The Execution March 25, 2016

At first I didn’t watch the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8WK2TgruMo) because I didn’t think I could stand it. “Israeli soldier filmed executing wounded Palestinian man.” I finally realized I needed to bear witness, despite the sickening revulsion the film would evoke, which it did in spades. So here it is: a cluster of Israeli soldiers in Hebron, a man with a kippah in civilian clothes carrying a large gun, probably a Jewish settler, a scrum of ambulances, tzizzit dangle from some of the soldier’s shirts, a man, an Israeli soldier, is being loaded into one of the ambulances, sitting up in no obvious distress. And throughout this episode, another man, (it turns out he is 21-year-old Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif), lies on the ground barely moving, when suddenly an Israeli soldier aims and shoots him in the head. BAM. That’s it. Dark blood oozes onto the road. No one responds. The ambulances circle around and drive off. I am told that before taking aim, a voice yelled in Hebrew, “Is the dog alive?” The man is alleged to have stabbed a soldier.

For starters, I do not support stabbing soldiers ever, but I also do not support imprisoning an entire city, especially so the Jews can celebrate Purim at the Ibrahimi Mosque without those hostile Arabs in their way. I do not support crushing the local economy, seizing Palestinian lands and property for Jewish settlers, throwing garbage down on Palestinian shoppers and markets, settlers attacking local Palestinian farmers, destroying thousand-year-old olive trees, Israeli soldiers breaking into Palestinian homes in the middle of the night and dragging children off to jail. In other words, people do crazy, desperate, hopeless things, (if indeed the stabbing accusations are correct which sometimes they are and sometimes they are not) for crazy, desperate, hopeless reasons. And history proves that there is only a certain amount of crazy, desperate, hopelessness that anyone can tolerate and we seem to have reached the limit.

That said, there are still internationally recognized medical and human rights rules of behavior and abandoning them not only dooms the injured left to bleed to death on a street in the Old City of Hebron but also the soldier turned racist/fascist who makes that call, feels OK about it, and goes home to his wife and children and a night at a bar in Tel Aviv or davening in a lovely old synagogue in Jerusalem.

I speak as a physician. Internationally recognized protocols for triage of injured and wounded people require treatment first of those most severely injured, no matter who they are. The (19-year-old?) soldier does not get to be shooter, judge, and jury, at least not until the accused appears before a military tribunal. But I keep coming across a growing sentiment amongst Israeli soldiers, medical personnel, government officials, and religious leaders that Jews get treated first, no matter the level of harm, and that suspected attackers should be summarily shot whenever possible. While an Israeli military spokesperson claimed that this is not official policy, and Netanyahu wrang his blood drenched hands, the policy of summary executions is reported to be a directive from high level political and military leadership and is happening with distressing frequency.

Examples:
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stated, “Right now it is required to respond quickly to any local attack to eliminate the terrorist stabber or the perpetrator stone thrower and the like, immediately, on the spot.”

The Chairman of the Yesh Atid Party, Yair Lapid, stated, “Whoever takes out a knife or a screwdriver, or whatever it may be, the directive needs to be shoot in order to kill. Not to hesitate. There will be full legal backing. The state gives full legal backing.”

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said it would be a “mitzvah” to kill armed Palestinians and Rabbi Uri Sherki, head of the Machon Meir yeshiva said, there is an “obligation for Jews to kill terrorists before they kill us.” Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu said, “It is forbidden to leave a murderer alive.”

It also has been reported by the Israeli Democracy Institute that 53% of Jewish Israelis favor killing alleged attackers immediately, even if they are arrested and pose no further damage. Israeli civilians have also urged soldiers and police to perform summary executions, (see killings of Fadi Allound and Bashar Massalha).

The Israeli Medical Association’s ethics guidelines, contrary to the international principles of medical neutrality, had called for treating victims before alleged perpetrators, but reversed those guidelines in December, 2015. Now paramedics are supposed to treat according to the severity of injury, as developed in guidelines by the remarkably sane Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. Avigdor Lieberman, the former foreign minister, was so incensed by these changes he called on the IMA director to resign and ZAKA, Israel’s volunteer emergency services, has rejected these new principles.

Now imagine the 19-year-old soldier and the immoral universe in which he has been trained and the 19-year-old Palestinian who has faced endless checkpoints and humiliations and land confiscations and the loss of hope and a future worth living. This is more than children killing children. This is one society that has been brought to its limits by an increasingly brutal and oppressive occupation and another society that has given its children permission to do the unspeakable.

To be personal about this, a lovely Palestinian medical student stayed at my home last year. She was unusually smart, motivated, and extremely competent during her rotations at a variety of Harvard Hospitals. She comes from a large family near Hebron, accomplished, educated, devout; her father is a physician. Recently her 18-year-old brother allegedly attacked Israeli soldiers and was shot dead. The family is in shocked, horrified mourning and I fear that next, as is the custom after many attacks, their home may be raised to the ground in some kind of sick Israeli policy of “deterrence” and collective punishment. I am consumed by fear and I am reminded of the statistic that half of suicide bombers had their homes demolished as children. Tragedy upon tragedy. Trauma upon trauma.

It is way past time to stop. For everyone’s sake.

Thanks to Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss, and B’tselem