The unwarranted presumption of Israeli soldier innocence in the killing of Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar

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Last Friday, Palestinian Gazan medic Razan al-Najjar was killed by an Israeli sniper live round to her upper body, while attending to the wounded during Friday’s Great March of Return protests near the Gaza fence. She was clearly marked with an official white uniform jacket, and at a distance of about 100 meters from the fence.

This site cited Asaf Ronel of Haaretz, who tweeted:

“It’s unlikely that a sniper deliberately killed Razan al-Najjar. Her death is an expected result of repeated use of live fire by Israeli soldiers to prevent medical care in #Gaza (in addition to illegal & immoral use of snipers against unarmed protesters)”.

This is somewhat confusing, and the duplicity may not be noticed at first glance. On the one hand, Ronel admits to a repeated use of live fire against medical personnel – but on the other hand, suggests that al-Najjar was not deliberately killed. What does it mean, that al-Najjar was likely targeted, yet unlikely killed?

The formulation is so confusing, that Mondoweiss editors in fact took Ronel’s assertion to mean that she was not targeted. The heading to the tweet: “Ronel says al-Najjar was not likely targeted when she was killed”.

But is that what Ronel is saying? Not really. He’s saying that it was “unlikely” that she was “deliberately killed”, while he doesn’t seem to contest that she was deliberately targeted.

Now, why is this perhaps seemingly pedantic distinction so important? For a few reasons:

1) If Ronel’s assertion that al-Najjar was deliberately targeted but not deliberately killed holds, he is suggesting that firing live ammunition at medical personnel can be done without intending to kill the person, just in order to either injure them, or scare them away by ‘shaving’ them with shots near their body. But such a distinction should have no validity. It’s still a patently illegal act, and medics are an unquestionably protected people. Firing of live, that is lethal, ammunition at them is unquestionably criminal. Ronel’s suggestion seems to be, essentially, that the sniper “aimed to miss” but “missed”, that is, fatally shot al-Najjar, unintentionally.

2) The suggestion that killing al-Najjar intentionally (that is, murdering her) is “unlikely” is offered no factual foundation by Ronel. In applying such formulation, the suggestion, perhaps inadvertently, seems to be that it is so because “our soldiers are not murderers”. This is the repeated Netanyahu-mantra, repeated even in the case of Elor Azarya who was filmed shooting an incapacitated Palestinian suspect at point-blank range – a case which quickly turned from ‘murder’ into ‘manslaughter’. Such a claim suggests that it is simply so, because we want it to be so – an Israeli soldier simply cannot be a murderer, or, as Ronel seems to formulate it, it is “unlikely” that they are.

3) Asaf Ronel is a journalist in Haaretz, a paper that is considered a reliable, left-leaning source of information in Israeli mainstream media. If Ronel says it’s “unlikely”, then many will put that possibility on the back-burner. Thus, the Israeli military legal system would have less public attention and scrutiny around its investigation. Let us not forget, that less than a week ago, even the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected a petition against the Israeli army’s rules of engagement covering usage of live ammunition against Palestinian civilian unarmed protesters. Aeyal Gross in Haaretz: “The High Court Has Just Legitimized the Shooting of Palestinian Civilians”. To presume innocence in advance on behalf of the sniper, is to play on behalf of an already fundamentally biased system.

4) Ronel’s assumption needs to be looked at through the context of widespread Israeli targeting of protected people, including medics. In fact, Ronel confirms that such practice exists. Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada summarizes the attacks on medics:

Al-Najjar is the second rescue worker to be killed by Israeli forces since the Great March of Return protests began on 30 March. According to the health ministry in Gaza, more than 200 others have been injured and 37 ambulances have been damaged. Two weeks ago, Israeli snipers fatally shot paramedic Mousa Jaber Abu Hassanein. About an hour before he was shot, Abu Hassanein had helped rescue one of his colleagues, the Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani who had been injured by an Israeli bullet. Loubani later told The Electronic Intifada Podcast how he was shot in the leg when everything was quiet around him: “No burning tires, no smoke, no tear gas, nobody messing around in front of the buffer zone. Just a clearly marked medical team well away from everybody else.”

Such a horrific record doesn’t exactly suggest that this is the “most moral army in the world”, to use the repeated Israeli-apologia claim.

In conclusion, it is not at all “unlikely” that Razan al-Najjar was deliberately killed – that is – murdered. The Israeli policy, that is the rules of engagement, now endorsed by its highest judicial authority, are murderous in themselves. Having targeted her is a war-crime in itself, kill or no kill. On top of that, the possibility of a deliberate killing – murder – is completely relevant. Israel needs no assumptions of innocence on its behalf. It has plenty of that from itself.

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Could you please explain what the rules of engagement for these snipers are? Who are they instructed to kill, who to injure, who to leave unharmed? That is, if there are clear rules of engagement at all. Perhaps there are not and the decisions are all left to the individual snipers? Or perhaps there are rules but the snipers do not follow them and that is tolerated?

… This site cited Asaf Ronel of Haaretz, who tweeted: “It’s unlikely that a sniper deliberately killed Razan al-Najjar. Her death is an expected result of repeated use of live fire by Israeli soldiers to prevent medical care in #Gaza (in addition to illegal & immoral use of snipers against unarmed protesters)”. You gotta love a “moral beacon” state whose “most moral army” shoots only to wound and/or cripple – but not to kill –… Read more »

Watch this Kuwaiti official tell Israeli officials to get out, and call them child killers. I could understand his anger, and know many feel that way too.

I have no idea what the difference is between the Israeli shooter who killed her and a premeditated murder. The shooter is highly trained,under no threat and deliberately pulled the trigger aiming for the chest knowing this would kill her. The fact these soldiers appear to have no conscience is in itself a tragedy partially because it echoes the Nazis treatment of Jews because the Nazis to had no conscience. Europe, USA, Australia, Britain and… Read more »

Again and again the israelis get away with murder, and we can always count on the ‘state’ of israel to ziosplain it. It’s not the sniper’s fault, though. Razan al-Najjar didn’t shoot herself, but it’s not the sniper’s fault. Sniper’s were killing all sorts of palestinians, but it wasn’t a sniper’s fault that Razan al-Najjar was shot and killed. “It’s unlikely that a sniper deliberately killed Razan al-Najjar. Her death is an expected result of… Read more »