Israel's Government, Army and Police Must Calm Down This Wild West Atmosphere

The fear of terror attacks is difficult enough for civilians to cope with; it must not be exacerbated by the horror of unrestrained shooting.

Emil Salman

The hysteria created by the stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks is developing into a real security threat, one that is even more dangerous than the terror attacks themselves. The “accidental” killing of a civilian in Jerusalem late Wednesday night by soldiers, who claimed he tried to snatch one of their guns, and the shooting, last Sunday in Be’er Sheva bus station, of an Eritrean who was also badly beaten and had chairs smashed over his head after he already lay motionless, are early signs of the new threat.

The low-sensitivity threshold of civilians, soldiers and policemen is understood. People are afraid to walk in the streets, while glancing suspiciously sideways and backward have become daily behavioral traits. It is reminiscent of the days when people were afraid to board buses during the second intifada. It’s no wonder, then, that senior Israel Defense Forces and police officers’ calls on civilians to “be vigilant,” and politicians’ calls to get armed, are now interpreted as a licence to shoot anyone whose behavior seems unusual.

The distinction between someone who poses a life-endangering threat and someone who doesn’t is becoming blurred. This distorted and dangerous approach allows for the killing of people not only in self-defense but as punishment for an attempted attack. This practice, which was treated leniently when it was applied toward Palestinians from the West Bank, is now creeping into Israeli territory – and not just in East Jerusalem.

In this Wild West atmosphere, in which each civilian is responsible for his own personal safety, one can expect civilians to organize in groups, set up neighborhood militias and act violently at their own discretion. They will enjoy the understanding and even the support of politicians and security officials, who can’t or won’t provide an alternative solution that could calm the violent Palestinian uprising.

The government, army and police must put an immediate end to this trigger-happy phenomenon. Soldiers and civilians who open fire without justification must be brought to trial and the rules of engagement must be clarified, to ensure they are interpreted in a restrictive way. The criteria for buying and carrying weapons must not be loosened or taken lightly, and the authorities must emphasize that it is forbidden to kill terrorists if they are no longer a threat. The fear of terror attacks is difficult enough for civilians to cope with; it must not be exacerbated by the horror of unrestrained shooting.