Executing Palestinians is Israeli policy

Screenshot of video of police demonstration shows officers continuing to fire at a mock assailant as he lies on the ground and while a crowd of children looks on.

By now, no one can deny that extrajudicially executing Palestinians who pose no immediate lethal threat is Israeli policy.

Not the 100 US Senators who signed a shameful letter decrying efforts to hold Israel accountable for its rights abuses at the United Nations, parroting Israeli talking points claiming that the state is being unfairly singled out, while making no mention of how the US government finances the military occupation now approaching its 50th year.

Nor Israel lobby groups in the US, which are fretting that the latest Israeli move to codify state discrimination against indigenous Palestinian citizens will make it harder to sell Israel as a liberal democracy.

Nor the prosecutors currently examining Israel war crimes filings at the International Criminal Court.

There is no denying this policy of execution – long obvious to Palestinians and human rights observers, and admitted to by a settler security chief in an Israeli court – after police were shown on video demonstrating how to confirm a kill to a crowd of fifth-graders in the city of Ramat HaSharon:

The video, uploaded to Facebook by a parent who attended the event, shows four officers riding on two motorcycles – one officer operating the bike, the other shooting from the back at a mock assailant who falls to the ground.

The officers shooting from the bikes dismount and fire multiple times at the prone mock assailant. They are soon joined by the officers who were driving the motorcycles, who also shoot at the man lying on the ground.

The four officers continue shooting as they walk closer to the mock assailant, who, like in so many recent videos showing actual executions of Palestinians, no longer shows signs of life.

Real-life execution of girl

The execution demonstration was made during a “police-community relations day” on Monday, one day after a real-life application of this policy that left a 16-year-old Palestinian girl, only a few years older than those schoolchildren in Ramat HaSharon, lying dead on the ground.

In that incident, Fatima Hjeiji approached a metal police barricade near the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City.

According to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, “Hjeiji stopped, stood and then brandished a knife at five Israel Police and Border Police officers who were standing on the other side of the barrier. The officers then fatally shot her.”

Standing several meters away from the armed officers, who were wearing protective gear, the girl “did not pose a danger” and could have been subdued without the use of lethal force, according to B’Tselem, which added that “officers fired at least 10 bullets at her, some of which hit a nearby taxi.”

The Jerusalem police commander defended his force’s actions to B’Tselem, stating that “Anyone attempting to harm civilians and police officers will meet an immediate, determined response.”

Such was the “response” received weeks earlier by Siham al-Nimir, 49, killed after she brandished a knife at officers standing behind a barrier at the same location where Hjeiji was slain. Al-Nimir, whose son had been shot dead without justification by police months earlier, and in severe mental distress the day she was killed, shouted “You killed my son!” at the officers before they fired at her chest and hip.

And – in a first – an Israeli reportedly suffering from emotional distress apparently counted on this “response” as he sought to commit “suicide by soldier” and was killed by a civilian security guard who presumably mistook him for a Palestinian at a Jerusalem-area checkpoint last week.

In all three slayings – that of the 19-year-old Israeli, whose name hasn’t been reported, the mourning mother Siham al-Nimir and Fatima Hjeiji – no officers were injured.

Children killed

Hjeiji is the seventh Palestinian child to be killed by Israeli forces so far this year, according to Defense for Children International - Palestine.

Last year, 35 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli soldiers, police and armed civilians – accounting for one-third of all Palestinian fatalities by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2016.

Most of those children were killed during the course of what Israel claimed were attacks or attempted attacks, mainly on soldiers at checkpoints in the West Bank. It was the deadliest year for Palestinian children in the West Bank in more than a decade.

In the vast majority of those alleged attacks that left a Palestinian child dead, no Israeli civilians or soldiers were injured. In a handful of cases, soldiers were reported to have suffered only light injuries.

For its part, B’Tselem states that figures at the senior level of the Israeli government and military command should be held accountable for this open-fire policy which “conveys profound disregard for the lives of Palestinians.”

The rights group puts blame not only at the feet of Israel’s armed forces, but also at its political leadership, “whose public statements have made it clear that any Palestinian who attacks Israelis – or is suspected of attempting to do so – should be killed.”

Thousands of Palestinians have been killed during five decades of military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In only a handful of cases have low-ranking individual soldiers been punished for their acts.

As B’Tselem states, “There must be a price to pay for continued military control of another people while thumbing one’s nose at basic moral values and international law.”

A price imposed on Israel from outside: sanctions at the United Nations, war crimes cases at the International Criminal Court, a cultural and sports boycott of the country.

For those horrified by the routine killing of Palestinians in the streets, this means holding Israel’s enablers accountable too.

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What was the official rationale for this performance in front of school children? What were they told? What was the purpose? Because in the current context, it certainly appears that the goal of the exercise was to condition children to accept state-sanctioned murder as both comforting and unremarkable. The lack of excitement surrounding the event- an almost blase sense of mere onlooking- indicates a profound familiarity with the perspective of the shooters. Meanwhile, Israeli officials continue to complain that Palestinians teach their children to hate.

If these children are to learn something of value, let their excursion take them to a Palestinian school in Gaza or the West Bank, where they can see for themselves the conditions students their own age have to put up with- classrooms sprayed with skunk water (and sometimes bullets), children abducted by soldiers, entire schools shut down without warning, access closed off by the army, settlers assaulting boys and girls passing by, teachers dragged away, every form of disruption directed against studies. That's what Israeli Jewish students should encounter first hand, not mock executions by helmeted, armored robocops.

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Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.