Abd al-Rahman al-Qassem lay wounded at the bottom of the steps next to the Cotton Merchants’ Gate, one of the entrances to the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. A few seconds earlier he had stabbed two police officers with a modest-looking knife. One officer was lightly wounded, the other’s injuries were more serious. The assailant knifed the two in a fit of rage as he descended the steps next to the gate. Shot immediately and incapacitated by the police officers, he lay on the ground, not moving.

At that point one of the officers at the scene, apparently the one who was lightly wounded, approached Qassem, bellowing, cursing and uttering threats, aimed his pistol, and shot the prostrate man in the stomach at point-blank range. The Palestinian’s arms and legs started to twitch. The officer went on ranting and threatening to shoot him in the head, too, and brandished his gun in that direction. “Ya ben zona (you son of a bitch)!” – the officer kept shouting.

Only when more officers arrived on the scene did the hysterical man – there is no other way to describe him – calm down. But Qassem died shortly afterward from loss of blood, not having received medical aid over a period of 20 minutes, according to the family.

The Israel Police disseminated a video clip that clearly shows Qassem’s assault on the two officers, but what happened afterward is blurred and was shot at a distance. Video footage captured by an eyewitness documents the problematic developments after Qassem lay on the ground, wounded. This footage raises the possibilities of a “confirmation of a kill,” or of a revenge killing by the wounded officer and/or of the latter’s total loss of control.

On the face of it, there is no difference between what the police officer did on March 7, 2022, in the Old City, and the act of the so-called Hebron shooter Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot a prostrate Palestinian in that West Bank city in 2016: Both of them shot to death a wounded terrorist. But in contrast to the Azaria episode, this time no one was upset by the unnecessary killing. Only the dead man’s family, who still haven’t received their loved one’s body, have continued to pursue the matter and have taken their case to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

Qassem, who was killed on his 22nd birthday, grew up in the Jalazun refugee camp, north of Ramallah. Ten years ago, the family, which has five other children in addition to him, extricated itself from the camp and moved to a fine stone house in the neighboring village of Jifna. Qassem worked in a butcher shop that he and some friends opened in El Bireh, the adjacent town, and lived in Jifna with his parents, both of whom are teachers in schools run by UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency, in Jalazun.

His parents decided to avoid media publicity after the incident last month for fear they would have problems at work. So it was the dead man’s uncle, Abd al-Hakim Ghanem, the owner of the Al Wattan driving school, who agreed to be interviewed. He greeted us this week in his ornate office, full of antiquities and a caged parrot, high up in a large office building in Ramallah, near its bustling Manara Square.

Qassem had never been arrested, other than for a few hours for stone throwing as a boy, and he was not a political person, his uncle says. He didn’t belong to any organization and wasn’t especially religious. However, his uncle recalls a seminal event that occurred in Qassem’s life, one that he never got over: His closest childhood friend, Laith Khaladi, was killed by the Israel Defense Forces seven years ago adjacent to the town of Bir Zeit, near Ramallah. Khaladi, who was 15 at the time, was overwrought in the wake of the murderous arson attack on the Dawabsheh family in the village of Duma in July 2015, which killed 18-month-old Ali and his parents.

About two weeks later, Khaladi went to an IDF checkpoint in Atarot, north of Jerusalem, and threw a Molotov cocktail at a fortified guard tower, without causing any injuries to anyone. But a soldier in the tower shot him to death. Following that incident, we visited Jalazun with Iyad Hadad, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, who wrote up a report on the case (Haaretz, August 7, 2015).

Khaladi and Qassem grew up together in Jalazun, and the two families moved to Jifna together. Qassem never went back to the way he was before Khaladi’s death. He wore T-shirts with his friend’s photograph emblazoned on them, and he wrote about him a great deal on Facebook. Occasionally he said he would like to “join Laith.”

On that fateful Monday morning, Qassem didn’t get up for work as usual. It was his birthday, after all. When his mother returned from school at 1 P.M., she saw he was about to leave the house. She had made him a birthday cake, but he said he was going to the butcher shop. Instead, he stole into Jerusalem. A Shin Bet security service agent told his father after Qassem’s death that a forged Israeli ID card had been found in his possession. Once in the Old City he apparently went to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, and after departing through the gate leading out of the compound he stabbed the two officers, at 4:48 P.M.; one was a regular police officer and the other was in the Border Police.

According to the uncle, Ghanem, the teen’s father said he had been trying to call his son on his phone about then, but got no response. Shortly afterward, a Shin Bet security service agent called the father and asked him why he had been looking for his son. The father became worried: Why was the Shin Bet interested in his son’s phone? He replied that the family had prepared a birthday celebration for Qassem but he hadn’t shown up. The agent told the father, “Don’t look for him, we have him.” In short order the family learned from the media and social networks that Abd al-Rahman had been killed.

The Shin Bet agent called the father again and ordered him to proceed to the Qalandiyah checkpoint near Jerusalem to identify the body of his son, who was carrying a false ID card. The father gazed at his son’s body, which he saw had been riddled by five bullets. The post-mortem, performed a few days later at the family’s request and including the participation of Dr. Ashraf al-Qadi of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, stated that Abd al-Rahman apparently died from loss of blood in the wake of injuries to his liver and a kidney. Qadi told the family that if the young man had received medical attention in time, it might have been possible to save him. The family is convinced that the most serious wound was caused by the shot that was fired once Qassem lay on the ground, already suffering from arm and leg wounds.

Attorney Medhat Deeba of Shoafat, a neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem, was appointed to represent the Qassems. The family has two demands: to receive their son’s body for burial and to place on trial the officer who shot him as he lay wounded and incapacitated on the ground. As for the return of the body, Capt. Tomer Herzig, from the office of the legal adviser to the Civil Administration in the West Bank, replied on March 16 to attorney Deeba’s letter: “Your request has been referred for clarification to the relevant authorities.” The letter was sent within the framework of a preliminary procedure before submission of claims to the High Court of Justice, initiated by attorney Deeba.

The lawyer also submitted a request to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to investigate the cause of Qassem’s death, and wrote: “In the clip posted in the social networks by the Israel Police, it is prima facie clear that the young man was ‘neutralized’ immediately by the security forces after his body was hit by a number of shots. However, while the young man was still alive, and even though he was completely incapacitated, a ‘confirmation of the kill’ procedure was carried out on him (while he shouted because of his wounds and waved his hands for help), and he was not administered medical treatment, in total contravention of all law.”

Deeba told Haaretz that he submitted the request for an inquiry into Qassem’s death after discovering that the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police officers had not launched an investigation.

The deliberations took place before Judge Adi Bartal in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, and they are still ongoing. The police immediately requested closed-door sessions and for a gag order to be issued regarding the court’s deliberations “in order to protect the police officer.” The court of course acceded to those requests and issued the orders. Another hearing was scheduled for this week, also in camera.

The Israel Police this week stated in response to a query from Haaretz about Abd al-Rahman al-Qassem’s death: “We regret that the newspaper is choosing to try to distort reality in regard to the performance of heroic police officers who acted with professionalism to neutralize a bloodthirsty terrorist who tried to murder them. That evening, after the terrorist charged with a knife at the police force posted at the Cotton Merchants’ Gate, the officers shot at him with intense and accurate fire in order to incapacitate him. In the wake of the terrorist attack, two police officers who were at the site sustained moderate wounds and were taken to the hospital for medical treatment.

“The terrorist, a Palestinian in his 20s from Judea-Samaria, was subsequently pronounced dead. The performance of the police officers at the scene of the terrorist attack within seconds of the stabbing is worthy of all praise, esteem and commendation, and theirs is an exemplary model of a rapid response in the face of a terrorist who perpetrates an attack.”

Abd al-Rahman’s uncle, Ghanem: “He did it himself. No one told him: Go and kill. What we say is: The Palestinian people is allowed to do this. You [Israelis] took our land. It is possible to live together, but you don’t want that. You gave us a Palestinian Authority, and your jeeps are in Manara Square every night.”

What would you have said to your nephew, Abd al-Rahman, if he’d asked for your advice before setting out, we ask him.

“That’s a difficult question. No. What he did is not a solution. The police officer was only doing his job – but why kill him? Our problem is with the government of Israel and not with the people of Israel.”