Spare Us the Illusion of Israel Investigating Its Own Deadly Violence

חנין מג׳אדלי - צרובה
Hanin Majadli
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Security personnel standing next to the body of Mohammed Salameh, in Jerusalem.
Security personnel standing next to the body of Mohammed Salameh, in Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman
חנין מג׳אדלי - צרובה
Hanin Majadli

Damascus Gate, two weeks ago. Mohammed Salameh, 23, from the West Bank town of Salfit, carried out a stabbing attack and was shot to death by two members of the Border Police. Just another day at Damascus Gate.

More routine than the stabbing incident was the way things unfolded subsequently: the routine support and salute to the combatants in the name of the nation; right-wing journalists immediately clashing online with their left-wing counterparts; a tiny segment of the public calling for an investigation; the investigation finding the shooters worthy of a citation; the police brass commending the fast, determined reaction; on their heels are politicians from across the Zionist spectrum. End of story.

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I don’t wish to criticize people who believe there is no need to investigate all the soldiers and policemen who shoot and kill Palestinians. I really don’t. I’m more irked by that tiny “moral” group demanding an investigation by the Justice Ministry unit that investigates the police.

Guys, enough already! It’s time to desist from calling on this unit or the Military Police’s equivalent unit to investigate cops and soldiers who shoot an assailant who’s lying on the ground badly wounded. One should understand that such demands give validity to these investigations and the agencies behind them, when in fact they are but a mechanism for whitewashing, intended to create the illusion that Israel investigates itself.

The week after, for example, a week in which Yamina lawmaker Abir Kara called the Justice Ministry unit the “police’s B’Tselem,” the real B’Tselem human rights organization published a report demonstrating that Israel wasn’t interested in or willing to investigate the clashes around the Gaza Strip border fence (called by Gazans “The Great March of Return”), in which 223 Gazans were killed. Only one inquiry connected with these demonstrations, into the killing of 14-year-old Othman Hillas, ended with an indictment of a soldier. The soldier was convicted of a minor disciplinary infraction after reaching a plea bargain, and was sentenced to one month of (the army’s equivalent of) community service.

The situation is similar in the West Bank. Data published by B’Tselem about the investigations into the killings of 115 Palestinians between 2014 and 2019 shows that in more than half the cases (69), the files were closed. In a quarter of the cases, there will be no investigation. Only in one case were charges filed, against a soldier who killed 13-year-old Ahmed Mansara. This case also ended up in a plea bargain, with the soldier sentenced to three months’ community service.

The real problem with law enforcement by Israel’s military and police when it comes to killing Palestinians is not the timing of an investigation; the problem is who gets questioned about what. The army, investigating itself so professionally and transparently, has always focused on the troops on the ground, not on policymakers and policy shapers. The army does not and cannot deal with those writing the orders or giving them. It’s no coincidence that the military deals only with the people carrying them out, and even then in a manner meant to dispose of the matter quietly and move on to the next shooting.

Such a method allows Israel to be portrayed as a state with internal enforcement mechanisms, without the people in charge being held to account. In such a reality, the only way Israel will have to account for its violation of human rights in the territories is through an international investigation.

This charade, with its internal investigations and the awarding of medals to brave soldiers, can be dispensed with.

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