When Israel's Police Carry Out Criminal Orders

The killing of Kafr Kana resident Khayr al-Din Hamdan is the direct result of the latest rules of engagement issued by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

Haaretz Editorial
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Police face protesters at Kafr Kana, November 8, 2014.
Police face protesters at Kafr Kana, November 8, 2014.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Haaretz Editorial

The policemen who shot Khayr al-Din Hamdan of Kafr Kana to death on Saturday were acting the way Israel Police officers are expected to act. They shot the “terrorist,” just as Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch had instructed them to do last week.

From left: Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO

The security video of the encounter shows clearly that Hamdan was shot after he had already retreated from the police car whose windows he was striking with a metal object. Nor is there any evidence that police fired warning shots before firing directly at him. The policemen may also have lied during their first debriefing, when they claimed the man tried to stab them and that only when they felt threatened did they respond with shots in the air, and then with direct fire.

But the bottom line is that the police assassins were operating in accordance with the latest rules of engagement issued by Aharonovitch, who last week ruled that “a terrorist who harms civilians deserves death.” In the spirit of the order, the policemen adopted it to apply to a citizen who threatens policemen in the State of Israel. Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino hastened to express support for the policemen who shot Hamdan, saying after the incident that “the command gives its full backing to the men of the Israel Police.”

The Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers has launched its probe of the incident, but it will not be able to ignore the command spirit that paved the way for this killing, which on the face of it seems to have been unnecessary to the extent of being criminal. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett describing the attacker as “a crazed Arab terrorist,” only reinforced this attitude.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t hesitate to put in his two cents, either; he hastened to link the killing of a citizen to a call for rescinding the citizenship of anyone who calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.

This is the inflammatory, extreme, and provocative atmosphere for which the Israeli government is responsible and which guided the policemen in the field. Those policemen knew that it was enough for an Arab to attack them to move immediately to kill him.

This is not the first time the Israel Police were too quick on the trigger with regard to Arab citizens. Since 2000 some 30 Arab citizens have been killed by the police.

The investigation department must, of course, complete its investigation, but it’s doubtful it will be able to stop this sweeping trend of allowing and even encouraging unnecessary killing.

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