Middle East Eye / February 24, 2021
New investigation also denounces the lack of medical treatment given to the Palestinian man and the degrading treatment of his body.
The killing of Palestinian Ahmad Erekat at an Israeli checkpoint on his sister’s wedding day last year was an “extrajudicial execution”, a human rights research group has said.
Erekat’s killing sparked widespread outcry in June when a video of the incident showed him exiting his vehicle in the occupied West Bank and backing away from soldiers, with his hands up, when he was shot.
A new investigation by London-based rights group Forensic Architecture (FA) has found that Erekat, 26, was shot six times – three while on the floor – then denied medical attention while still moving despite posing no threat to the heavily armed Israeli soldiers.
Erekat had crashed his car into a booth at a military checkpoint before being shot.
“Our analysis raises major questions about Ahmad’s killing that raise doubts in the Israeli army’s claims and call for further investigation,” wrote the group, which, working with Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq, also detailed the degrading treatment of Erekat’s dead body.
Erekat was shot and killed on 23 June 2020 at the “Container” checkpoint between Bethlehem and the Erekats’ family home in the town of Abu Dis, outside of occupied East Jerusalem, while on the way to pick up his mother and sister on her wedding day.
Israel, which claimed Erekat had tried to ram Israeli officers with his car, has not opened a formal investigation into the killing, nor has it released all the security footage of the incident.
The FA investigation found that Erekat’s car did not speed up as it hit the booth, and may even have been braking.
One female soldier was reportedly lightly injured after the crash and evacuated to a hospital in Jerusalem.
Erekat’s family told Middle East Eye last year that he never would have committed an attack, let alone on his sister’s wedding day.
“He was pressed for time to pick up his sisters, the flowers, and all these other things from Bethlehem,” Emad Erekat, Ahmad’s cousin, told MEE, adding that Ahmad was driving a Palestinian-plated hire car, which he specifically rented to run errands on the day of the wedding.
A video that circulated on social media soon after the shooting, purportedly taken by an eyewitness to the incident, showed a wounded Erekat lying on the ground, curled into a foetal position but still moving, with a trail of blood flowing from his body.
Israeli border police told The Times of Israel that Erekat received medical attention “within minutes”, but FA found that his body was not moved for around 45 minutes after the shooting, and was then covered with a tarpaulin.
An Israeli ambulance arrived no more than 10 minutes after the shots were fired, but left half an hour later carrying only the wounded Israeli soldier, according to FA.
A Palestinian ambulance that arrived around 20 minutes after the incident was denied access to the scene.
An hour and a half after the shooting, Erekat appears completely naked on the ground, in footage obtained by FA, who described the treatment of his body as “degrading”.
Local and international activists have decried Erekat’s killing as another example of Israel’s “shoot-to-kill” policy, which rights groups have slammed as “state-sanctioned executions”.
Since 2015, amid a wave of stabbings and alleged attacks carried out by Palestinians against Israeli forces, the killing of Palestinians at checkpoints has become increasingly commonplace – even if suspects do not pose an immediate threat to the soldiers.
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has documented dozens of cases over the past few years in which it describes the conduct of Israeli soldiers as a “grave and alarming picture of excessive and unwarranted use of lethal gunfire, which in some cases was tantamount to the summary execution of assailants or suspected assailants”.
The policy has consistently been backed by Israeli politicians, many of whom advocate for the extrajudicial execution of Palestinians deemed as threats by security forces across the occupied territories.
After the shooting, hundreds of family and friends gathered around the Erekats’ home in Abu Dis to mourn the death of Ahmad, who, according to his family, was set to marry his fiancée the following month.
Eight months on from his fatal shooting, Israeli authorities still have not released the autopsy detailing what happened.
Nor have they returned Erekat’s body to his family.
The young business-owner is one of 70 Palestinians whose bodies are being held by Israel, a practice FA calls “collective punishment of Palestinian families”.
Israel has had a policy of withholding the bodies of Palestinians killed by its military since 1967. It is estimated that since then at least 253 bodies have been held in Israel’s “cemetery of numbers” – never returned to their families for a proper burial.
The practice, which has been widely condemned by human rights groups as a violation of international law, was restarted in 2015, as Israel began detaining the bodies of dozens of Palestinians accused of attacks and putting them in freezers.
While the policy was initially focused on targeting politicians affiliated with Hamas, Israel began applying it to slain Palestinians of any – or no – political affiliation, under the pretext that the policy served as a “deterrent” against future attacks.
“This is an egregious policy that Israel frames as a matter of national security,” Noura Erekat, a US-based human rights lawyer, who is also Ahmad’s cousin, told MEE last year.
“They say they want to withhold these bodies for prisoner exchanges, but the people being held are not prisoners of war. These are civilians.”
In 2019, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the policy, stating that emergency regulations allowed the Israeli military to order the temporary burial of the bodies of Palestinians classified as enemies “based on considerations that take into account state security, civil order and the need to negotiate for the return of the bodies of Israeli soldiers”.
Al-Haq slammed the ruling at the time, saying it “amounts to a discriminatory practice of enforced disappearance, cruel and inhumane treatment of grieving bereaved families and to an act of collective punishment against Palestinians”.
“Just imagine any tragic death; it’s an unexpected moment of horror, outside of your control or prediction,” Noura Erekat said.
“And after that tragic death, you see the live filming of his execution, then him bleeding out to death. Imagine in the aftermath of all that, not being able to have any closure.”
Najah, Ahmad’s mother, has urged the international community to “step in and put pressure on Israel”.
“I’m tired”, she told MEE last year. “The days are hard, very hard. All I want is for him to come back to me. He’s up in heaven now, but I want him here.”