The incident Monday in which Jordanian Judge Raed Zueter was shot dead by Israel Defense Forces soldiers on the Allenby Bridge is not all that exceptional when compared to other incidents in the territories that ended in a death, except for one fact: the Palestinian killed happened to also be a Jordanian citizen. As in other such cases, what happened Monday was a combination of complex operational circumstances (soldiers patrolling among civilians) and the use of military force, which is sometime reckless and excessive.
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But the sharp official Jordanian protest, coupled with the political storm that erupted in the kingdom, spurred the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem to act quite differently than usual. Not much more than 24 hours after the incident, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a formal expression of sorrow, sent condolences to the Jordanian people and government, submitted a report from the initial investigation to the Jordanians and even announced the establishment of a binational team to look into the incident. Israel has not taken such steps following the killing of any unarmed Palestinian in recent years.
As of this writing, the IDF could not say who would be on this investigative team. Jordan Valley Division Commander Maj. Gen. Yaron Beit-On met with his Jordanian counterpart and updated him on the military investigation, while the defense minister’s office sent a similar update to the Jordanian Embassy in Tel Aviv. But the results of the preliminary investigation don’t point to any remarkable conclusions regarding the soldiers’ behavior.
According to the investigation, Zueter reached the first gate of the crossing, the Japanese bridge (built by the Japanese government during the Oslo period), riding on a bus carrying Palestinians seeking to cross from Jordan into the West Bank. It turns out that Zueter had a reason to be out of sorts; only a few days earlier his five-year-old son had nearly choked to death after swallowing something and he was hospitalized in critical condition in a Jordanian hospital. Zueter has relatives in Nablus, but according to the Jordanian press, his family in Amman didn’t know he was planning to cross the bridge.
The security cameras on the bridge were not operative at the time and thus did not record the incident.
The bus passengers disembarked for a preliminary security check by two soldiers from the Engineering Corps and a security guard. It isn’t clear whether the judge and the soldiers got into an argument, but according to the army, Zueter tried to jump one of the soldiers and attacked him with a long iron rod that the soldiers use to make sure no explosive devices have been hidden under the bus. At that point one of the soldiers shot at Zueter’s feet at close range. The other soldier also opened fire, hitting Zueter in the legs, and as the altercation continued Zueter was apparently also hit in the upper body.
A total of eight bullet casings were found at the site, and five bullets had hit the judge. According to the IDF, both the driver and some of the passengers testified to officers that it was Zueter who attacked the soldiers first, and that his assault was not preceded by any violence by the soldiers against him.
Over the past two days four other Palestinians were killed in the territories, in incidents that didn’t spark the same kind of attention. A Palestinian was killed by IDF fire near the settlement of Beit El. According to the IDF, he was shot while throwing stones at Israeli cars. The young man was hit from a distance by live fire. Open-fire regulations in such cases permit shooting at the legs, but the victim had been shot in the head.
Three Islamic Jihad members were killed in an air force strike in the southern Gaza Strip. They were killed after they’d fired mortar shells at IDF forces that had entered the Strip to conduct an engineering operation west of the border fence at the Sufa crossing.
The understandings between the army and Hamas reached after Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 allow the IDF to operate in a narrow strip west of the fence. Hamas is careful to observe the understandings, but Islamic Jihad challenges them from time to time, as they did Tuesday after a long break. It still isn’t known if the spate of militancy is related to the ship carrying Iranian weapons that was intercepted in the Red Sea, blocking a delivery of long-range rockets that the terror group was expecting to receive.
It remains to be seen whether the Islamic Jihad will retaliate for the killing of its operatives by firing rockets at Israel; there has been relatively little rocket fire in recent weeks. Hamas, however, was not involved in yesterday’s incident and it seems that under Egyptian pressure it is, for the most part, continuing to observe the cease-fire with Israel.