On Friday, 1 July 2016, an Israeli Border Police officer shot and killed Sarah Hajuj, 27-year-old Palestinian from Bani Na’im, Hebron District, at a checkpoint located in the Ibrahimi Mosque compound at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. According to an Israel Police notice, a young Palestinian woman had arrived at one of the checkpoints at the entrance to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. She appeared suspect to police officers stationed there, so they took her to a small side room for comprehensive inspection. In the room, the woman tried unsuccessfully to stab a policewoman, to which another policeman “responded quickly and carried out a precise and targeted shooting towards the terrorist until she was neutralized”. A photograph of the knife that the police say Hajuj had been carrying was made available by the Israel Police Spokesperson’s Unit and published on Israeli media.
B’Tselem’s investigation of the incident and video footage captured by a Palestinian passerby belie the police claim that the lethal shooting was “precise and targeted”. In fact, the combined material indicates that the Border Police officers could almost certainly have stopped Hajuj with non-lethal means, thereby rendering the shooting unjustified.
The investigation found that Hajuj was on her way out of the Tomb of the Patriarchs when she was taken into the side room by police. According to eyewitness accounts, sounds of a scuffle then emerged from the room, possibly because a knife was found in her possession. The witnesses then saw the policewoman who was inspecting Hajuj leave the room in the company of a policeman, both were coughing and covering their faces with their hands. The policewoman, who left the room second, was holding pepper spray. In photographs of Hajuj’s body, remnants of pepper spray are seen on her face.
At that point, the passerby began filming the incident on his mobile phone. He documented a third Border Police officer leaving the room and others gathering at the entrance to it, at which point – when Hajuj was alone in the room – four shots were heard fired in succession and Hajuj was killed.
In this case, as in many others in recent months, a member of the Israeli security forces shot Hajuj irrespective of the threat she posed at the time. At that stage, police officers had already sprayed her face with pepper spray, a substance that usually has a highly debilitating effect on people. Therefore, the argument that shooting to kill was necessary and the only way of stopping Hajuj under those circumstances is untenable. There was clearly no justification for excessive gunfire when Hajuj no longer posed a threat, carrying it out just with a view of killing her.
Sarah Hajuj was killed in circumstances similar to those in dozens of incidents that occurred in recent months both in the West Bank and in Israel: security forces personnel and civilians shot and killed Palestinians even though the danger – if and when it existed – could have been averted by non-lethal means. This open-fire policy has been broadly backed by senior politicians and high-ranking military commanders, granting immunity to individuals implementing it. It is these leading figures who bear the moral and legal liability for the death of Palestinians in such circumstances.