Every morning, Ecumenical Accompaniers based in East Jerusalem walk through the walled Old City to check that Muslims have access to worship on the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.
On Sunday November 29, 2015 just before 8.00 am, we were stopped at the entrance to the Old City itself as there had been an alleged stabbing and fatal shooting near Damascus Gate, one of the main gates into the Old City. The Israeli military were preventing people going down Al Wad Street and there was some minor shouting and shoving. Eventually, we saw in the distance a trolley stretcher being loaded up and the man’s body being wheeled away. Someone hosed down the street.
We heard later from a shopkeeper near one of the gates to the Al Aqsa compound that a 38 year-old man from Nablus attempted to stab a member of the border police on Al Wad Street inside the Old City. He added, “They don’t arrest people any more. They just shoot them”.
This morning doing the same walk, a man I often come across told me that there had been a fatal shooting last night in Silwan, a district of East Jerusalem not far from the Old City. Before I could stop him he showed me a photo on his phone of the young man with a gunshot wound in the middle of the chest. The amount of blood may suggest he had not died instantly. My informant didn’t know why the young man had been shot and press reports are unclear. There were clashes in the area including stone throwing and Israeli military sources report petrol bombs being thrown. However, a local organisation with whom we work reported the area in which the young man was shot appears to have been relatively quiet.
The Israeli military have been using live rounds against Palestinian demonstrators for some years. Their marksmen are accurate. Until recently people were shot in the leg; aiming to kill was relatively rare though not unknown. Since the last wave of violence which began in September, shooting to kill has become the norm. Worryingly, this practice appears to have the support of the general Jewish Israeli population. A report releasedthis month by the Israeli Democracy Institute, an Israeli think tank, indicated that 93% of the public believe the Israeli military is handling the situation well. Jewish Israelis may feel safer that anyone thought to be a potential ‘terrorist’ has been shot dead, but without arrest, charge and trial, the truth and therefore the level of real threat cannot be ascertained.
The current situation exacerbates fear but it also feeds mistrust. Whatever the truth of the matter, there is widespread belief amongst Palestinians we meet that many of the reports of knife attacks are untrue. There are videos on social media that show people being shot with no evidence of knives. A man said to me, “If there is any trouble they always say that it is the Palestinian’s fault”. His friend added, “If you do something or if you don’t do something they still kill you”.
Human rights groups and some press question the lack of arrests and trials for alleged attackers. Al Jazeera ran a story on it in October. The same month, nine Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations signed a joint statement published by B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights NGO. It quotes several high profile Israeli police and politicians declaring their support for a shoot to kill policy. The statement calls on them to deal with the causes of the violence instead: “The Israeli government should act to end the reality of ongoing and daily oppression faced by some four million people who live without hope of any change in the situation, without any horizon for the end of occupation, and without prospects for a life of liberty and dignity”.
Shooting to kill is only allowed where a threat to life cannot be prevented in any other way. Israel has a duty to protect its citizens including against a wave of knife crime. However, many of the videos show that whether or not the attacker had a knife, the attackers could have been disabled and arrested rather than killed.
Palestine Briefing, a parliamentary newsletter and briefing service which members of the public can subscribe to, has summarised the UK government’s latest response to the continuing violence, including the killing of Palestinian suspects. You can read their summary here.
Please write to your MP (in the UK) or TD (in Ireland) asking them to read the joint statement published by B’Tselem and raise the issue with the UK and Irish governments.