Middle East Eye / August 17, 2021
Scores of unarmed Palestinians, including children, have been murdered since the end of Israel’s May assault. Yet this is now so normal, the Israeli media and army barely mention it.
Superficially, things are relatively quiet these days in the Israeli-occupied territories. There are no Israeli casualties, almost no attacks in the West Bank and certainly not inside Israel. Gaza has been quiet since the end of Israel’s latest offensive there, Operation Guardian of the Walls.
In the West Bank, the despair-inducing routine of daily life grinds on during this so-called period of quiet – which is precisely the irony crying out for our notice in this terrifying statistic: since May, more than 40 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank.
In a single week at the end of July, the Israeli military killed four Palestinians – one of them a child of 12. Two of the 40 were from one village, Beita, which lately has lost six of its residents; five were unarmed protesters, and one was a plumber reportedly summoned to fix a faucet somewhere. None of the four killed in late July posed any threat to the lives of any Israeli soldier or settler.
Using live ammunition against any of these people was prohibited, never mind aiming to kill, as did the Israeli soldiers who shot them. Four human beings or, if you prefer, 40 human beings, with families whose world was shattered, people with plans and dreams and loves, all suddenly ended by some young Israeli soldier so casually and so brutally.
In case all that is not enough, note this: the Israeli media hardly covered these killings. Neither of Israel’s two leading newspapers mentioned the killing of the 12-year-old boy in Beit Omar, between Bethlehem and Hebron, nor did either of the two most important commercial televisions stations bother to report it.
Put another way, the killing of a boy of 12, Mohammed al-Alami, who had been shopping with his father and sister when Israeli soldiers levelled a stream of bullets into the family’s car, killing the boy, who like his father had done nothing wrong – this was evidently deemed by some Israeli media a story of no importance and no interest.
Indifference to murder
There is no other way to explain this widespread inattention to an act of murder. Consider also that all those other murders since May were barely reported, never mind investigated, and you get a picture of Israel’s repression and denial of the occupation via the media’s version of “iron dome”, courtesy of the free press, in all its wretchedness.
Protected by a silenced media, Israelis were spared this ugly picture of their army and its brutal modus operandi. Protected by that silence, denial and repression, even Israeli politicians and generals were not made to explain or even address the fact that rarely a week goes by in the occupied territories without Palestinian casualties, even during this relatively quiet period.
Thus until a few days ago, no army commander had issued any criticism of the behaviour of these soldiers, let alone any mention of bringing charges or opening a serious investigation. Only after a series of articles and editorials in Haaretz did commander-in-chief Lieutenant-General Aviv Kochavi, viewed as a figure with moral standards, communicate a “request to lower the temperature”. Not an order; a request. No charges and no investigation, just a vague declaration of good intentions for the future.
Behind all this is contempt for Palestinian lives. Nothing is valued less in Israel than the life of a Palestinian. Draw a straight line from the construction workers falling like flies to their death at building sites in Israel with nobody to care, to the unarmed protesters in the occupied territories fatally shot by soldiers while nobody bats an eye.
One common factor unites them all: the conviction in Israel that Palestinian lives are cheap. If the soldiers were to shoot stray animals as casually as they shoot Palestinians, there would be public howls of outrage and the soldiers would be tried and severely punished. But they’re only killing Palestinians, so what’s the problem?
When an Israeli soldier shoots a Palestinian child in the head or a Palestinian teenager or demonstrator or plumber through the heart, Israeli society is mute and apathetic. It makes do with the flimsy explanations and sometimes outright lies provided by the army spokesperson, omitting any expression of moral qualms about the need to kill.
So many of these fatalities I have investigated and documented and written about in the newspaper have evoked no particular interest.
Death of a plumber
Shadi Omar Lotfi Salim, 41, a prosperous plumber who lived in Beita in the central West Bank, left home on the evening of 24 July, heading for the main road where the mains valve to the village’s water supply was located, after someone evidently discovered a problem there.
He parked his jeep alongside the road and walked back toward the valve, a red monkey wrench in his hand. It was 10:30pm. As he neared the valve, soldiers in the vicinity suddenly opened fire and fatally shot him. They later claimed that he had run toward them holding a metal bar. The only metal bar was the red monkey wrench left behind on the ground alongside his packet of cigarettes and a bloodstain, already dry when we got there a few days after his death.
One week later in the same village, soldiers killed Imad Ali Dweikat, 37, a construction labourer, father of four young daughters and a two-month-old boy. This was during the village’s weekly Friday protest. Beita residents had been demonstrating weekly for the last two months or so against the establishment of a rogue outpost on village land. The settlement, Givat Eviatar, was erected unofficially, and then emptied of its residents by Israel – but the 40 structures rapidly built there were not demolished. The land has not been returned to its owners, who are not allowed to come near it.
Since Givat Eviatar was launched over 10 weeks ago, five Palestinian protesters have already been killed there by soldiers. None of the five was close enough to endanger the soldiers in any way, even as demonstrators were throwing stones and burning tyres to protest against the takeover of their land.
The residents are determined to continue resisting until their lands are returned to them, and meanwhile the blood flows, week after week.
Shot at random
Dweikat was drinking a glass of water when an Israeli sniper chose him, apparently at random, and shot him through the heart from a distance of several hundred metres. The bullet exploded inside his body, damaging his internal organs, and Dweikat died on the spot, blood pouring from his mouth. His baby boy, Ali, was made an orphan soon after his birth.
A few weeks earlier, soldiers shot teenager Muhammad Munir al-Tamimi from another protesting village, Nabi Saleh, and killed him. Tamimi was 17 and became his small village’s fifth fatality in the last few years. Everyone in the community belongs to the Tamimi family and for years now they have been resisting the theft of their lands by the surrounding settlements.
These deaths were all executions. There is no other way to describe them. Shooting unarmed protesters, teenagers, children, a plumber, a construction labourer, people demonstrating publicly in the quest to regain their property and their freedom is a crime. There are very few regimes in this world where unarmed protesters are shot – apart from Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East”, where the people’s peace of mind shows barely a tremor.
Even the grumbling heard here and there at the systematic killing has to do with whether it might lead to a deterioration in the situation overall. On the question of the legality and especially the morality of the murder of innocents, nobody says a word.
Israel is considered a democracy, a darling of the western world with similar western values. Forty unarmed civilians killed in the last two-and-a-half months, and four killed in the last week of July alone, are painful if mute testimony to the fact that while still viewed as a democracy, Israel is measured by a completely different yardstick than that applied to any other country.
Gideon Levy is a Haaretz columnist and a member of the newspaper’s editorial board