Last week Israeli soldiers killed Mohammed Khabali, a 22-year-old mentally disabled resident of the Tul Karm refugee camp in the West Bank. They shot him from about 80 meters away while their victim, on the advice of friends, turned around and was about to leave the street in Tul Karm where the soldiers were standing. Khabali didn’t flee. He was walking slowly, as were the three soldiers, one of whom shot him.
Footage released by B’Tselem shows a quiet street when the soldiers opened fire, and calm and slow conduct by Palestinians there. From as far away as he was standing, Khabali could not have endangered them anyway.
This sequence of events, reported on extensively by Gideon Levy and Alex Levac on Tuesday (Haaretz Hebrew edition; to run Friday in the English edition), can only lead to the conclusion that the soldiers shot Khabali, and another young man who was wounded in the leg, without any apparent reason. The impression from the videos and from accounts of the incident is that it amounted to the execution of a helpless young man armed with a broom handle he was carrying under his arm. The soldiers shot him in the back of the neck.
Such an execution cannot be allowed to go without a rapid, firm response from the senior army command. The Israeli army did announce the opening of a military police investigation, as is customary following such a fatal incident, in addition to a probe at the command level, but that’s not enough. Many years of experience show that investigations of this kind are opened right after the incident but then drag on for months and even years without real results.
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In this case, it is inconceivable that the soldiers who shot Khabali and his friend will continue to serve in the army as if nothing happened. It is inconceivable that the army will not rush to convey the message to its soldiers that a grave incident took place on Tuesday of last week at 2:24 A.M. on Jaffa Road in Tul Karm.
The investigation can be short, if the army is interested in seriously investigating what happened. There is considerable video footage from the scene, the identity of the soldiers is known and nothing stands in the way of the inquiry’s completion with a few weeks.
Standard conduct on the part of the army and the military prosecution, with an investigation that drags on endlessly and that is ultimately closed, would convey a wrong and dangerous message to soldiers: that they are allowed to execute Palestinians, even those who are mentally disabled and helpless, even if they are standing at a considerable distance from the soldiers, even when the scene is relatively quiet and even when there is no danger posed to the soldiers.
Only a concerted investigation and the indictment of the soldiers on severe charges will head off similar incidents in the future. An army that purports to be the most moral in the world cannot carry on as normal this time around.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.