The Israeli army has released an edited video clip to support its version of the events leading up to the fatal shooting of Muhammad al-Salaymeh on his 17th birthday by Israeli occupation forces in Hebron on the evening of Wednesday, 12 December.
Israel has claimed that al-Salaymeh had threatened its occupation soldiers with a gun that was discovered after they shot him to be a toy.
But the grainy 54-second video, whose authenticity cannot be independently verified, raises more questions than it answers and is inconsistent with accounts the shooter gave to Israeli media.
What the video shows
The video is shot from a high angle, possibly from a surveillance tower, and shows an Israeli occupation checkpoint. As a figure is seen walking towards the post, a caption states “Arrival of Palestinian male to border police.”
The “Palestinian male” walks calmly toward an occupation soldier and it would appear they exchange words. At about 20 seconds into the clip, the “Palestinian male” raises his arm to hand something over. This could be an identity document.
At 24 seconds, there is a cut in the video of unknown length. This is clear because the Israeli occupation soldier suddenly disappears from the position she or he was initially in. The “Palestinian male” also shifts. It is obviously impossible to tell how much footage is missing or what happens during that period.
After the cut, the “Palestinian male” is pacing up and down near the occupier checkpoint as if waiting. On the far right of the screen the shadow of another person walking past appears.
At 30 seconds, the “Palestinian male” approaches an occupation soldier. The two may have exchanged words. A caption added to the video states “Palestinian male attacks border police officer.”
At 33 seconds, the “Palestinian male” raises his arms and appears to throw a punch at the occupation soldier and the two move rapidly as they fight, first further in toward the checkpoint and then out toward the right of the screen.
Another occupation soldier runs out of the guard post toward the two figures who are grappling. A third occupation soldier appears from the right side of the screen. As the altercation continues shots are fired at the “Palestinian male.”
The officer, a 20-year-old from Tel Aviv, recounted the events in interviews with Israeli media late Tuesday night, saying that she and two border police soldiers under her command were manning a checkpoint near the Cave of the Patriarchs when the young Palestinian approached them.
“Following the standard procedure, the soldier who was with me asked him for an ID,” she said. “The Palestinian handed him his documents and I entered the room to run a background check.”
While inside, she continued, she looked out and saw that the Palestinian had charged the soldier and drawn what appeared to be a pistol.
“With one hand,” she related, “he grabbed the soldier’s neck and pressed against him, and with the other he put the pistol to the soldier’s temple. In that situation, the soldier couldn’t break free or react.”
The female officer, who was only a few meters away, cocked her weapon.
“I was looking for an angle from which to fire without hurting the soldier,” she said, and it was only after she ascertained that his life was in danger that she pulled the trigger.
“After the first shot, he continued to hold the pistol to the soldier’s temple, so I fired two more bullets,” she said, at which point the Palestinian fell to the ground, and she quickly kicked the gun away.
“It was my first time in a combat situation,” she said, explaining that she had reacted “exactly like I was taught.”
With a gun being held to the soldier’s head, there was no way she could fire a warning shot, the officer said. “My subordinate’s life was in immediate danger,” and it was important to fire without hitting him, she said.
Inconsistencies between video and shooter’s account
The video does not show, as the shooter claims, a situation where the Palestinian male “grabbed the soldier’s neck and pressed against him, and with the other he put the pistol to the soldier’s temple.”
At no point does the Palestinian male pull out a gun.
As Chaim Levinson observes in Haaretz, “it is not possible to see whether or not the deceased was holding a toy gun.” But not only that, at no time does the “Palestinian male” have the occupation soldier “pressed” into any position. The “Palestinian male” throws a punch, and there follows a fast-moving fight.
Shooting victim was not near occupation soldier when shots were fired
Recall that the shooter claimed that the victim had a gun pressed to her colleague’s head when she fired the first shot and then, “After the first shot, he continued to hold the pistol to the soldier’s temple, so I fired two more bullets.”
In the video the victim does not appear to be restraining the occupation soldier in any way just before the first shot, and was some distance away from all the occupation soldiers on the scene when the subsequent shots were fired.
At the moment the shots were fired, Noam Sheizaf observed at 972mag.com:
It is hard to tell what’s going on – Muhammad and a soldier can be seen exchanging blows, and it seems that the Palestinian is the first to try and hit the soldier (0:33). The alleged gun cannot be spotted, but the clip – which is slightly edited (0:24) – is very dark. The second soldier comes out to the street and when the soldier and the Palestinian get away from each other, she shoots Muhammad (0:48). Unless the teen was indeed holding a gun, the soldiers don’t seem to be under threat at that moment.
Perhaps because al-Salaymeh presented no danger, and Mizrahi appears to have shot to kill him, the story about him having a gun and pressing it against a soldier’s temple had to be manufactured to justify his killing. What is clear is that Mizrahi’s published account and the video released by the Israeli army don’t match.
Surrounded by occupation violence in Hebron
The area where the shooting happened, in the heart of Hebron, has been subject to gradual but intense ethnic cleansing efforts by Israeli settlers, under the protection of the army, for decades, but particularly since the February 1994 massacre of Palestinians in the nearby Ibrahimi mosque by American settler Baruch Goldstein.
Muhammad al-Salaymeh had grown up with this oppressive situation. The teen told an interviewer on Wattan TV in October 2011 about the situation near the Ibrahimi mosque:
there are always closures, but we are steadfast God-willing. We’re not going to leave our house, that we were raised in for years, for generations. We won’t leave it, because we’ll be steadfast, until our last breath.
Young Palestinians like al-Salaymeh are frequently subjected to harassment, beatings or worse by Israeli occupation soldiers – incidents that have been documented on video.
Many such incidents occur at checkpoints where occupation soldiers exercise arbitrary and oppressive authority. Israeli occupation soldiers have testified to the group Breaking the Silence about deliberately trying to “provoke” Palestinians, including children, just for their own amusement.
Israeli soldiers did this especially in Hebron, where, one testified, as quoted in a post by Adri Nieuwhof:
“So there’s a school there. We’d often provoke riots there. We’d be on patrol, walking in the village, bored, so we’d trash shops, find a detonator, beat someone to a pulp, you know how it is,” said a soldier relating incidents in Hebron in 2006-2007. “Search, mess it all up. Say we’d want a riot? We’d go up to the windows of a mosque, smash the panes, throw in a stun grenade, make a big boom, then we’d get a riot,” he continued.
The so-called “Border Police” have been particularly brutal against Palestinians trying to defend homes from takeover by settlers.
International visitors have occasionally been subjected to this kind of brutality as well.
He died steps from his house
Growing up in this oppressive atmosphere is “normal” life for young people like Muhammad al-Salaymeh, who could not get from his house to a local bakery without being confronted by armed soldiers.
It is impossible to know what was said at the checkpoint the night he was killed, if he had been humiliated, detained, or harassed on a night when he wanted to be celebrating with his family.
We do not know what happened during the period which was edited out of the video that might have preceded the “Palestinian male” throwing a punch.
What we do know is that Muhammad died violently, steps from his house, at the hands of occupation forces who had no business being in his neighborhood, his city or his land.
It is a fate Muhammad al-Salaymeh has shared with thousands of young Palestinians before him.
With thanks to Dena Shunra for assistance with analysis and translation.