When Jihad Aslan, Yunes Jahjouh, Rubin Abd al-Rahman Zayed were killed in Qalandia refugee camp on August 26, last year, Israeli soldiers were in danger. Still, if the occupying army’s own protocol had been followed, no one would have died that morning. From my interviews with neighbors and relatives of the deceased I found that a typical night-time arrest mission quickly descended into a massive clash with over 1,500 Palestinians involved, hurling everything from stones to furniture at nearly a dozen army and border police units.
The case is one of the 22 instances of Israeli soldiers killing unarmed men in 2013, outlined in Amnesty International’s (AI) landmark report, ‘Trigger-happy’ Israeli army and police use reckless force in the West Bank, published two days ago. That report calls on the US and EU and other governments to suspend arms transfers to Israel.
The unfortunate events kicked off around 4 am when undercover border police dragged Hatem al-Khitab, the brother of the man the army came to arrest, to the street and beat him. The wails of al-Khitab and the smacking of fists to body awoke others, and a clash ensued while it was still dark.
My assessment was that the army acted with negligence when they drew attention to themselves by publicly beating a man. The undercover unit then found itself in a dangerous situation where stone throwing posed a real threat of injury. Even so, Israeli army regulations require a verbal warning in Arabic and two warning shots before live-fire is allowed– but only with an effort to preserve life, by aiming for the limbs. And in fact, no shots were fired at this time.
The trapped border police then called for back-up and ten cars arrived. What happened next is that the reinforcements began firing live rounds into the assembly of Palestinians, according to a spokesperson for the IDF. Two were killed and 20 injured during the clash. By all witness accounts, bullets were sprayed haphazardly, injuring many on their way to work. But with one soldier only lightly injured at the end of the clash and with the arrival of more soldiers and alternative dispersal weapons, AI suggests that at this point, there no longer was a threat to life.
By 7:30 am the clash had ended and army vehicles were trailing out of the refugee camp. Then Zayed, an unarmed man, was shot multiple times and killed. Here’s what I reported at the time:
At 7:30 am, Zayed peered around a corner that only five minutes before was in heat. He saw an Israeli Jeep driving away from him towards the exit of the camp. Then, according to witnesses, neighbors of Zayed, a soldier shot him in the chest. He died instantly.
“It was quiet before they shot him,” said Mohammed Leila Mizher, a neighbor who carried Zayed’s lifeless body off the street. “He looked slaughtered, the way an animal was slaughtered. I could put my hand in the bullet holes when I was holding him,” he continued.
The three killings in Qalandia had larger political reverberations. They nearly shut down the direct negotiations with Israeli officials and spurred two demonstrations in Ramallah against the Palestinian Authority. Protesters were beaten at random, and injured were arrested in hospital beds.
What the case of Jihad Aslan, Yunes Jahjouh, Rubin Abd al-Rahman Zayed shows, is that even when soldiers are at risk, this “trigger happy” mode of conduct trumps army regulations. Zayed posed no threat. He had a family, a mortgage and a steady job in a bad economy.