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For most Israelis, Palestinian lives don't matter

A 24-year-old Palestinian and her teenage brother were shot and killed by Israeli troops after allegedly trying to stab Border Police officers. The police’s version of the events doesn’t add up, but nobody in Israel, including the media, feels the need to ask questions. 

Qalandia checkpoint, where X and her 16-year-old brother Y were killed on Wednesday. (Activestills)

Qalandia checkpoint, where Maram Salih Hassan Abu Ismail and her 16-year-old brother Ibrahim Salah Taha were killed on Wednesday. (Activestills)

The facts are still unclear, in fact very unclear: the exact number of knives found, the number of bullets shot, the number of meters distance, why exactly they were there. But even if we accept Israel Police’s highly terse account of the events, we are still left with a bottom line: Two Palestinians, Maram Salih Hassan Abu Ismail, 24, and her younger brother Ibrahim Salah Taha, 16, were shot and killed on the spot by Israeli forces at the Qalandiya checkpoint on Wednesday, while posing no immediate threat to anyone. Even if we accept the police version that the woman attempted to stab them, there is still no justification for shooting the teenager, who the police themselves claim was not brandishing a weapon or close enough to present a threat.

We also know that Israeli mainstream media barely covered the story, didn’t send any reporters to gather eyewitness testimonies and didn’t speak to any Palestinians. A Haaretz report mentions that Palestinians claim that “Israeli forces fired numerous bullets at the two and prevented medics from treating them.” Of course, whether and when medics were able to treat the victims shouldn’t be a matter of Palestinian claims. There are plenty of cameras at what is the busiest checkpoint in the West Bank, there is video footage, probably from several angles. The footage should clarify this, and other aspects that are not a matter of opinion. But Israel Police has not yet released any footage. According to a report in Local Call, police have in the past been quick to release video footage – when it corroborates their version of the events.

According to Israel Police spokesperson Luba al-Samri, two suspects – a woman and a youth – approached the vehicular path (instead of the pedestrian path) leading through the military checkpoint and walked towards Border Police officers stationed there, the woman with her hand in her bag and the youth with his hands behind his back. Officers ordered them to halt several times and they began to turn back before the woman threw a knife at an officer. Police and security guards then shot the two, killing them both. The police didn’t specify this but most reports cite that the siblings were 20 meters away from the forces, and they were positioned inside a cement sentry box.

These events didn’t even make it into the evening news in Israel Wednesday night. Except for Joint List MK Dov Khenin, no Israeli politician has expressed dismay or called on the police to release the footage or open an investigation. There hasn’t been any questioning of what the hell happened there. Rather, there has been deafening silence. It’s almost as if it didn’t happen.

There have been numerous similar incidents over the last half a year where Israel has justified the shooting of Palestinian assailants or alleged assailants and Palestinians have insisted it was murder in cold blood.

But this incident, whose factual information still needs to be exposed and reported, strikes me as unique due particularly to the way it was (not) covered in Israeli media and the fact that it was such a brief story that just disappeared.

It’s no surprise that most Israelis generally take the authorities’ version of events at face value, but this time the version of the events isn’t even convincing. And yet no one feels the need to ask questions. No one cares that a 16-year-old kid was shot dead without cause. In the Israeli narrative, the facts don’t seem to make a difference anymore (maybe they never did).

As the incident of IDF soldier Elor Azaria executing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron demonstrated, even when there is clear documentation of a crime – in that case an execution in broad daylight – there is still a groundswell of Israeli support for the army and state authorities that finds a way around the facts. As Orly Noy pointed out at the time

The number of people who are willing to justify the murder without batting an eyelash is stunning. Our collective moral compass has become so fundamentally twisted that even the most decent of people, those who are not considered extremists, believe that there is nothing wrong with shooting a man as he lies dying on the ground, while finding any way to excuse the act — including claiming that the Palestinian may have been armed with a suicide belt.

In that case, the facts were played around with a little to justify the soldier’s actions, but in the case in Qalandiya on Wednesday, there doesn’t even seem to be a bending of the facts. There is no need to try and justify anything. It doesn’t even matter anymore what exactly happened. In the permanent situation of occupier and occupied, oppressor and resistant, it’s just par for the course.

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    1. brightdarkness

      Put yourself in the place of the soldiers. They have two people no obeying orders. One has committed and act of violence with the knife so its very likely they are hostile. They might have suicide vests/belts on. Your safety comes before theirs.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Yeah? And from inside a concrete pill box they needed to execute the two? Just like that? Let us indeed put ourselves in the place of the soldiers inside a concrete box. Where’s the videotape? From several angles. That would put us in the place of the soldiers. Where is it? One suspects that if the videotape were released it would look rather more like the Hebron shooter episode. And not only that. The Israeli public would be cheering the “heroes” on. “Our brave soldiers. The most moral.” No one does occupation better.

        How about we put ourselves in the place of the Palestinians at the checkpoints? (One small step for most of humankind, one giant leap for the typical Israeli. Don’t let it exhaust you now, make sure you get a good rest after you do it, poor dear.) To the Palestinians those soldiers are defying the law and have committed countless acts of violence–the occupation–and so it is very likely they are hostile. They might have ruger rounds aimed at your body and sponge tips and tear gas canisters aimed at your head at short range and they might pepper spray you if you are a journalist or a cameraman. Or oops, they might just shoot you in the head and kill you. Because they can. And everyone knows their safety is gonna come way, way before yours. If you are a Palestinian.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Israel Police refuse to release video of thwarted West Bank stabbing attack
          Eyewitness accounts by Palestinians contradict police’s claim that Maram Abu Ismayil, 23, and her brother Ibrahim Salah Tahah, 16, refused their request to stop and posed a threat to officers.


          …The police version of events does not conform to that of Palestinian eye witnesses. Ahmed, a bus driver, told the Palestinian news agency Maan that the policeman fired at Abu Ismayil from a distance of 20 meters and the pair did not constitute a threat when they were shot. The Palestinians also said first aid teams at the scene were not allowed to approach the two.

          Photos taken at the scene show the two lying in the middle of the road, some distance from the checkpoint where police and security guards usually do not stand. People very familiar with the checkpoint said the point where the siblings fell after being shot was about 15 meters from the security blockade before the checkpoint.

          MK Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List) demanded Thursday that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan launch an immediate investigation and release the videos the army has.

          Khenin said that as the pair walked toward the vehicle lane, they did not understand the orders in Hebrew to stop, and Tahah was holding his sister’s hand to lead her to the correct lane when they were shot, “with the police about 20 meters away behind concrete blocks.” After Abu Ismayil was shot, her brother knelt to help her and then he was shot as well, Khenin said eye-witnesses had reported, adding that “the police were in no danger whatsoever.”…

          Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      A new two hour documentary on Israel has been released, “Colliding Dreams” (google to see if it’s playing near you). It’s sufficiently “balanced” enough to annoy everyone, but I thought the overall tone was clear: Israel needs to make a unilateral decision – one state, two states or apartheid?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Scott alexander

      A shame how sharing a border for 65 years with people who want to kill you pisses one off a tad.

      Reply to Comment
    4. i_like_ike52

      Considering how the official Palestinian Authority and HAMAS encourage their citizens to go out and butcher Jews and lionize them if they become “shahidim” (“martyrs”) while carrying out terroirst attacks, I think it is fair to wonder if Palestinians care about Jewish lives. After all, if there is going to be peace, the Palestinians are going to have accept a Jewish state along side them but their behavior until now puts that in doubt.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      Love the “sharing a border” dishonesty. This from a supporter of a leadership that has refused for 48 years to draw borders or show anyone a map. Love the utter obtuseness of refusing to see how 48 years of brutal occupation might make someone hate you “a tad.” When Palestinians resort to violence, Israel isn’t interested in negotiating; when they stay passive, Israel isn’t interested in negotiating–the threat is lifted, Israel sees no urgency and the settlers keep building. And how about the occupier’s logic in the utter refusal to apply ones own lectures to oneself?: if there is going to be peace, the Israelis are going to have accept a Palestinian state along side them but their behavior until now puts that in doubt.

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        Centuries of Muslim and Christian antisemitism also makes us Jews a “tad” suspicious of those Arabs/Muslims who say openly they intend to get rid of us, just as Christians in Europe warned they were going to do in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The “occupation” they are always whining about didn’t come out of nowhere. There was no peace before the 1967 “occupation” began either. Thank Nasser and his friends who said they were going to get rid of us once and for all for the “occupation” and then Arafat’s and Abbas’s refusal to even offer a Palestinian plan for peace that the Israel and the world can accept.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Ok, centuries of persecution, but this is the second decade of the 21st Century and the state of Israel exists and it has one of the world’s strongest, best funded militaries and nuclear armed submarines and the unconditional support of the world’s superpower and of the strongest country in Europe. It’s a rhetorical trick to fuse centuries and fuse Christians in Europe in the 1930s, “Arab/Muslims,” Nasser, Arafat and Abbas, into one big undifferentiated, unchanging, ceaselessly threatening mass, as if Abbas is no different and the Palestinians and Israelis today are all the same and nothing and no one has evolved or learned or adopted practical positions and compromises, and context does not matter. And as if there is no significant difference between the Middle East of 1967 and today’s Middle East. That’s false. Or that Jews in Israel are in the defenseless position Jews in Europe were in rather than being the regional hegemon. It is likewise a rhetorical device to trivialize the occupation and belittle its subjects by referring to the “occupation” in quotation marks and as something people “whine” about. Occupation denial is a form of anti-Palestinianism. And the history of the 1948 and 1967 wars and who started them and why what for is not nearly so simple and one sided as hasbarists have always wanted to make it out to be. Israel has never come close to offering a plan for peace that the Palestinians can accept. The Palestinians have never rejected a fair peace plan. It’s never been offered. Protestations to the contrary are so many lovingly nurtured myths. As regards all this and the oft repeated “If the Arabs hadn’t attacked Israel in 1967…”, Peace Now has an answer to that that is strictly from a realpolitik Israeli interest point of view:

          Reply to Comment
    6. Average American

      You have to understand that Israel is ruled by Halacha law, which comes from the Talmud. Rabbis in Israel’s government quote it and decide civil matters based on it. The Talmud and the Rabbis say lots of nice things about non-jews. A jew doesn’t have to save a non-jew from a well, if a non-jew owns land then it is owned by no one and a jew can claim it by tilling a little corner of it, a jew doesn’t have to pay wages to a non-jew in a timely manner if ever, if a jew finds something valuable that belongs to a non-jew the jew doesn’t have to return it, jewish blood is different, jewish blood is more valuable, non-jews have to subjigate to jews by following seven laws given by jews if the non-jews don’t want to be destroyed by jews in the Coming Time, and so on. If you understand this, you can understand what’s going on in Israel and what will continue to go on.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Aaron Landis

      Even for those of us inclined to fully incorporate the Palestinian point of view into our understanding of the situation, stories like this are so unrealistic and dogmatic as to alienate moderates. Two kids come with knives to kill soldiers and it is the soldiers who have acted inappropriately?

      Holding Israeli politicians, journalists and the public accountable for questioning the official telling of events and considering where rules of engagement, training or other preparation and response measures need work—that’s legit.

      But summarily concluding that the teens “posed no immediate threat,” using denying language like “allegedly” and interpreting hearsay as solid evidence puts you in the very same camp (on the other side) with those who believe IDF actions are above question.

      The kids came with knives and bad intent. The soldiers, perhaps, could have used non-lethal methods to apprehend the attackers. Some culpability may lie there. But what of the culpability for the attackers themselves, the parents that raised them to be Shahid, the society that glorifies and rewards violence, the politicians that prefer terrorism to co-existence?

      Dogma on either side is not just part of the problem…it is THE problem. And you are part of it.

      Reply to Comment