A desperate, bound and blind-folded Osama Hajajeh runs for his life. Photo by Mohammad Hmeid/ AP
In an improbably ever-more-racist Israel, soldiers and settlers, their unofficial but accommodating helpmates in apartheid, continue to kill unarmed Palestinians at a chilling rate. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 37 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the start of the year, and 17 in March alone. The numbers don't include those killed by Israeli civilians, usually right-wing settlers with backup from the military - a running, bloody tab so constant in life under the Occupation it's difficult to track. Under the longtime policy of a country "obsessed with hasbara" - propaganda to bolster the image of the Occupation - and according to the rubric that power is maintained by multiple standard operating procedures, Israeli soldiers and settlers rarely if ever face any consequences for their relentless violence against the innocent. To aid and abet the fiction of their righteousness, the military, government and media regularly, helpfully smear any slain Palestinian, spinning tales of stabbings, car-ramming attacks and other deadly threats against "the world's only Jewish military dictatorship."
So it was that, on April 3, two settlers murdered Muhammad Abd al Fatah, a 23-year-old Palestinian father and resident of Khirbet Qeis, for the crime of hitting one of their cars with a stone. Hiding among dumpsters, Al Fatah had stoned the car of settler Yehoshua Sherman, who pulled over, fired several shots from his vehicle, got out and kept firing at the bleeding Abd al Fatah; he was quickly joined by another settler driving a truck who stopped, got out and fired more shots at the now-unresponsive man on the ground. Abd al-Fatah died soon after; a young man working in a nearby shop was also hit by the spray of gunfire, but survived. When soldiers arrived and dispersed the small crowd with stun grenades, Sherman told them Abd al Fatah had tried to attack him with a knife; his story was duly parroted in a report that a “would-be Palestinian attacker was shot dead...during an attempted stabbing." The lie - no knife, no attack - was revealed by the human rights group B’Tselem: Their investigation found that not only did the settlers execute Abd al Fatah, but - in a base new trick - at least eight soldiers later visited two adjacent shops, checked their security cameras, and carefully erased all video footage of the killing "to ensure that the truth never comes to light." Though police knew the identity of both shooters, they took no action. "A person was killed," noted the B’Tselem report. "But he wasn't really a person, merely a Palestinian."
The same story of impunity keeps being told. Settlers stone Palestinian families; when Israeli soldiers turn up, they fire tear gas and live ammunition at Palestinians who gather to confront the settlers. IDF sharpshooters shoot a 15-year-old boy in the stomach, without repercussions, during March of Return protests. A still-anonymous Israeli policeman kills a young Palestinian paramedic on his way to treat a refugee camp patient. After an IDF vehicle with no lights on heading to a nighttime arrest gets stuck on a road near Ramallah, a car driven by two young Palestinian men mistakenly crashes into it; soldiers open fire, kill both men, and tell the media it was a car-ramming attack. Again, they diligently cover their tracks: They confiscate the car and security camera footage from a nearby shop, and even send soldiers to remove a sign erected to honor the victims. Here, too, B’Tselem uncovers the truth: A forensic exam of the dead men's clothes finds both were repeatedly shot in the back. Israel, Amira Hass furiously notes, has learned its lesson from Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier who three years ago murdered a wounded Palestinian, was filmed by a B’Tselem camera, and was actually tried for his crime. "Next time you execute an Arab, make sure there are no cameras filming you," she writes. "Make sure there are no photographs, and then report they were terrorists. Our version of events is holy. Our hero sons are protected by their sacred anonymity."
Mostly, anyway. Last week, the veil was lifted after photos emerged of bulked-up, full-gear Israeli soldiers opening fire on a blindfolded Palestinian teenager, hands bound behind his back, stumbling for freedom. Osama Hajajeh, 15-and-a-half, had been let out of school early to attend the funeral for a local teacher killed when an Israeli settler - never caught - crushed her with his car. After the funeral, protests broke out among the young people, and IDF forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition into the crowd. They eventually tackled, blindfolded and handcuffed Hajajeh behind his back; at one point in the commotion, he stood up and tried to run. Four soldiers chase him; one fires point blank at his crotch, then another does. They hit a main artery in his thigh, causing heavy bleeding. Video shows soldiers blocking distraught Palestinians trying to help the boy; one soldier finally joins them, and Hajajeh was later hospitalized in critical condition. "So they shoot the tied-up youth, whose eyes are covered," rages Gideon Levy on "the grotesque face of military action." He goes on, "IDF soldiers know to speak only one language...The language of gunfire. Live gunfire, to be precise...They no longer have the ability to discern right from wrong...only their gun can speak." And still, it tells lies. An army spokesman said they'd arrested "an instigator of a violent protest” guilty of “massive stone throwing.” Hajajeh was unarmed. "Look at the photos, Netanyahu," urges a blistering Ha'aretz editorial. This, they charge, is his "real legacy."
IDF cognitive dissonance on the shooting of a child: “Last Thursday, there was a violent disturbance of the peace in the area of the village of Tuqu, which included massive stone-throwing at Israeli army forces and at Israeli vehicles on the road, which endangered the lives of the civilians and the [army] forces. The soldiers responded using means to disperse demonstrations, and at the same time, arrested one of those disturbing the peace, who tried to flee following his arrest. The arrested individual had been detained at a nearby point, and a short time later began fleeing from the forces. The soldiers carried out pursuit, in the course of which they fired at the lower portion of his body. The forces provided the Palestinian with immediate medical treatment. The incident will be investigated.”
Osama Hajajeh on the ground. Photo by Mustafa al-Badan