Security forces’ duty to protect civilians must not become a license to kill without trial

Published: 
23 Nov 2015

Today, 23 November 2015, Hadil ‘Awad and N.'A., two Palestinian high-school students ( aged 16 and 14, respectively) from the area of Qalandiya in the West Bank, attacked passersby in the center of West Jerusalem. One stabbed a 70-year-old man with scissors, wounding him lightly. Accounts of eyewitnesses and people who were involved in the incident published by the media indicate that a civilian knocked N.'A. to the ground with a chair, after which a police officer from a bomb disposal unit shot both girls, killing Hadil and severely injuring N.'A. In security camera footage, the police officer is clearly seen shooting N.'A. as she lies motionless on the floor. According to media reports, another passerby was lightly injured in the incident by police fire.

Yesterday, 22 November, soldiers shot and killed Ashraqat Qatnani, a 16-year-old Palestinian from Nablus, after she attempted to stab settlers at a hitchhiking post in the northern West Bank, close to Huwara checkpoint. According to media reports of the incident, Gershon Mesika, the former head of the Shomron Regional Council was in the vicinity and ran his car into Qatnani, after which she was shot to death 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”. Mesika’s account clearly indicates that the soldiers shot Qatnani after she had already been hit by the car and was lying on the ground, posing no danger to anyone.

The recent slew of knife attacks by Palestinians against Israelis is horrifying. From the beginning of October 2015, ten Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in stabbing or combined stabbing and shooting attacks. It is the duty of Israeli security forces to protect the public from violent attacks and to apprehend Palestinians who are suspected of such acts. To do so, they are authorized to use force if necessary, depending on the circumstances. However, they must under no circumstance act as judge or executioner. From the beginning of October until this morning, B’Tselem documented 48 incidents in which Palestinians stabbed or attempted to stab Israelis, in which the real or suspected assailants were shot to death.

In both incidents detailed above, it is hard to see how the three girls committing the attacks posed mortal danger at the time they were shot. It appears that the security forces involved could have easily apprehended them without using live fire.

The willful killing of a person who does not pose danger is patently unlawful and entails personal criminal responsibility. However, the perpetrators do not bear sole responsibility: instead of calming the volatile public atmosphere in Israel at present, ministers, other politicians, and top military and police officers openly encourage civilians to shoot to kill any Palestinian suspected of assaulting Israelis, regardless of the extent of danger that he or she poses at the time. The media, in turn, reports these inflammatory calls to arms with little to no criticism. In this state of affairs, not only will the shooters probably not be investigated and their actions not be analyzed for different implementation in the future – they will continue to serve as role models.