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From the field

B’Tselem to PM: Your silence permits street executions

Netanyahu Permits Street Executions

B’Tselem sent a letter to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, demanding a cessation of the use of lethal force against people who either harmed, tried to harm, or were suspected of trying to harm others, once they no longer posed any danger. The letter demanded an end to the horrific string of summary street executions.

In the letter, B’Tselem Executive Director, Hagai El-Ad, wrote:

“Your government permits – and encourages – the transformation of police officers, and even of armed civilians, into judges and executioners. The disparity between words and actions is a stark one. It has been claimed that there has been no change in open-fire regulations and that security forces are employing reasonable force not exceeding that required to thwart perpetrators. It is ostensibly taken for granted that it is unlawful to shoot an injured person who poses no danger. Yet in practice, full support for the documented instances of unlawful killing reflects a completely different reality and grants it legitimacy. During your term of office, a new pseudo-normative reality has effectively emerged, in which a “shoot to kill” approach must always be adopted, no matter the circumstances, even when the suspect no longer poses any danger whatsoever. This reality is a direct consequence of inflammatory statements by senior members of your government, who draw support from your silence. The upshot is that there can only be one outcome in cases that combine an individual with Arab appearance and a knife: execution on the street. […]

The day before yesterday a police officer in Jerusalem shot N.'A., a 16-year-old girl from Qalandia as she lay injured and immobile on the ground. Her 14-year-old cousin, Hadil, was also shot in the same incident even after she had already been hit by gunfire and had fallen to the ground. Hadil was killed. The day before, soldiers shot dead Ashraqat Qatnani, a 16-year-old girl from Nablus, after she had already been injured when hit by a car. In October, Basel Sidr and Fadi ‘Alun were shot dead in Jerusalem; the gunfire did not stop even after they had already been hit and injured. In each of these five cases, even though the individuals involved had already been “neutralized,” they were shot at again. Of the five, four were killed and one seriously injured. Whether or not these individuals had been attempting to perpetrate attacks is a matter that cannot obscure the harsh reality at hand: these instances constitute public, summary street executions, without law or trial. And there is reason for concern that there are other such cases as well. […]

The death penalty for murder was abolished in Israeli criminal law in 1954, over 60 years ago. And never was a death sentence a possible penalty for attempted murder or grievous assault. Regardless, even if the death penalty were on the books in Israeli law, the decision to impose it would rest with the courts. […] Remaining silent when security forces operate outside the boundaries of the law cannot absolve one of responsibility. You will not be able to claim that your ears did not hear of this or that your mouth did not command it. Your protracted silence in the face of such events, while at the same time speaking in general commendation of the work of the security forces, make it all too clear what policy you advocate and support. Your silence in the face of Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan’s saying that “every terrorist should know that he will not survive the attack he is about to perpetrate” is tantamount to consent to this unlawful policy. Your silence following the implementation of this policy constitutes retroactive support. […]

The wave of attacks against Israelis is appalling. Security forces must protect the public. They must use the force necessary under the circumstances to achieve this goal. However, police officers and soldiers must not act as judges and executioners. The person who actually pulls the trigger bears responsibility for his or her actions, but the prevailing “spirit” is determined by the commander. As prime minister, you bear ultimate responsibility.”