At about 6:30 am on Friday, 3 July, Israeli colonel Yisrael Shomer shot dead Muhammad Sami Ali al-Kasbeh, a 17-year-old resident of Qalandiya refugee camp, near Qalandiya checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.
This security camera video from a nearby gas station, obtained by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, confirms earlier findings that Shomer killed al-Kasbeh as he ran away and that the Israeli army version of the incident is false.
Muhammad had been among a group of Palestinians denied entry to occupied Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers.
As the video shows, an Israeli military vehicle then drives through the area. Muhammad runs towards it, throws a stone, and then runs away.
The video shows that the vehicle immediately stops. Two soldiers get out and chase the teen, while a third remains near the vehicle. The video shows no further stonethrowing.
The rest of the pursuit and the actual shooting take place outside the frame of the video. A short time later, the soldiers can be seen returning into the camera’s field of vision, getting into the vehicle and driving off.
But eyewitnesses to the killing told B’Tselem (Hebrew press release), and previously the human rights groups Defence for Children International–Palestine and Al-Haq, that Shomer shot Muhammad from a distance of around 10-15 meters.
Muhammad was hit three times in the head and upper body. B’Tselem confirms that two of the entry wounds were in his back.
After the shooting, Shomer approached Muhammad’s body and pushed it with his foot.
Then Shomer and the other occupation soldiers got in their vehicle and drove away without calling for medical help.
Muhammad was evacuated in a private car, then transferred to a Palestine Red Crescent Society ambulance. He was pronounced dead in a Ramallah hospital.
B’Tselem points out that immediately after the incident, the Israeli army claimed that Shomer acted because he was in real and imminent mortal danger.
Israeli army central command chief General Roni Numa and several government ministers praised the colonel and gave him their full backing.
But B’Tselem says the video shows that a teenager fleeing after throwing a single rock presented no life-threatening danger when he was shot and contradicts the army’s account of the incident. It says its investigation found that the shooting was “unjustified and unlawful,” and that the “official version presented did not accord with the facts of the incident.”
It adds that the video shows that Shomer’s actions violated even the occupation army’s own lax policies permitting brutal violence against Palestinians.
It says that the army’s “open-fire regulations,” allow occupation forces to shoot a fleeing Palestinian “suspect” in the legs in order to capture him. They do not allow shooting to kill with three bullets to the upper body.
The fact that the gunman and his accomplices left the scene of the shooting without calling for medical assistance is, according to B’Tselem, a “violation of basic human morality, as well as of military orders that require, in any case where a person is shot, to provide the victim with medical care as far as possible.”
The praise ministers heaped on a senior commander for killing a teenager sends an “unlawful message” to occupation soldiers that they are, according to B’Tselem, “allowed and even encouraged to shoot to kill a Palestinian stonethrower, even if he’s running away and does not constitute a danger.”
One the one hand, Palestinians use stonethrowing as a form of protest and resistance against Israel’s violent, decades-long military occupation.
Israel, on the other hand, believes that it should have the right to occupy and kill Palestinians, deny them entry to their largest city Jerusalem, raid their homes in the middle of the night, jail them without charge or trial, impose all sorts of brutal restrictions on every aspect of their lives and confiscate and colonize their land, all without facing any resistance whatsoever, not even stones.
The Israeli government recently put forward a bill that would allow Palestinians accused of throwing stones to be sentenced by military tribunals to up to 10 years in prison.
Although a military police investigation was opened into the killing of Muhammad al-Kasbeh, B’Tselem says that with the automatic support given to Shomer, “there are serious doubts” that the investigation would be “effective and impartial” and could ever lead to justice.
Such “doubts” exist in any case. Israeli occupation soldiers enjoy routine, blanket impunity for killing Palestinians, whether or not they are high-ranking officers and whether or not they have been praised by ministers.
Note: Since initial publication of this article, B’Tselem has released an English-language report about the video.