On Tuesday, 4 December 2018, at 2:25 A.M., Israeli soldiers fatally shot Muhammad Habali, a mentally challenged 22-year-old Palestinian from Tulkarm Refugee Camp. B’Tselem has obtained additional video footage from security cameras located at two other spots on the street. These clips, together with footage already broadcast by the media, allow for a full analysis of the scene. It clearly shows that there was no disturbance whatsoever in Habali’s immediate vicinity at the time he was shot. Contrary to the military’s claims, the soldiers who fired at Habali were not responding to a “violent disturbance of the peace” and were in no danger: the shooting was unjustified and illegal. Yet even in such clear-cut circumstances, the Military Police investigated ordered by the MAG, Maj. Gen. Sharon Afek, is merely the first stage in the process of whitewashing this killing - as has been the case in thousands of other instances in which soldiers harmed Palestinians.
On Tuesday, 4 December 2018, at around midnight, some 100 Israeli soldiers invaded the city of Tulkarm in the West Bank. Some of them entered four homes in different parts of the city and conducted a brief search. A few young Palestinian men came to the areas where the soldiers were and threw stones at them. The troops responded with rubber-coated metal bullets and teargas.
At some point during the night, about 30 soldiers came to the area of a-Nuzha Street, an east-west street in the western part of Tulkarm. Some of the force spread out along the street in groups of threes and fours. The others entered the alleyway opposite the al-Fadiliyah Boys’ High School and raided a home there. Further down the street, about 150 meters away from the soldiers, several residents were standing at the doorway of the a-Sabah Restaurant and on the adjacent street. One of them was Muhammad Habali, a mentally challenged 22-year-old from Tulkarm Refugee Camp. Habali walked back and forth, crossing and re-crossing the road.
Video footage from four security cameras installed on three separate buildings along the street allows for construction of a full picture of the scene. It clearly shows that there were no clashes between residents and soldiers in the immediate vicinity of the spot where Habali was shot.
The four cameras, with the original numbering embedded in the video, are as follows (clockwise from the upper right-hand corner):
Camera 2: Young men standing on a-Nuzha St., near a-Sabah Restaurant.
Habali is shot and falls down.
Camera 04: Soldiers by the al-Fadiliyah School, a-Nuzha St.
Camera 01: The three soldiers heading east on a-Nuzha St., toward a-Sabah Restaurant.
Camera CH02: The soldiers heading towards a-Sabah Restaurant (another angle).
(Note: The Camera 2 timestamp is correct. The other CCTVs were not accurately set.)
Testimonies collected by B’Tselem, coupled with the video footage, indicate that at 2:25 A.M., an officer and two soldiers advanced towards a-Sabah Restaurant and stopped about 80 meters away. According to eyewitness accounts, a few seconds later the soldiers opened fire at young men standing in front of the restaurant, and the young men then fled the scene. Habali, who is seen in the footage carrying a long wooden stick – which he had picked up a few minutes before the shooting – was the last to leave. After he took several steps, he was shot in the head from behind, from a distance of about 80 meters. Another shot hit M.H., a resident of Tulkarm, in the leg. About a minute after the shooting, the three soldiers are seen rejoining the other soldiers in the area and leaving, without providing Habali or M.H. with any medical assistance. The witnesses reported that several more shots were fired later. Habali was taken to hospital in Tulkarm. He arrived there unconscious, not breathing and without a pulse. Resuscitation attempts failed and he was pronounced dead. M.H. was driven to the hospital in another car, and X-rays showed the bullet had penetrated his left leg.
When the incident was made public, the military responded by claiming that a “violent disturbance of the peace had developed” in the area, that “dozens of Palestinians were throwing stones” and that the soldiers “responded with crowd control means and later with live fire.” The video footage and the eyewitness accounts collected by B’Tselem from people who were near Habali show no absolutely no of sign of any “disturbance,” stone-throwing or use of crowd control measures. Quite the contrary: the soldiers are seen walking unhurriedly, the Palestinians are seen talking amongst themselves, and then the soldiers fatally shoot Habali in the head from a considerable distance. The lethal shooting was not preceded by a warning, was not justified and constitutes a violation of the law.
The media also reported that the military “has opened a Military Police investigation” concerning the incident. Yet despite its name, the “military law enforcement system” does not investigate incidents in which soldiers have killed Palestinians with the aim of uncovering the truth. Its goal is not to bring to account the chain of command responsible for such incidents, or to prevent similar instances from recurring. On the contrary: the system’s success is not measured by its ability to protect victims, but rather in its ability to defend those who have hurt them unjustifiably and for no reason. It stands to reason, therefore, that the killing of Muhammad Habali, just like so many cases in the past, will be followed by an investigation that comes to nothing, that the incident will be whitewashed and criticism silenced. Meanwhile, while this case too will gather dust and eventually be closed – and also later – the military will continue to use unjustified lethal force without being called to account or paying any price for such actions.