Israelis killing Palestinians ‘in cold blood’ in occupied West Bank

The number of Palestinians killed there by Israeli soldiers and settlers has reached unprecedented levels.

Mourners gather around the body of Palestinian Samer Romana, who was killed in an Israeli raid, during his funeral in Nablus
Mourners gather around the body of Samer Romana, who was killed by an Israeli raid, during his funeral in Nablus in the occupied West Bank on May 12, 2024 [Raneen Sawafta/Reuters]

On October 19, Sarah Mahamid watched helplessly from a window as Israeli security forces shot her younger brother.

Taha, 15, had been playing with a friend outside their house in the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarem.

The 19-year-old screamed as her brother fell to the ground.

Their father, Ibrahim, ran out of the front door to get his son, but a sniper shot him too.

“I remember hearing my father shout that Taha might be alive, … but I knew that Taha was martyred. I knew he was dead,” Sarah told Al Jazeera.

Taha was killed instantly. Ibrahim fought for his life for five months in intensive care until he also died.

Footage seen by Al Jazeera shows Taha and Ibrahim were both unarmed and posed no threat.

“My other brother ran after my father out the door to stop him. He saw that Taha was dead, and he saw my father get shot.

“It seemed like steam or smoke was rising from my father’s body as the bullets hit him.”

Taha Mahamid, 15, and his father Ibrahim Mahamid pose in a photo at a restaurant in the West Bank. Both were shot and killed by Israeli forces.
Taha Mahamid, left, and his father Ibrahim, right, were shot and killed outside their home by Israeli forces during a raid in Tulkarem [Courtesy of Sarah Mahamid]

Unlawful, random killings

Nearly 1,500 Palestinians have been unlawfully killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank in the past 16 years – 98 percent of them civilians, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Each of them, like Taha and Ibrahim, has a story and loved ones who mourn them.

The frequency of the killings have spiked in recent years with Israel killing 509 Palestinians in 2023. That is more than double the number recorded by OCHA in any previous year.

In the first three months of this year, 131 Palestinians were killed, a higher rate of killing than the previous year, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Israel has a decades-long pattern of using lethal force against Palestinians, … but it seems that the Israeli government is taking even further steps in that regard,” said Omar Shakir, the Israel-Palestine director at HRW.

Israel says its operations in the West Bank are necessary for security reasons. It cites the same justification for its assault on the Gaza Strip, which has killed 35,000 Palestinians in response to the October 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel, which killed 1,139 people.

The killings in the West Bank are carried out during home raids or during stops and harassment at Israeli checkpoints.

Some Palestinian children have even been killed on their way to school, according to HRW.

“[The Israelis] are firing at people who don’t pose an imminent threat to life. They are also firing at people who are fleeing and at people who are injured and lying on the ground. Some of these trends have existed before, but it appears these incidents are happening more frequently,” Shakir told Al Jazeera.

Shoot to kill

Israeli officials have for years backed a shoot-to-kill policy regardless of whether the Palestinians being shot posed a threat. Israel has even authorised its army to shoot at stone throwers and has handed out assault rifles to Israeli Jews living in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

Settlers killed 17-year-old Omar Abdel Ghani Hamid when they attacked his village in the West Bank on April 13. Omar was one of several young men who had confronted the settlers to stop them from beating up Palestinians and attacking their homes.

Omar’s father, Ahmed, said his son and his friends scared the settlers away even though they were not carrying weapons. However, one of the settlers returned with a pistol and shot Omar.

“The bullet went through the right side of his head and out the left. He died immediately. Thank God he didn’t suffer much pain,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed learned about Omar’s death via a WhatsApp group that all the villagers use to notify each other of settler attacks. Later that morning, his son was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Omar Abdel Ghani Hamid, 17, was killed by an Israeli settler in April, 2024.
Omar Abdel Ghani Hamid, 17, was killed by an Israeli settler in April [Courtesy of Ahmed Abdel Ghani Hamid]

Ahmed said he is searching for justice but Jewish Israelis are almost never held accountable by the Israeli authorities.

From 2017 to 2021, less than 1 percent of all legal complaints that Palestinians filed against Israeli soldiers, including for extrajudicial killings, led to prosecutions, the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din said.

In that time, only three Israeli soldiers were convicted of killing Palestinians and were given lenient sentences. Others were ordered to complete “military community service” for killing Palestinians, it said.

“There is a culture where Israeli units know that they can carry out grave abuses without being held accountable for their abuses,” Shakir from HRW said.

‘Colonising our minds’

Army raids and extrajudicial killings are part of a broader attempt to keep Palestinians in the West Bank “afraid”, said Zaid Shuabi, analyst and activist with the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq.

But it has ultimately led to the formation of a new generation of armed groups, often established by young people who are fed up with the occupation’s transgressions.

Israel’s response to this new wave of resistance has been to target entire communities to crush the morale of Palestinians, Shuabi said.

“They want to reshape the Palestinian mind into thinking that we shouldn’t even dare to resist. And if we do, then we will pay a high price,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is about intimidating us. They want to put us down … and to colonise our minds.”

Sarah believes that was the purpose behind the Israeli attack on her family. She said that while her father and brother bled to death on the street, Israeli soldiers entered her house.

The Israeli army then cut off the water and electricity to their home. At one point, one of the Israeli soldiers began beating Sarah’s other brother with the butt of his rifle, telling him to keep silent.

Moments before the soldiers left, Sarah mustered up the courage to ask why they terrorised her family.

“He said, ‘To scare you,’” Sarah told Al Jazeera. “I couldn’t believe it. I wondered what was wrong with them.

“They killed my brother and my father just to scare me.”

Source: Al Jazeera