Sunday 26 May 2024 - 21:09

Israelis Killing Palestinians 'in Cold Blood' in Occupied West Bank

Story Code : 1137773
Israelis Killing Palestinians
On October 19, Sarah Mahamid watched from a window as Israeli security forces shot her younger brother, Taha, in the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarem.

The 15-year-old had been playing with a friend outside their house when he was shot.

Sarah, 19, screamed as her brother fell to the ground.

Their father, Ibrahim, ran out to help his son but was also shot by a sniper.

"I remember hearing my father shout that Taha might be alive, … but I knew that Taha was martyred. I knew he was dead," Sarah told Al Jazeera.

Taha was killed instantly, and Ibrahim died after five months in intensive care.

Footage reviewed by Al Jazeera shows Taha and Ibrahim were unarmed and posed no threat.

"My other brother ran after my father to stop him. He saw that Taha was dead and saw my father get shot.

"It seemed like steam or smoke was rising from my father's body as the bullets hit him."

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), nearly 1,500 Palestinians have been unlawfully killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank over the past 16 years, 98 percent of them civilians.

The number of killings has spiked in recent years, with 509 Palestinians killed in 2023, more than double the number recorded by OCHA in any previous year.

In the first three months of this year, 131 Palestinians were killed, a higher rate than the previous year, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Israel has a decades-long pattern of using lethal force against Palestinians, … but it seems that the Israeli government is taking even further steps in that regard," said Omar Shakir, the Israel-Palestine director at HRW.

Israel claims its operations in the West Bank are necessary for security reasons, citing similar justifications for its assault on the Gaza Strip, which has killed 35,000 Palestinians following the October 7 attack by Palestinian resistance groups.

The killings in the West Bank often occur during home raids or at Israeli checkpoints.

Some Palestinian children have been killed on their way to school, according to HRW.

"(The Israelis) are firing at people who don’t pose an imminent threat to life. They are also firing at people who are fleeing and at people who are injured and lying on the ground. Some of these trends have existed before, but it appears these incidents are happening more frequently," Shakir told Al Jazeera.

Israeli officials have supported a shoot-to-kill policy for years, even against Palestinians who do not pose a threat.

Israel has authorized its army to shoot at stone throwers and has distributed assault rifles to Israelis living in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

Settlers killed 17-year-old Omar Abdel Ghani Hamid when they attacked his village on April 13.

Omar's father, Ahmed, said his son and friends tried to stop the settlers from attacking Palestinians and their homes.

Though unarmed, Omar was shot by a settler who returned with a pistol.

"The bullet went through the right side of his head and out the left. He died immediately. Thank God he didn’t suffer much pain," Ahmed said.

Ahmed learned about Omar's death through a WhatsApp group used by villagers to alert each other of settler attacks.

Later that morning, Omar was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Ahmed seeks justice, but Israeli settlers are rarely held accountable by Israeli authorities.

From 2017 to 2021, less than 1 percent of all legal complaints filed by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers, including for extrajudicial killings, led to prosecutions, according to human rights group Yesh Din.

Only three Israeli soldiers were convicted of killing Palestinians and received lenient sentences, with some ordered to complete "military community service."

"There is a culture where Israeli units know that they can carry out grave abuses without being held accountable for their abuses," Shakir from HRW said.

Army raids and extrajudicial killings aim to keep Palestinians in the West Bank "afraid," said Zaid Shuabi, an analyst with the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq.

This has led to the formation of new armed groups, often by young people frustrated with the occupation.

Israel's response has been to target entire communities to demoralize Palestinians, Shuabi said.

"They want to reshape the Palestinian mind into thinking that we shouldn’t even dare to resist. And if we do, then we will pay a high price," he told Al Jazeera.

"This is about intimidating us. They want to put us down … and to colonize our minds."

Sarah believes the attack on her family was intended to instill fear.

She said that while her father and brother bled to death, Israeli soldiers entered their house, cutting off water and electricity.

One soldier beat Sarah's other brother with the butt of his rifle, telling him to stay silent.

Before leaving, Sarah asked why they terrorized her family.

"He said, 'To scare you,'" Sarah told Al Jazeera. "I couldn't believe it. I wondered what was wrong with them.

"They killed my brother and my father just to scare me."