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Nayfeh Ka’abneh. Background: the moment  of firing at Ka’abneh at the Qalandiya checkpoint. Still from video
From the field

Israeli security guards open live fire at Palestinian woman brandishing knife and leave her to bleed to death

Around 6:00 A.M. on Wednesday, 18 Sept. 2019, Nayfeh Ka’abneh – a 50-year-old mother of nine from the Palestinian village of Ramun, northeast of Ramallah – approached Qalandiya Checkpoint, north of Jerusalem. She walked along a lane that is meant for cars only and as she drew near the checkpoint, which is manned by soldiers and security guards, several guards went towards her and called out to her to turn back. At the same time, a Palestinian man who was there went over and tried to explain to her that she was in the wrong lane. Ka’abneh drew a knife from her sleeve and waved it in front of the security guards. In video footage posted online, a guard is seen shooting her.

‘A.S., a Palestinian bus driver who works on the Ramallah-Jerusalem line, was waiting in the bus lane to cross the checkpoint towards Jerusalem. In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 18 September 2019, he described what he saw:

At around 6:00 A.M., I was surprised to see a woman covered in a hijab walking towards the checkpoint in the car lane. Pedestrians have a special crossing about seventy meters from there. I called out to her from the window and explained where she had to go. I asked her to turn back. I said: “Go back, they’ll shoot you, you’re not allowed to walk here, only cars are allowed here, you’d better turn around”, but she kept going. My friend S.’A., 53, was at the checkpoint. I said to him: “Look at her, she looks crazy and she’s entering from here, I’m calling out to her to turn back, but she isn’t responding, talk to her so they don’t kill her.”

S.’A. went over to Ka’abneh. In a testimony he gave he gave B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 18 September, he related:

After ’A.S. called my attention to the woman, I went over to her. She was in the car lane, about twenty meters from the security guards. Two of them were walking towards her, pointing their rifles at her. They ordered her in Arabic to turn back. When one of them saw me coming over to intervene, he lowered his weapon to give me a chance to talk her out of it and show her the pedestrian gate. I stood in front of her and said: “Lady, turn around, this isn’t the pedestrian lane, they’ll shoot you. Sister, mama, listen, God help you, you’d better go back, this lane is forbidden, go back, go back.” She didn’t respond.

Suddenly, I heard her say: “Get out of my way, I’m here to attack them.” She pulled a knife out of her sleeve. I got scared and backed away. The guards started shouting at her again and aimed their rifles at her. As I was running away, I looked back and saw her waving the knife. I don’t remember whether she was actually poised to attack someone or just standing there. One of the guards shot her from a short range, no more than ten meters away, and she fell down.

The guards went on high alert. They closed the checkpoint and stopped traffic. I stopped running and stood about twenty meters away from the woman. Some passersby and pedestrians started arguing with the guards and people began to gather there. The guards fired stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowd. The woman was still lying on the ground and no one went up to her, neither guards nor medics.

As S.’A. stated, after shooting Ka’abneh, the security forces fired stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the drivers waiting at the checkpoint and distance them from the spot. The forces assaulted several drivers and closed the gate meant for cars. One Palestinian who was waiting at the checkpoint was documented kicking a guard. An Israeli ambulance arrived after about 20 minutes, but it took another 10 minutes or so before the guards allowed the medics to go over to Ka’abneh and take her to hospital. She was pronounced dead in hospital a short while later. B’Tselem’s investigation of the incident found that Nayfeh Ka’abneh, 50, was shot while standing some 10 meters from the guards and brandishing a knife. The guards left her lying wounded on the ground for at least half an hour, without providing potentially life-saving medical assistance. Fragmented video footage shows security personnel standing near the prostrate Ka’abneh without tending to her.

How dangerous is a woman wielding a knife, several meters away from armed, shielded, well-trained soldiers and guards, with no element of surprise or confusion, in a slow-moving situation that is developing in broad daylight? Can anyone seriously argue that Ka’abneh posed such a severe threat – to the guard who shot her, or to anyone else in her vicinity – that the only possible course of action was to open live fire?

This case is not an exception. The rash, careless shooting of Ka’abneh and the full backing it received are characteristic of how the Israeli defense establishment chooses, time and again, to deal with knife-wielding Palestinians, including women and children. Well-armed, heavily defended security personnel use lethal fire not as a last resort (if it is at all necessary), but as the go-to response, even when a knife attack could clearly be averted with less injurious means. This trigger-happy policy, which is encouraged by government ministers, members of Knesset and senior defense and law-enforcement officials, is still in place after dozens of people have been killed. Nayfeh Ka’abneh is the last in the long line of individuals killed this way – for now.