Israeli commander killed while pretending to be Palestinian assailant

Israeli forces gather at the scene in Tel Rumeida, Hebron, where Muhammad Thalji Kayid Thalji al-Rajabi, 15, was shot dead in September 2016.

Wisam Hashlamoun APA images

An Israeli army commander was pretending to be a Palestinian assailant during a training exercise when he was shot dead by a subordinate in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday.

The commander, David Golovenchik, 22, was training two of his soldiers to respond to an attack, but had apparently not instructed them to unload their weapons during the simulation.

“Golovenchik took off his protective gear, went to the [army] post and played the part of a Palestinian undergoing a security check by the soldiers,” the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

“He turned the table at the post over them and simulated a stabbing attack. Apparently one of the soldiers cocked his gun and shot his commander.”

Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders group in Hebron, recorded video showing the commander lying motionless on the ground at the post in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood:

Tel Rumeida killings

In March 2016, Abu Shamsiyeh recorded a Palestinian, Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, being executed by an Israeli army medic during a stabbing incident in Tel Rumeida that left a soldier injured.

The army medic, Elor Azarya, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison, one year of probation and a demotion for the revenge killing.

Azarya is first Israeli soldier or commander to be convicted for the willful killing of a Palestinian in three decades, according to the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.

Several other Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the same Hebron neighborhood in the past few years.

Muhammad Thalji Kayid Thalji al-Rajabi, 15, was killed at a checkpoint there after allegedly stabbing and lightly injuring an Israeli soldier in September last year. Israeli forces reportedly prevented an ambulance from reaching al-Rajabi after he was shot.

Another 15-year-old, Mustafa Fanoun, and his 19-year-old cousin, Taher Fanoun, were slain by soldiers stationed at a Tel Rumeida checkpoint during an alleged stabbing attack in December 2015.

Tel Rumeida is the site of one of five Israeli colonies in Hebron, where approximately 850 settlers live within close quarters of Palestinians under the protection of the army. Palestinian residents in Tel Rumeida are subjected to harassment and violence by the settlers and military, as well as severe movement restrictions that impede access to even emergency services.

Lethal force

The training simulation that left an Israeli commander dead on Tuesday tragically mirrored the pattern of killings that have left scores of Palestinians dead in recent years. In many cases, lethal force was used against alleged assailants when they posed no immediate danger to life.

Amnesty International has called for several such cases to be investigated as extrajudicial executions.

Earlier this year, Israeli police were shown on video demonstrating to a crowd of primary school children how they confirm a kill, concluding with the mock assailant lying lifeless on the ground.

The Israeli rights group B’Tselem has called for figures at the senior level of the Israeli government and military to be held to account for an 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.”

The army commander slain on Tuesday is not the first Israeli to be inadvertently killed during an alleged stabbing scenario.

An Israeli reportedly suffering from emotional distress apparently sought to commit “suicide by soldier” when he was killed by a civilian security guard who presumably mistook him for a Palestinian at a Jerusalem-area checkpoint earlier this year.

Another Israeli was killed in February last year after he was shot when soldiers and an armed civilian opened fire on a Palestinian who allegedly attempted to stab the man.

An Israeli man was shot dead in December 2015 when Israeli forces fired on two Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem in late December. Another Israeli was fatally stabbed during the incident.

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So an Israeli soldier pretending to be a Palestinian who would have been killed was himself killed. Forgive me if I don't weep in solidarity!

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The scenes of panicky, distraught soldiers trying desperately to save a life stand in sharp contrast to other all too familiar tableaux marked by cruelty, callousness and contempt- when the life in question belongs to a Palestinian bleeding to death, untended in the street. And yes, there is a searing irony in the fact that donning the mock identity of the oppressed brought death to this soldier at the hands of the men he trained to carry out such deeds.

And of all places to die as a Palestinian Arab- in the streets of al-Khalil.

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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.