Israeli checkpoints have become death traps for occupied Palestinians – rights group

The killing of Ahmad Erekat last Tuesday by Israel’s police is but the latest example of systematic extrajudicial executions of Palestinians, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (Euro-Med) said in a statement today. The incident shows how Israeli checkpoints that divide the occupied West Bank into segregated cantons have become death traps for Palestinians, where mere suspicion of Palestinian wrongdoing could lead to immediate killing, it said.

Last Tuesday afternoon, Israel’s police announced the death of Ahmad Erekat, 27, claiming he allegedly rammed his car into the Israeli “Container checkpoint” in Abu Dis, prompting soldiers to fire several lethal shots at him. According to the police statement, an Israeli soldier was lightly wounded by Erekat’s car and discharged from a Jerusalem hospital the following day.

Erekat’s family disputed the Israeli police’s account and argued that he either had lost control over the wheel or had an accident. The family provided documentation that the wedding of Erekat’s sister was scheduled on the same day of the incident. The family said Erekat was on his way to Bethlehem to pick up his mother and sister from a beauty salon when he was shot. The family has also indicated that Erekat had rented the said vehicle hours before the incident, which, they argued, raises a possibility of malfunction or a driving mistake.

Read More: Haneyya welcomes Arab Peace Group’s initiative for national unity

The decisive motive for the car accident, however, remains unclear as Israel’s police was quick to jump to conclusions without launching an official investigation into the circumstances the led to Erekat’s death, including examining the vehicle Erekat was driving.

Instead, Israel’s police sufficed by releasing a 12-second-long footage that shows Erekat’s vehicle veering off the street and lightly wounding said solider. Erekat is then seen trying to run in the opposite direction of the soldiers before they shot him several times until he fell to the ground.

Read More: Pro-Palestine group wins legal battle against MailOnline over false anti-Semitism claim

"We find the account of Israel’s police concerning why Erekat was shot to contain several self-incriminating aspects that necessitate a full investigation," said Euro-Med.

First, in the released footage, Erekat is seen opening the car’s door immediately after the incident and attempting to run away in the opposite direction of the soldiers when he was shot several times in the back. This clearly contradicts the account of the spokesman for the Israeli police, Micky Rosenfeld, who stressed that Erekat “got out of the car and approached officers who responded by shooting.”

Even in the worst-case scenario of an intentional car ramming, the Israeli officers who shot this unarmed civilian while he was trying to run in the opposite direction violated Israel’s own rules of engagement that stipulate using lethal force only and strictly when necessary to repel a direct threat to life, explained Euro-Med.

The Israeli officers could have easily apprehended Erekat, questioned him over what happened and acted accordingly, it added. Instead, Israeli officers were quick to shoot him as a precautionary measure. This necessitates an official investigation into the soldier’s violation of Israel’s own rules of engagement; however, Israel’s police have failed to announce any such measures that would hold the soldiers accountable.

“It’s alarming that for Israeli soldiers, using lethal violence is the first resort against Palestinians,” Ramy Abdu, Euro-Med Monitor Chairman asserted. “We’re talking here about an apparatus in which Israeli soldiers determine the decisive guilt of Palestinian civilians in the matter of seconds and lethally execute judgment.”

Second, after Erekat was shot, Israeli soldiers refused to provide him with first aid and further sealed off the area to prevent his access to life-saving treatment. This led him to bleed to death for more than an hour in front of other Palestinians at the checkpoint.

This amounts to extrajudicial execution of an unarmed Palestinian who posed no danger to the soldiers before or after the shooting, said Euro-Med.

Third, following his death, Israel took Erekat’s corpse and continues to withhold it with the bodies of other Palestinians as leverage and bargaining chips; a practice restricted under International Humanitarian Law, but which Israel’s High Court okayed in 2019. Erekat’s father expressed his main wish at the moment is to give his son a proper burial.

Fourth, Israel’s police failed to give Erekat the benefit of the doubt, despite indications that may point to other explanations than a car-ramming. For instance, Erekat’s vehicle is not seen speeding towards the soldiers, who were well protected behind concrete barriers. It’s rather seen in the footage initially stopped in place, before it started moving slowly then veered off towards the checkpoint, added Euro-Med.

Given all points above, Euro-Med Monitor said it finds Erekat’s case as an example of a broader pattern of systematic Israeli extrajudicial killings of Palestinians in the occupied territories, practiced with full impunity.

In 2016, said Euro-Med, Israel extrajudicially executed 95 Palestinian civilians including 36 children. All killings were systematically carried out under the same pretext that the victim was engaged in an alleged stabbing or car ramming attack against Israeli soldiers, despite the documented absence of means to carry out such attacks.

In 2016, Euro-Med Monitor team produced a report entitled “Caught on Camera: Israel's extrajudicial killings,” in which it document multiple instances of how Israel’s pretext over the killing of Palestinians collapsed upon examination.

Israeli checkpoints – which flagrantly violate Palestinians’ freedom of movement and cut the West Bank into cantons – have become death traps where Palestinians are immediately sentenced to death for the slightest mistake or even on mere suspicion, said the human rights organization, said Euro-Med Monitor.

It called for an immediate independent investigation into the killing of Erekat, including a full examination of his vehicle and questioning of the soldiers involved in his death. It also urgently called for the immediate release of Erekat’s body and the bodies of other Palestinians withheld by Israel, and on Israel to dismantle its checkpoints and barriers between Palestinian communities and ensure Palestinians’ full freedom of movement.