Israeli police questioned after Palestinian attacker shot dead

A video appeared to show an officer shooting the man when he was already lying on the ground

Israeli police at the scene where the incident took place near Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. Photo: EPA
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Two police officers have been questioned following the shooting of a Palestinian who had stabbed an Israeli man in East Jerusalem, Israel’s Justice Ministry said on Sunday.

Israeli police released Saturday's surveillance video in which the attacker can be seen stabbing the ultra-Orthodox Jewish man and then trying to wound a Border Police officer before being shot and falling to the ground.

Police identified the attacker as a 25-year-old from Salfit, in the occupied West Bank. Officers could later be seen carrying his body away on a stretcher.

A widely circulated video from a bystander appeared to show an officer from Israel’s paramilitary Border Police shooting the attacker when he was already lying on the ground.

Another video appeared to show police with guns drawn preventing medics from reaching him, prompting calls for an investigation into a possible excessive use of force.

Comparisons have been drawn to a 2016 incident in which an Israeli soldier was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground.

The Justice Ministry’s police investigations unit said the officers were questioned shortly after the incident and released without conditions.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made clear his support for the officers' actions at a Cabinet meeting on Sunday.

“The officers acted outstandingly, exactly as is required from fighters in an operational situation like this,” he said.

“They deserve all of our support and appreciation for preventing murder and acting with operational quick-wittedness within fractions of a second.”

The incident took place near Damascus Gate, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City – a tense and crowded area that is often the scene of demonstrations and clashes.

The Old City is in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War along with the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally and considers the entire city to be its capital. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.

There have been dozens of attacks in recent years in and around the Old City, nearly all carried out by individual Palestinians with no known links to armed groups.

Palestinians and Israeli rights groups say the security forces sometimes use excessive force in response to attacks, killing suspected assailants who could have been arrested or who posed no immediate threat.

Rights groups also say Israel rarely holds members of its security forces accountable for the deadly shootings of Palestinians. Investigations often end with no charges or lenient sentences, and in many cases witnesses are not summoned for questioning.

Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses.

In the widely publicised 2016 case, Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground. Azaria later served two thirds of a 14-month sentence after being convicted of reckless manslaughter.

His case sharply divided Israelis. The military pushed for his prosecution, saying he broke its code of ethics, while many Israelis, particularly on the nationalist right, defended his actions.

In a more recent case, a Border Police officer was charged with reckless manslaughter in the deadly shooting of an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City last year.

The indictment came just over a year after the shooting of Eyad Hallaq, whose family has criticised Israel’s investigation into the killing and called for much tougher charges. The shooting has drawn comparisons to the police killing of George Floyd in the US.

Updated: December 05, 2021, 4:11 PM