Unjustified use of lethal force and execution of Palestinians who stabbed or were suspected of attempted stabbings

Published: 
16 Dec 2015

Police officer shoots Hadil ‘Awad, 14, as she lay motionless on the ground after stabbing passersby with scissors. Jerusalem, 23 Nov. 2015. Still from video
Police officer shoots Hadil ‘Awad, 14, as she lay motionless on the ground after she stabbed passersby with scissors. Jerusalem, 23 Nov. 2015. Still from video

Since October 2015 there have been dozens of assaults on civilians and members of Israel’s security forces. These assaults have taken the form of stabbings, car-rammings and gunfire in which Palestinians killed 16 civilians and three members of Israel’s security forces. Up to 11 December 2015, 71 of the assailants were shot dead by members of the security forces or civilians.

This wave of violent assaults is appalling, and clearly Israel’s security forces must protect the public and use the force necessary to that end, as determined by the circumstances. The law on this matter is also clear: shooting to kill is permissible only in cases that a person poses mortal danger to others. However, in at least some of the cases, firing at the assailants did not cease even after they no longer posed any danger. Some were injured and lying motionless on the ground when they were shot dead. In other cases, the very use of live gunfire seems excessive. Some cases were summary executions, without the benefit of law or trial.

The large number incidents in the past two months, some of which are described below, reflect the chilling chasm between the normative position which prohibits this type of shooting and the present reality and public mood that considers “shooting to kill” valid in all cases and circumstances, even when the suspect no longer poses any danger. In this way, soldiers, police and armed civilians become judge, jury and executioner.

This reality is a direct result of inflammatory language used by ministers and elected officials. Admittedly, in an official response the office of Minister Gilad Erdan sent B’Tselem, the minister conceded that “in accordance with the law and open fire regulations, there is no authorization to carry on firing at a person who has been neutralized and no longer poses any danger”. Yet the sentiments Erdan voiced in public , whereby “every terrorist must know that he will not survive the attack he is about to perpetrate”, are the ones that receive publicity and support. The prime minister - by keeping silent in the face of such statements - authorizes the implementation of this policy. B’Tselem appeal to the prime minister on this matter has received no answer to date, and with the exception of a weak protest by the Attorney General in this regard, authorities have kept silent on this matter in the public sphere.

Below are twelve cases that received much media coverage and whose particulars were examined by B’Tselem. The information available on these cases paints a grave and alarming picture of excessive and unwarranted use of lethal gunfire, which in some cases was tantamount to the summary execution of assailants or suspected assailants. In two other cases, there is concern that soldiers denied medical care to Palestinians who were shot after assaulting Israelis and were then pronounced dead in hospital, where they were eventually taken.

The incidents:

1) On the evening of 6 December 2015 ‘Omar Yasser Fakhri Skafi, 21, of Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, drove to the neighborhood of Romema in West Jerusalem. Media reports stated that he ran over a young man and stabbed a police officer who was sitting in a police car. Both sustained light injuries.

Video footage of the incident shows a soldier who - after getting off a bus - approached Skafi with his gun trained on him. Skafi tries to assault the soldier and pursues him. The soldier fires at Skafi, who then falls to the ground. At that point, the soldier himself stumbles backwards and when he gets up, fires three more bullets at Skafi who is already lying on the ground, posing no danger to anyone.

2) On the morning of 23 November 2015, two Palestinian high school students - 14-year-old Hadil Wajih ‘Abd al-Hamid ‘Awad and her 16-year-old cousin N.‘A., both of Qalandia - arrived in downtown Jerusalem. Hadil ‘Awad assaulted passersby and N.‘A. threatened them.

Media reports stated that Hadil ‘Awad stabbed a 70-year-old man with scissors, inflicting light injuries. She then tried to stab another person while N.‘A. was threatening passersby. Eyewitness accounts, descriptions by those involved in the incident and footage from surveillance cameras indicate that a police bomb-squad sapper shot N.‘A. Immediately thereafter, a civilian hit her with a chair, knocking her down. The sapper then shot the two teenage girls: the video footage shows the police sapper shooting ‘Awad and continuing to fire even after she had fallen down and was lying motionless; he then went back and shot N.‘A. again as she lay motionless on the ground. Hadil ‘Awad died of the gunshot wounds and N.‘A. sustained severe injuries. According to media reports, a passerby was also injured by the sapper’s shooting. On 11 December 2015 it was reported that N.‘A. was indicted. On 13 December 2015 it was reported that the Department for the Investigation of Police (DIP) launched an investigation against the sapper who shot the girls.

3) At approximately 9:00 A.M., on the morning of 22 November 2015, Ashraqat Taha Ahmad Qatnani, a 16-year-old girl from ‘Askar Rafugee Camp in Nablus, tried to knife settlers at a hitchhiking station in the northern West Bank, near Huwarah Checkpoint. An Israeli civilian hit her with his car, and soldiers then shot her as she lay injured on the ground.

A Nablus resident who was passing by gave B’Tselem an account of the events. He confirmed that he saw Qatnani approach the hitchhiking stating wielding a knife, and saw the people at the station running to get away from her. Media reports of the incident stated that Gershon Mesika, former head of the Samaria Regional Council, was driving by the spot and ran his car into Qatnani, and that after she was lying on the ground, she was shot dead by soldiers. Mesika told the council’s spokesperson in a video account (Hebrew only): “I didn’t stop to think, I hit the gas and rammed into her, she fell down and then the soldiers came and continued shooting and neutralized her completely”.

4) In the early afternoon of 6 November 2015, Tharwat Ibrahim Suliman a-Sha’rawi, 73, a widowed mother of six was driving her car. As she drew near the Zeid Gas Station at Hebron she nearly ran into soldiers standing in the road. As the video footage shows, the soldiers fired at the car that did not alter its speed as it approached them, and they continued firing at the car even after it passed them and entered the gas station. No soldier was injured in the incident.

Ihab Badawi, 21, a gas station employee who suffered a gunshot wound, told B’Tselem field researcher in Hebron Musa Abu Hashhash that the station was closed at the time because young men had gathered nearby and were burning tires, and that many soldiers arrived at the scene. He also said:

“I saw the soldier firing at the car as soon as it entered the station. I didn’t understand what was going on. I saw the car hit a pillar in the open area of the gas station and come to a halt, and the gunfire at it continued. Bullets also hit a few different spots in the gas station. The gunfire was massive and rapid. I was very frightened. Before I could manage to take cover, I felt something hit my right arm. It never occurred to me that I’d been hit. A bullet hit the glass window of the gas station office. I got down and lay flat on the ground, behind the glass. I saw I had a hole in my coat sleeve and felt wetness under the sleeve. And then I knew that I’d really been hit by gunfire. All at once, the gunfire stopped completely.”

The video footage indicates that the shooting at a-Sha’rawi’s car persisted and intensified after she passed the soldiers, even when she no longer posed any danger.

5) On the morning of 29 October 2015, Mahdi Muhammad Ramadan al-Muhtaseb, 23, a bakery shop worker, reached the Diwan a-Rajabi (160) Checkpoint west of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and assaulted a Border Police officer. Another officer fired at al-Muhtaseb, who tried to flee, until he fell down. A police officer then went up to al-Muhtaseb and shot him again.

According to a statement the police released on the day of the incident, al-Muhtaseb reached the Diwan a-Rajabi (160) Checkpoint carrying a knife and stabbed one of the Border Police officers stationed at the checkpoint. Al-Muhtaseb fled the scene, running, and was shot by the checkpoint commander. He fell down and lay wounded on the ground. When he tried to rise, another officer shot al-Muhtaseb, killing him.

Testimonies gathered by B’Tselem indicate that al-Muhtaseb confronted the officers at the checkpoint, then bent down, picked something up from the ground, used it to hit one of the officers, and then fled. An officer standing nearby threw a tear-gas grenade at al-Muhtaseb, which hit him in the shoulder, and then shot at him, hitting al-Muhtaseb in the waist. Al-Muhtaseb kept fleeing. The officer pursued him and fired at him again. At this point, al-Muhtaseb fell to the ground. When he tried to get up, the officer shot him once more. According to media reports, the officer who shot al-Muhtaseb was commended for his conduct by the company commander. The final shot fired at al-Muhtaseb, when he was lying on the ground was captured on video and posted on social networks.

6) On 26 October 2015, Raed Saket ‘Abd a-Rahim Thalji (Jaradat), 22, of Sa’ir, Hebron District, stabbed a soldier at the entrance to the village of Beit ‘Einun, Hebron District. Soldiers fired at Thalji, killing him.

Media reports stated that Thalji stabbed the soldier in the neck, seriously injuring him. Video footage of the incident posted on YouTube shows (upper right hand corner) that after the initial gunfire hit Thalji and he lay motionless on the ground, one of the soldiers shot him again.

7) At approximately 1:25 P.M. on 25 October 2015, Border Police Officers shot Daniyah Jihad Hussein Irsheid, 17, of Hebron, a the al-Haram al-Ibrahimi (Patriarchs’ Tomb) Checkpoint in Hebron, after the police claim that she pulled a knife and, shouting, approached the police officers.

Media reports cited the police saying that the “Palestinian terrorist reached the checkpoint, seemed suspicious to the Border Police troops there - and was asked to identify herself when suddenly - she pulled out a knife and approached the troops, shouting at them as she came. The troops fired at her with precision, and she was neutralized”.

Two eyewitness accounts given to B’Tselem field researcher in Hebron Musa Abu Hashhash raised doubts as to this version of events. The witnesses related that Irsehid was standing facing the Border Police officers with her bag on the table for inspection. She was asked by the officers several times “Where’s the knife?”, and replied several times that she has no knife. One of the witnesses, who said he was standing a few meters away from Irsheid told B’Tselem that the officer fired at her feet and she jumped backwards, raising her hands in the air and repeating that she has no knife. The witness related that he then heard several shots in succession and that Irsheid fell to the ground. At that point, the officers cleared the checkpoint and moved other people away from it.

8) On 16 October 2015, Iyad Khalil Mahmoud al-‘Awawdeh, 26, of al-Muwaraq, Hebron District, approached soldiers in the course of a protest in the region of Ras al-Jorah in Hebron. Disguised as a journalist, he stabbed one of the soldiers. In response, soldiers fired at al-‘Awawdeh, killing him.

According to media reports, the soldier stabbed by al-‘Awawdeh sustained moderate injuries. Video footage of the incident shows one of the soldiers firing at al-‘Awawdeh after he was already lying wounded and motionless on the ground.

The incident as seen from several angles: YouTube1, YouTube2, Walla News

9) On 14 October 2015 Border Police officers shot Basel Bassam Ragheb Sidr, 19, of Hebron, at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. According to the police, Sidr seemed suspicious because he was wearing a uniform, and pulled out a knife when he was called over to be inspected.

Media reports stated that a “20-year-old Palestinian who tried to perpetrate a stabbing attack at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem was shot and killed by Border Police officers there. There were no casualties in the incident.”

Video footage of the incident, two segments of which were shown in the media, shows Sidr being shot while running with a knife in his hand. As previously reported by B’Tselem, the firing at Sidr continued even after he fell and was lying on the ground, apparently injured and without the ability to move, when there was no one in his vicinity and he constituted no danger.

10) On the morning of 13 October 2015 ‘Alaa Daoud ‘Ali Abu Jamal, 33, of Jabal al-Mukabber, East Jerusalem, ran over three Israeli civilians standing by a bus stop in West Jerusalem. He then assaulted the injured individuals with a knife, killing one of them. A security guard who was at the scene shot Abu Jamal who was then apparently also shot by police.

Video footage of the incident shows Abu Jamal getting of his car, armed with a knife and assaulting the people who had been hit by the car. A security guard at the scene fired at Abu Jamal. Then, with his leg, got the knife away from Abu Jamal. Abu Jamal, who was no longer armed, got up and tried to get away, but the security guard shot him again. He fell down, and then a passerby hit him with a club. Abu Jamal got up again, and as before, the security guard fired at him and he fell down. Additional video footage shows Border Police officers arriving at the scene when Abu Jamal was already lying on the ground, and two more shots are heard. The statement released by the police noted: “Border Police officers who were nearby noticed the terrorist with his hand concealed, fired at him with precision, and neutralized him”.

11) On the afternoon of 10 October 2015, Muhammad Sa’id ‘Abd al-Karim Muhammad ‘Ali, 19, of Shu’fat Refugee Camp, stabbed two police officers at Damascus Gate, East Jerusalem. Other police officers fired at ‘Ali, continuing even after he was lying on the ground.

The following information was posted on the police website: “In the afternoon, police officers of the Yoav Unit noticed a young man at the plaza by the Damascus Gate. The police officers went over to the suspect to inspect him, and asked him to present identification. Another group of police nearby noticed the attack, moved in and fired at the terrorist. The terrorist was neutralized and killed.” Police gunfire also hit two police officers, one of whom was hit in the upper body and seriously injured. Two other officers sustained light and moderate stab wounds; one of them was taken to hospital.

Video footage of the incident shows ‘Ali assaulting the police officers and then several officers fired at him, continuing to fire even after he lay motionless on the ground.

Video footage: YouTube1,YouTube2, Ynet

12) Early on the morning of 4 October 2015, Fadi Samir Mustafa ‘Alun, 19, of al-‘Esawiyah, East Jerusalem, was shot dead by a police officer in the area of al-Musrara, Jerusalem. According to a statement by the police, prior to being shot, ‘Alun stabbed and moderately wounded an Israeli teenaged boy.

Video footage of the incident, seen from two different angles, shows the firing and some of the events that led up to it. The footage indicates that ‘Alun seemed to be holding a knife when he was shot, but that there was no one in his immediate vicinity at that time.

In the video, ‘Alun can be seen trying to get away from the people. A police car then pulls up, an officer gets out and immediately opens fire at ‘Alun. The police officer fired seven bullets at him, notwithstanding that ‘Alun had already fallen to the ground after the first shot.

Footage: Kikar Hair, Siha Mekomit

For an earlier report on this incident, see here.

Denial of medical treatment

On 25 November 2015, Muhammad Isma’il a-Shobaki, 19, of al-Fawwar Refugee Camp, approached a checkpoint at the entrance to the camp, stabbed a soldier - who the media reported was seriously wounded - and was shot by another soldier.

In video footage of the incident, a-Shobaki is seen lying on the ground wounded, with soldiers surrounding him. Someone is heard saying, “Nobody treat him”. A soldier then orders a-Shobaki to be quiet, after which a person - apparently a member of the security forces - tries to question a-Shobaki in Arabic, asking him where his identity card is and who sent him. A-Shobaki groans and the man says in Arabic, “We’ll take care of you, but first just tell me who sent you”.

Footage: YouTube1, YnetNews

Raed Massarwah, a Red Crescent ambulance driver dispatched to take a-Shobaki to a medical care facility, told B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash in his testimony that Border Police forbade him from approaching the injured youth and prevented him at gunpoint from leaving the ambulance. According to Massarwah, he was delayed in this fashion for some ten minutes. He then tried unsuccessfully to reach the spot from a different direction.

Another eyewitness told B’Tselem’s field researcher that immediately after the shooting, soldiers came running from a military tower nearby and offered first aid to the wounded soldier, but no one treated the wounded Palestinian. The witness saw the police officers preventing the Palestinian ambulance from approaching and, according to his testimony, they also barred him and other Palestinians from assisting the wounded man. He related that after the Red Crescent ambulance drove away, three Israeli ambulances arrived and the medical teams treated the wounded soldier, but still no one tended to a-Shobaki until the soldier was taken from the scene. The witness estimated that some thirty minutes elapsed from the beginning of the incident until a-Shobaki was transferred to an ambulance. He was taken to hospital in Israel, where he later died of his wounds.

On 26 October 2015 soldiers shot Sa’ed Muhammad Yusef al-Atrash, 19, of Hebron, after he reportedly tried to stab two Israeli soldiers. The wounded Palestinian lay on the ground for more than thirty minutes without receiving medical attention, and died after being taken to hospital in an Israeli ambulance.

B’Tselem has no information about the beginning of the incident. However, Raed Abu a-Rmeileh, a volunteer with B’Tselem’s camera project, arrived at the scene after al-Atrash was shot. He stayed there for about half an hour, during which time he filmed some of what transpired. The footage and Abu a-Rmeileh’s testimony indicate that the wounded al-Atrash lay on the ground all that time. An Israeli ambulance arrived at the scene but the medical team did not tend to the wounded Palestinian, and police officers prevented locals from providing him with medical care. After more than half an hour, al-Atrash was taken to hospital in Israel. According to media reports, he died of his wounds in hospital. Click here for a shortened version of the footage.

• As the video footage contains graphic and disturbing images we did not incorporate it into the text, providing links instead. All video footage referenced in the links comes from outside sources, and was neither filmed by nor posted by B’Tselem.