Palestinian man executed outside bakery

Palestinians mourn during the funeral of Salah Tawfiq Sawafta, killed earlier in the day by Israeli forces, in the northern West Bank city of Tubas on 19 August. 

Stringer APA images

Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian man while he was returning home from dawn prayers in Tubas, a city in the northern occupied West Bank, last week.

Video published by Palestinian media outlets reportedly shows the moment that Salah Tawfiq Sawafta, 58, was shot in the head.

The footage shows an unarmed man attempting to take shelter in a bakery when he suddenly collapses. He lays on the ground for several seconds before paramedics arrive and evacuate him on a stretcher.

The Israeli military said that during its raid on Tubas, “a number of armed men threw Molotov cocktails and opened fire at the forces who responded with fire,” Al Jazeera reported.

Zakaria Sawafta, an eyewitness, told the Reuters news agency that Salah Sawafta “was walking home when he called on Abu Obeida [the bakery owner] to enter because gunshots had sounded.”

But Sawafta was struck in the head before he could reach safety.

Reuters, citing the eyewitness, reported that “Israeli forces were positioned on top of a tall building nearby and … there were no clashes in that area.”

Local media reported that Sawafta was due to celebrate the wedding of his daughter on 26 August and shared images of the invitation.

Deadly night raids

Palestinians are frequently killed during Israel’s nearly nightly raids in Palestinian communities.

The day before Sawafta was fatally injured, soldiers shot Wasim Nasser Khalifa, 18, in the chest during a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, killing him.

And on Monday last week, Israeli occupation forces shot Muhammad Shaham, 21, in the head during a raid on his home in Kufr Aqab, a Jerusalem-area town.

“When Israeli occupation forces saw Muhammad, they shot him at point-blank range and wounded him with a live bullet in his head,” Ibrahim Shaham, Muhammad’s father, told the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

“My son did not have a fight with the soldiers, who raided our house, but they opened fire at him without a prior warning and even without asking who he was.”

Human rights observers have long condemned Israel’s trigger-happy open-fire policy against Palestinians.

The text of Israel’s open-fire policies are secret. But last year, Israeli media reported that troops in the West Bank were permitted to shoot at Palestinians who throw rocks or Molotov cocktails at civilian cars, even when they don’t pose an immediate threat.

Around 120 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli military and police forces or settlers so far this year, around 70 of them in the West Bank.

Soldier killed in friendly fire

The fatal shooting of an Israeli soldier by another soldier last week exemplifies Israel’s lax regulations.

A preliminary probe by the Israeli military found that the shooting soldier had correctly followed open-fire procedures when he killed Nathan Fitoussi in the late hours of 15 August.

According to The Times of Israel, “the procedure includes shouting at a suspect to halt, firing into the air, and only using deadly force if the soldier feels threatened.”

The slain soldier had left his guard post near the West Bank city of Tulkarm to pray and was shot upon his return.

“There were several meters of distance between the pair during the late-night shooting, according to the initial probe,” The Times of Israel reported.

“Fitoussi was shot twice, and it was unclear why he was misidentified as a threat.”

Israel’s lax open fire regulations apparently contributed to the shooting deaths of two soldiers in the Jordan Valley earlier this year.

Washington asks Israel for open fire regulations review

The Biden administration has reportedly asked Israel to review its rules of engagement during military operations following the shooting death of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

The veteran Al Jazeera correspondent was wearing a bulletproof vest and protective helmet clearly marking her as a member of the press when she was shot in the head while covering a raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin during May.

Israel’s military advocate general stated that the killing of Abu Akleh was a “combat event” and therefore no soldier is likely to face criminal charges.

Israel used the same baseless interpretation of international law to justify the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters in Gaza during the Great March of Return protests between March 2018 and December 2019.

Israel argued that the mass protests were orchestrated by Hamas, the political party and resistance group that oversees Gaza’s internal affairs.

Israeli military directives require an immediate criminal investigation into the death of a Palestinian outside combat activity.

More than 215 Palestinians were killed during the Great March of Return protests. Only one Israeli soldier had been indicted over the use of live fire as of late 2020.

Al Jazeera, which obtained an image of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, said that she was struck by a US-designed and manufactured 5.56mm caliber armor-piercing bullet used in an M4 rifle.

Nearly 60 members of US Congress, including half of all Democratic senators, have called on the Biden administration to investigate Abu Akleh’s death.

More than 100 days after her killing, the Biden administration still refuses to open an investigation and continues to defer to the Israeli military’s long discredited self-investigation mechanism.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.