Israeli occupation forces shot dead two Palestinians early Monday in what the army claims was a car ramming attack against soldiers in Kafr Nimeh village near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The slain Palestinians were identified as Amir Mahmoud Darraj, 20, from Kharbatha al-Misbah village, and Yousif Raed Mahmoud Anqawi, 20, from Beit Sira. Photos of the men were published by Palestinian media after the announcement of their deaths:
A third Palestinian, Haitham Bassem Alqam, 20, from Safa village, was also reported wounded.
An Israeli battalion commander was seriously injured and a Border Police soldier mildly injured, according to Israeli media.
An Israeli military vehicle had broken down and the army and Border Police were working on it when the deadly incident took place.
The Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, told media that the surviving Palestinian told interrogators that he and his friends had been throwing molotov cocktails at a highway and intentionally drove toward the soldiers when they saw them on the road.
Palestinian detainees are regularly subjected to psychological and physical abuse during interrogations, at times amounting to torture.
Residents of Kafr Nimeh village, which the military had raided prior to the incident, cast doubts on Israel’s claim that the soldiers were intentionally hit.
“We do not have accurate information about what happened, but we do not rule out the Palestinian vehicle lost control and that this was an accident,” the head of the village’s council told media.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz also noted: “Veteran security figures who have been keeping watch on the West Bank for years can’t recall a case of using a car to deliberately ram into people when there was more than one person inside the vehicle.”
The paper added: “Car ramming attacks generally involve one person, who may have acted on momentary impulse.”
Israeli forces have opened fire on Palestinian vehicles in which more than one person was traveling in what Israel said were alleged attacks over the past few years, killing a brother in a car with his sister and a teenager traveling with his fiancée.
Last year, Israeli forces and armed civilians killed 15 Palestinian assailants or alleged assailants in the West Bank.
Israeli forces have killed 18 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip so far this year.
Raids like the one that preceded the killings early Monday are a nightly occurrence in the West Bank, with a biweekly average of more than 170 search and arrest operations in the territory last year.
Pre-dawn raids, undertaken without a warrant or notice while residents are typically asleep, are used to ensure Israel’s “subjugation of the Palestinian population and as a method of social control,” according to the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the military after the two Palestinians were killed on Monday, saying that “we will do everything to rush the demolition of the homes of these murderers.”
He added: “I gave an instruction to speed up the demolition of these homes within the parameters of the legal system.”
Such collective punishment measures are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and thus a breach of international law.
They also highlight Israel’s institutionalized racism, since such punishments are never meted out against the families of Israeli Jews who attack Palestinians.
On Monday Israel’s high court gave its blessing for the demolition of a home belonging to the family of Assem Barghouti, accused of carrying out a shooting attack that fatally injured two soldiers in the West Bank last year.
He is also accused by Israel of involvement in another West Bank shooting in December in which a pregnant Israeli woman was critically injured. Her baby, delivered prematurely, died a few days after his induced birth.
Israel has fingered Saleh Barghouti, Assem’s brother, as the gunman who carried out that attack.
Saleh Barghouti was forcibly disappeared on 12 December 2018; the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has stated that Israeli forces executed him at point-blank range.
Al-Haq stated in January that Israeli authorities have “continued to deny Saleh’s family the right to know the truth, not having provided any proof as to his fate or whereabouts at the time of writing, amounting to enforced disappearance.”
The rights group added that occupation forces “have imposed a series of unlawful and ongoing collective punishment measures on the Barghouti family.”
Suhair Barghouti, Saleh and Assem’s mother, was released on Monday after being held in Israeli detention since 5 February:
Israeli media report that military officials are warning that “[Israeli] election-driven decisions against the Palestinians could spark violence in the West Bank,” where violence by Israeli settlers is already on the rise.
Politically motivated pressure on Palestinians
Primary among these measures is Israel’s freezing $138 million in Palestinian tax revenue over stipends paid by the Palestinian Authority to prisoners held by Israel and their families.
“Defense officials attribute this decision to rightist parties’ need to woo their bases ahead of April’s election,” the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
Al Mezan, a human rights group based in Gaza, has said that sanctioning Palestinian tax revenue “is tantamount to collective punishment prohibited under international law.”
Rami Hamdallah, de facto prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, stated on Sunday that his government will not back down from paying stipends to prisoners.
Israel’s withholding of tax revenue will mean that the Palestinian Authority will not be able to pay civil servants’ salaries in full, Hamdallah added, further straining the stagnant and donor-deprived economy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Another potential flashpoint is increased tensions at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. Mass protests have been called for Friday prayer this week after Israel expelled Islamic trust guards from the holy site. Last month guards had opened Bab al-Rahma, the gate leading to a building at the site that had been sealed shut by Israeli authorities since 2003.
Meanwhile Israel’s public security minister had cell phone signal scramblers installed in prisons where Palestinians are being held to prevent them from communicating on smuggled devices.
According to Haaretz, far-right cabinet minister Naftali Bennett has been “challenging” his election rival Netanyahu “to hold his ground against the prisoners.”
Meanwhile the Israeli military has begun war exercises “to examine the army’s readiness for a large-scale operation in Gaza,” according to Haaretz.
Little has changed materially for the two million Palestinians living in Gaza, which has been under Israeli land, air and sea blockade for more than a decade – despite nearly a year of protests that have cost almost 200 lives.
Last week’s release of four Hamas operatives disappeared by Egypt in 2015 is one of the more significant achievements after Cairo and the UN began indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel, and efforts to reconcile the Hamas government in Gaza with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.