Palestinian rights groups are appealing an Israeli justice ministry decision to close an investigation into the shooting and killing of Mustafa Khatib, 17, in Jerusalem’s Old City last year.
Israeli media reported at the time of the 12 October incident that Khatib was shot when he pulled out a knife and stabbed a paramilitary Border Police combatant who had asked him to take his hands out of his pockets.
No police were reported injured during the incident.
The Palestinian rights groups, Adalah and Addameer, say that not only was the justice ministry’s investigation incomplete, “it is not clear from the investigative materials if the officer involved was, in fact, even stabbed.”
A number of serious flaws of the probe into the killing “convincingly suggest” that it “was conducted strictly for the sake of appearances,” Adalah stated.
Security camera footage shows police shooting Khatib in the back as he runs away from them:
Israeli forces prevented anyone from reaching the scene and no medical assistance was offered to Khatib. Israel held the youth’s body for three months before transferring his remains to his family for burial.
An autopsy initiated by the Khatib family’s lawyers – the police objected to an examination of the teen’s body – found that “the shots that killed Khatib were aimed at his upper body,” as the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported.
The slaying of Khatib came as Israeli politicians called for the execution of suspected Palestinian attackers following a wave of violence that began in late September last year.
Since that time, dozens of Palestinians, many of them children, have been shot dead during attacks and alleged attacks. Video footage of many of the incidents shows that lethal force was used against Palestinians when they posed no immediate, life-threatening danger.
In many instances, no Israelis were reported injured during attacks in which the alleged Palestinian assailant was shot dead.
Human rights groups have condemned Israel’s use of deadly force as a matter of first resort in such incidents, saying it amounts to an unofficial shoot-to-kill policy encouraged by Israel’s top leadership.
Earlier this year, Patrick Leahy, head of the US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, urged the State Department to investigate alleged extrajudicial executions of Palestinians by Israeli forces and other “possible gross violations of human rights … that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of US military assistance.”
The Israeli justice ministry’s police investigation unit, known as Mahash, claimed that in the case of Mustafa Khatib, “no factual foundation was established suggesting a criminal offense on the part of any of the officers during the incident.”
The rights groups Adalah and Addameer point to a number of failures in the investigation, saying that it was incomplete, relied exclusively on materials provided by police and included no eyewitness statements, indicating “a basic systemic flaw in Mahash’s operations; the police have a clear conflict of interest and cannot be the body that investigates its own personnel (officers involved in the incident).”
The Border Police combatants involved were not questioned by investigators, who were given a report written by police after the event – though the only report in the file sent to the Khatib family’s lawyers “did not even concern the incident in which Khatib was killed,” Haaretz reported. “It was about an incident that occurred two days earlier.”
Moreover, Adalah and Addameer state, Khatib’s lawyers were provided no photographs of the knife which was allegedly used by Khatib against police, and photographs taken by police at the scene were not requested by Mahash.
“These circumstances, including the video [of the incident] reveal that the shooting of the deceased was unjustified – certainly in the manner it was carried out,” one of the rights groups states in the appeal.
“There exists a suspicion that the shooting was carried out in violation of police open-fire regulations and therefore constitutes a violation of the law. This suspicion obligates Mahash to conduct a serious and independent investigation, and not rely solely upon partial investigatory materials collected by police in the aftermath of the incident,” the group adds.
The failure to investigate Khatib’s killing is hardly an anomaly.
“In the past 10 months, a number of requests have been submitted to the justice ministry about examining the rules concerning the shooting of assailants,” according to Haaretz. “But in all but one incident, the cases have been closed without the unit investigating and questioning the officers.”
The level of impunity afforded to Israel’s Border Police is the same as that enjoyed by its military.
Earlier this year, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem said that it would no longer cooperate with the army’s investigations into human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“We will no longer aid a system that whitewashes investigations and serves as a fig leaf for the occupation,” the group’s director, Hagai El-Ad, stated.
Since late 2000, of the 739 cases raised by B’Tselem in which Palestinians were killed, injured or subjected to other abuses, only 25 led to charges against soldiers.