On Tuesday, Ahmad Erekat, 27, was murdered by Israeli Border Police officers, at a checkpoint outside Bethlehem.
That is the first thing that needs to be understood. Not how and why he drove into a checkpoint booth having accelerated one second before, lightly injuring a Border policewoman; not that he was preparing for his sister’s wedding. All that is detail. The singularly important point is that Ahmad Erekat was murdered. He was shot by Israeli Border Police at close range as he got out of his car, unarmed and moving away from them; he was left to bleed and denied medical attention for over an hour.
But for most Israelis, this singularly crucial point means absolutely nothing – they do not see murder, if they can see a “terrorist”.
Is it possible that Erekat accidentally lost control over the car? After all, his driving was slow up to that one last second? It is very possible; indeed, it is the most obvious explanation. Israeli authorities and compliant media are hurrying to tarnish Erekat and misrepresent the event. They need to be sure he’s a terrorist, so the assumption of “terrorist” is printed without question, the use of deadly force is not questioned, and neither is the fact of leaving him to bleed to death – effectively killing him by extrajudicial execution, which is murder.
One might hope that in the context of the global George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, this murder would finally be seen for what it is, unobscured by all that smoke and mirrors. After all, the George Floyd murder, the video and the ensuing debate made it conceptually clear that this was about murder, not about some vague surrounding circumstances concerning what George Floyd might have been doing with a 20-Dollar bill.
I want to add some historical perspective, reflecting upon several other stories involving police killings and lynching or near lynching by Israelis of those whom they perceived to be “terrorists”. My point here is not about who committed the killing – whether it was soldiers or police or border police or prison service officials or civilians – but that they were acting under what they thought was a “terrorist threat”, and that perception permitted them to attack the suspect. Neither does it matter whether the victim was Palestinian or not – they were assumed to be, which is all that matters.
The murder of Israeli Bedouin citizen Yaqub Mousa abu al Qia’an in Umm al Hiran
On January 18, 2017, Israeli border police murdered the school-teacher Yaqub Mousa abu al Qia’an at Umm Al Hiran, during an ethnic cleansing operation that was meant to make space for a Jewish-only town, Hiran (in “Israel proper”, one should note, not the 1967 occupied territories).
This was actually a rather similar case to the recent one with Ahmad Erekat. Al Qia’an’s car accelerated down a hill (after he was shot in the leg), the police immediately deemed him a “terrorist”, shot him again, and left him to bleed, denying him medical treatment. The police, as well as police minister Gilad Erdan immediately went on a campaign of tarnishing him as a terrorist, and Erdan held on to this narrative for over a month, long after it was clear that this was a major police blunder. Police also hid and manipulated evidence in this case, to obscure their targeting of Palestinian-Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh with rubber coated bullets when he demonstrated at the scene.
The lynching of Eritrean refugee Haftom Zarhum
On October 18, 2015, Eritrean refugee Haftom Zarhum was lynched at the Beersheba central bus station.
This was a case of “mistaken identity”, following a shooting on a bus. A bloodthirsty mob including police, soldiers and prison authority officers was seen lynching Zarhum, whom they had mistaken to have been the attacker. A man is seen pressing a row of steel chairs on the head of Zarhum, who died shortly after from his injuries. The mob was crying “terrorist”, “Kill him!”, “Break his head!” “Son of a bitch!” and “Am Israel Chai!” (“The Nation of Israel lives”). Shortly after, an Israeli police spokesman said that it was “not clear if he is involved with the event or if he was shot due to his exterior appearance.” The murderous celebration was taking place on live TV; while it was still “unclear”, Channel 2 was reporting from the scene, where members of the mob were interviewed boasting about the lynching, saying how Zarhum was “dripping with blood” and how “fun it was to see”.
The lynching of a Jewish citizen suspected of terror
On June 18, 2016, an Israeli Jewish citizen, this time name not mentioned, had a cardiac arrest while driving in a Tel-Aviv street, lost control of the car and drove into a restaurant, badly injuring two diners who later died from their wounds. In the immediate wake of the event, some shouted that it was a terrorist attack, so people pulled the already unconscious driver out of the car and started beating him. The driver died on scene from his heart attack.
Restaurant owner Shoshana San said that “they thought that the driver was not a good person, they beat him. He was unconscious”. A little translation here: “not good person” means a Palestinian “terrorist”. But it was clear beyond doubt within a few moments, that this was, after all, a “good person.” I mean, what Jew in their right mind would do such a horrible thing deliberately, right?
That benefit of doubt will not be extended to Ahmad Erekat. He can’t possibly be a “good person”, and that “car ramming” can’t possibly have been an accident. Because the implication of that would be that Israeli paramilitary police officers just murdered a(nother) Palestinian in cold blood. And our soldiers can’t be murderers, can they?
These are the conceptual barriers preventing many Israelis from seeing the culture of murder among their security forces. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that “the IDF and security forces are not murderers”, full stop. The implicit logic is that they can never be. Why? Because “IDF soldiers and Israeli police put their lives on the line to defend themselves and innocent civilians from bloodthirsty terrorists who try to kill them”, per Netanyahu. And what if that’s not what actually happens? Well, then we just have to manipulate it to be so, because we have to always reach the same result at the end of the equation, that we are the good guys, and they’re the bad guys, and we never murder, ever.
And what if there’s a pattern of extrajudicial execution, as former Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström had the audacity to suggest when Israel was killing alleged lone-wolf assailants in 2015? Well then, that international critic needs to get the “Bernadotte treatment” (assassination), as a leading Israeli educator suggested on the pages of the Sheldon Adelson funded paper Makor Rishon.
But extrajudicial execution is precisely what happened with Ahmed Erekat, and so many others. There’s just no other term for it, except murder.