Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Does Israel Have a Policy of Murder as Deterrence?

For the past month, young Palestinians (citizens of Isreal, permit residents of East Jerusalem, and subjects of the occupation living in the West Bank) have spontaneously taken up kitchen knives and launched suicide attacks on innocent civilians and heavily armed soldiers alike.  Mohammad Alhammami tries to get his head around it in an article at Mondoweiss.

Jerusalem is on lock-down. As Dahlia Scheindlin reports, Israelis are staying away and debate how to solve the problems there while ignoring the West Bank and Gaza.  "It can't be done," she says.

The Israeli government has doubled down on security measures, including an unwritten policy of murder as deterrence. This follows on the heels of Netanyahu loosening the rules of engagement to authorize the use of live fire against rock-throwing teen-agers.

Steven Klein reports in Haaretz (10/20/15):
Until last year, security services somehow knew how to apprehend stabbers without killing them. In the last two decades knifings in public places were rare, so there were few occasions in which the security forces acted. But, in all seven documented cases between November 1993 and November 2014, the terrorist was apprehended ​rather than killed, according to one comprehensive survey. 
That trend continued in early 2015, when one knife-wielding terrorist was shot in the leg and apprehended, another was tackled by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and a third was wrestled to the ground by the soldier he had attacked. 
Since September, however, death has been the fate of most knife-wielding Palestinians. Our leaders have, in part, set the stage. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his “zero tolerance for terror” last month. Interior Minister Gilad Erdan declared that “every terrorist should know that he will not survive the attack he is about to commit.” Jerusalem police chief Moshe Edri said, “Anyone who stabs Jews or hurts innocent people is due to be killed.” Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid said, “You have to shoot to kill anyone who pulls out a knife or screwdriver.” And Nir Barkat called on Israeli civilians to carry their guns. 
No one at the top echelons is questioning this unwritten shoot to kill policy or the dangers of vigilantism.
Meanwhile unrest continues.

This morning, an Israeli soldier was lightly wounded in Hebron. The assailant was shot and killed.  Haaretz reports some of the latest incidents:

  • Sunday evening, at the central bus station in Be'er Sheva a harmless Eritrean national was shot and killed, said to be mistaken as an accomplice.
  • Last Friday afternoon (10/16/15), "an Israeli soldier was stabbed and moderately wounded during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians near Hebron. The terrorist was shot and killed."
  • Saturday, an Israeli pedestrian shot and killed a Palestinian who tried to stab him.
  • Saturday, a Palestinian woman stabbed a female officer at a Border Police base in Hebron and lightly injured her; the officer shot her dead.
  • Saturday "a 20-year-old soldier was wounded in a stabbing attack near the Tomb of the Patriachs in Hebron. The assailant was shot and seriously wounded.
  • Also on Saturday, "a Palestinian attempted to stab a Border Police officer at the Qalandiyah checkpoint, near Ramallah. The assailant was shot and seriously wounded. According to Jerusalem Police, the assailant jabbed at the officer with a knife but failed to pierce through his protective vest. Officers fired at the assailant’s lower body, and he fell down. When a sapper examined the assailant for explosives, he pulled another knife and tried to stab the officer. A Border Police officer then fired at the assailant, killing him."

In all, since the beginning of October 2015, 50 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces and civilians, while nine Israeli's have been killed in attacks by Palestinians. Israelis injured total 83; Palestinians injured total in excess of 2,000. Al Jazeera. Gazan's have protested and they have not been spared from the carnage.

Here is what the worst of this looks like from a CCTV camera recording on October 13, 2015:

The assailant drives into innocent bystanders at a bus-stop, gets out and starts to hack at bystanders with a knife. The assailant, in turn, is shot and killed at the end of this sequence.

On October 12, 2015, there was an attack near the Lion's Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem (Jerusalem Post):
According to police, at approximately 9 a.m., (an) unidentified assailant, whom police deemed suspicious, was asked to stop for inspection. The suspect then withdrew a knife from his pocket and charged one of the officers, stabbing him in his metal breastplate. 
Police immediately opened fire, killing the man.
Later that day, Yair Lapid held a rally at the location. "A terrorist came and tried to stab the security forces and was shot and killed and that is the way it should be,"  he said.

In a separate article in Haaretz, Carolina Landsmann quotes Lapid as follows: “Don’t hesitate. Even at the start of an attack, shooting to kill is correct. If someone is brandishing a knife, shoot him. It’s part of Israel’s deterrence.”

Murder as deterrence. As Landsmann says, is a sorry ethics code.

The bus stop terror attack in the CCTV video above is awful. It points out how tricky these self-defense situations can be. We are focused on the civilian with a gun. He first comes into view while the terrorist is hacking at an old man; at that point the civilian would have been clearly justified in shooting to kill. It’s not clear if he shoots. The terrorist appears to be hit and falls down. The civilian clears the knife. The damage has been done.....  Yet the assailant does not stay still. He lunges, he gets back up—and the civilian holds his fire. Other bystanders approach and kick the assailant. Less afraid now. Stumbling, evidently having been wounded, the assailant retreats past his wrecked car. It looks like the imminent threat of harm has passed. But that’s when he’s killed. [You can’t actually see him getting killed, but news accounts confirm he was]

This video suggests it would have been justified to shoot to kill early. If that's what Lapid was referring to when he said "Don't hesitate," it's understandable. But the lamppost was in the way. Later, at the end of this video, when the assailant is killed, it no longer looks like self-defense. It looks like murder.

This bus stop incident is not the case to get up in arms about from an “abuse of self-defense” perspective, because it does look like the terrorist was hell bent to keep going until he was killed. But Lapid's policy of murder as deterrence is dubious. It's a death penalty without due process of law.

It leads to THIS.  And THIS. And THIS.


  1. The question for me is if the knife wielding assailants had the means to kill their victims would they? I think that they would. This is not any form of acceptable protest. This is assault. If you stab a heavily armed person, you should have a reasonable expectation of being injured or killed. These stabbings seem to be done to provoke the Israeli response. These attacks are another cynical attempt by older, more physically secure Palestinians to use young people to further their own political aims.

    1. I agree with the first half of this. These are desperate actions any way we look at it. The "shoot to kill" policy turns wielding a knife into a suicide mission. But it does not appear to be the case that these attacks are guided or meant to advance anyone's political aims. They appear to be terrible spontaneous acts resulting from the pressures under which these people live.