Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's or Commission Finds Evidence of "Shoot-to-Kill" Policy against Palestinian Citizens of Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's or Commission Finds Evidence of "Shoot-to-Kill" Policy against Palestinian Citizens of Israel

Article excerpt

Israel's Or Commission Finds Evidence of "Shoot-to-Kill" Policy Against Palestinian Citizens of Israel

By Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook is a journalist with the Observer newspaper in London who recently returned from Nazareth.

Dominating the front pages of Israeli newspapers this past spring has been evidence that, as the second intifada heated up in early October 2000, Israeli police snipers carried out execution-style killings of 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel. The evidence has emerged in hearings before a judicial inquiry, the Or Commission sitting at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, which has been examining the deaths, as well as severe injuries to hundreds more demonstrators. The testimony of police witnesses shows that the force lied for many months about the fact that it used live ammunition against Arab demonstrators in the country's north. Individual officers also have admitted that they were ordered to use entirely different tactics when dealing with Israeli Jews who staged similar violent protests.

Most controversially, the Or Commission has heard that the northern police commander Alik Ron, whose outspoken views on the Arab minority are often described as racist, personally directed the shooting. One of Ron's senior officers has told the inquiry that it was the first time he had ever known of a policeman being told to open fire on Israeli citizens. Critics now accuse Ron of implementing a shoot-to-kill policy.

Evidence not yet presented to the inquiry is equally damning. Ballistics experts have confirmed that the police used high-velocity rifles firing small-caliber bullets that can inflict wounds particularly difficult to treat. A riot control expert who conducted an Amnesty International investigation has also concluded that, even though the Arabs were not armed, the police treated them as though they were a military foe, using tactics and weaponry more suited to putting down an armed insurrection. Indeed, the cover of a hospital report on 17-year-old Asil Asleh's death is stamped with the words "Enemy Operation."

Each year on March 30--in a ritual of confrontation with the authorities known as Land Day--Israel's Palestinians go on strike, often burning tires and throwing stones in demonstrations protesting five decades of discrimination and the confiscation of their lands by the Jewish state. But last October's protests--which were demonstrations both of solidarity with the intifada and against discrimination within Israel--were marked by a much harsher police response than usual. In Arrabe an unmarked convoy of policemen abandoned their position several hundred yards away, out of range of the stone-throwers, to drive directly at the demonstration. Asil Asleh, one of the slowest to react, ran for cover into an olive grove but stumbled and fell. Witnesses say that, as he lay face down on the ground, a policeman stood over him and shot at close range. Doctors later found a bullet wound in the back of his neck.

In the aftermath of the Galilee clashes, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his interior minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, praised the police. They claimed that Arab rioters were on the point of storming Jewish residential areas and that the death toll would have been much higher had the police not shown restraint. The official verdict was accepted by almost every Jew in Israel. Commentators in the media routinely denounced Israel's one million Palestinian citizens as a "fifth column," finally unmasked as collaborators with the enemy.

Then Barak, worried by the Palestinian citizens' threat to boycott the Feb. 6 elections en masse, promised to establish an inquiry to rake over the ashes of October's events. Ironically, the inquiry under Justice Theodor Or began its hearings just days after Barak's defeat at the polls.

Testimony of police officers called to the town of Umm al-Fahm, where three protesters were killed, has exposed glaring failures of normal police procedures. …

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