “exceptionally good” cooperation with Israeli occupation forces.

The Israeli government is reportedly considering rewarding the PA with various concessions in order to help it “impose more order on the Palestinian ‘street.’”

In recent days, Abbas has repeated his occasional threat to end the PA’s so-called security coordination with the Israeli army and Shin Bet secret police.

Abbas said that the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization would take a decision at a meeting next week.

Security coordination has been almost universally condemned by Palestinian political factions and civil society, where it is widely viewed as collaboration. But few expect Abbas will ever voluntarily end the practice.

Abbas, for his part, has previously described the PA’s assistance to Israel to suppress protests and resistance against the occupation as a “sacred” duty.

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It's time to open the faux borders. Allow all to return, hold elections from water to water...Secular State of egalitarianism.

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The only way this will stop is by ending the occupation of Palestinian land - an opportunity for work, educating of one's children, and living on One's land without having bulldozers come in and destroy the house and crops.
Palestinians have been suffering for so long that now there is an underlying sense that justice and equality will never fbe supported by those in power, Israel and supporters of racist policies in the United States.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.