Israeli police fired several rounds into an incapacitated Palestinian, killing him, after he stabbed officers near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate yesterday morning, lightly wounding two.
A team from Al Jazeera captured the killing as it unfolded in the background of their rolling cameras, astonished by the quantity of live-fire shot into the downed Palestinian.
“The scene was very disturbing. We narrowly escaped a barrage of fire from Israeli soldiers toward this young man,” Al Jazeera correspondent Elias Karam told his outlet.
“We were at the Damascus Gate to file a report for the network. As soon as we finished we turned and I saw Israeli soldiers firing toward the young man who tried to stab them,” Karam added.
The Palestinian, identified by Israeli police as 20-year old Mohammed Abu Khalaf from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Kfar Aqab, attacked soldiers with a knife off-camera. The video picks up as Abu Khalaf is on the ground on the stone plaza outside of Damascus Gate. It is unclear if he is still armed, or was already fired upon. Two border police then continue to fire rounds into the Palestinian, shocking his body with the wave of bullets.
The Times of Israel reported a 50-year old Palestinian woman was wounded from the spray of live-fire.
“The terrorist was neutralized,” Israeli Police spokesperson Luba Samri said in a statement. She also said that Abu Khalaf “carried out a stabbing attack, during which two Israelis were lightly injured.”
The knifing and subsequent killing comes after four months of increased violence in Israel and the West Bank, during which at least 27 Israelis have been killed in attacks and Israeli forces killed more than 160 Palestinians in attacks, attempted attacks and demonstrations.
Palestinian leaders have consistently referred to the killings of numerous attackers and attempted attackers as “executions” and have called for an international protection force monitor the situation in Jerusalem, similar to Hebron where a team of foreign observers are dispatched. As early as last October when tensions first surged, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat appealed “for international intervention to protect the occupied Palestinian people.”
The United Nations and human rights organizations have also criticized Israel for using excessive force.
“The upsurge in violence is a grim reminder of the unsustainable human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the volatile environment it engenders,” United Nations human rights investigator Makarim Wibisono said last month when the special rapporteur announced an inquiry into Israel’s use of force.
The call for reduced force has also seeped into the lexicon of the Israeli military.
On Thursday an Israeli general told high school students soldiers must practice restraint. “There is a 13-year-old girl who is holding scissors or a knife and there is a barrier between her and the soldiers, I wouldn’t want a soldier to open fire and empty a cartridge on a girl like that even if she commits a very serious act,” Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said.
The Washington Post’s William Booth and Ruth Eglash tabulated that the Damascus Gate has been the site of at least 15 attacks over recent months in a report this week on the Damascus Gate and its rising profile as a flashpoint of violence.
The Damascus Gate was until recently a vibrant meeting point for Palestinians, tourists, Israelis and Israeli settlers alike. The gate leads to a walkway to the Via Dolorosa, the ancient pathway where Christians believe Jesus walked before his crucifixion. The narrow cobblestone alley ways are marked by stations, or religious sites, where pilgrims are often seen chanting hymns. For Palestinians, the gate marks the entrance into the Muslim quarter and its bustling fruit and meat markets. Although over the past few months the bazaar has lost most of its foot traffic as travelers have veered away from the neighborhood, now regarded as a site of clashes and killings.
Palestinians too have stopped frequenting the Muslim Quarter and the Damascus Gate. They are fearful of the current climate, yet their concerns are over the increased presence of border police who frequently stop them and conduct searches.
One practical reason why the Damascus Gate has transformed from a hub of outdoor activity to the location of attacks against soldiers and settlers is because it doubles as a crossway between Palestinians and settlers. The main walk between the Gate and the holy shrines of the Old City—the Western Wall and the Noble Sanctuary—is dotted with Israeli settlements in the heart of the Muslim Quarter. Most are yeshivas, or religious schools. Settlers can be seen sauntering along the ancient stone streets accompanied by armed private Israeli security.
The Damascus Gate is also symbolic as the site of the first attack that started the flare-up of tensions last October. Mohanned Halabi, 19, from the West Bank town of Surda outside of Ramallah, killed two Israelis and injured a third—a two year old—on October 3, 2015 near the Damascus Gate. He stabbed one and then took the gun of another, firing several shots before Israeli police killed him.
Hours before the attack Halabi posted to social media “the third Intifada has started.” Palestinians heeded his call that a new uprising was already afoot, sparking protests that have continued to date. Other Palestinians followed Halabi in carrying out attacks on Israelis, a number of which have taken place a short walk from the location of the first killing.