Israel Closes Probe of Officers Who Shot Palestinian Assailant in Jerusalem Attack

Israel's Justice Ministry accepts the officers’ assertion that they acted in self-defense and decides to close the case against them

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Border Police in Jerusalem amid rising violence in the city
Border Police in Jerusalem amid rising violence in the cityCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israel’s Justice Ministry said on Thursday that it was closing an investigation into two Border Police officers who shot dead a Palestinian assailant last Saturday as he lay on the ground.

Furthermore, the ministry accepted the officers’ assertion that they acted in self-defense.

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The Palestinian attacker, 23-year-old Mohammed Shawkat Salameh of the West Bank town of Salfit, stabbed and wounded an ultra-Orthodox Jew outside Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate.

He then tried to stab the officers before being shot and falling to the ground. Video footage showed a Border Police officer shooting the attacker when he was already lying on the ground.

The shooting prompted calls for an investigation and drew comparisons to a 2016 incident in which an Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground in the West Bank. The Justice Ministry said it made its decision to close the case following the questioning of the two officers, who said they acted in self-defense.

“It was an incident that took place over mere seconds, in circumstances in which there was a real and concrete threat to the lives of the fighters and the civilians in the area,” it said in a statement. “It was found to be legally justified to use a weapon.”

Border police at the site of the attack in Jerusalem last weekCredit: Emil Salman

The stabbing victim, a 20-year-old who was wounded in the neck, was admitted to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem conscious and in moderate condition.

For his part, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said he would present the officers certificates of commendation for their handling of the incident.

The incident came amid an uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. On Wednesday, an Israeli woman was stabbed and lightly wounded in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The suspect, a female Palestinian teen, fled the scene and was later arrested inside a nearby school, police said.

Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups say Israeli security forces sometimes use excessive force in response to attacks, killing suspected assailants who could have been arrested or who posed no immediate threat to security forces.

The groups also say Israel rarely holds members of its security forces accountable for the deadly shootings of Palestinians. Investigations often end with no charges or lenient sentences, and in many cases, witnesses are not summoned for questioning.

Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses.

In the widely publicized 2016 case, Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground. Azaria later served two-thirds of a 14-month sentence after being convicted of reckless manslaughter.

His case sharply divided Israelis. The military pushed for his prosecution, saying he violated its code of ethics, while many Israelis, particularly on the nationalist right, defended his actions.

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