Maureen Clare Murphy,
Israeli occupation forces have already killed 10 Palestinians in the West Bank this month.
The latest fatality is Odai Salah, a 17-year-old who was shot in Kafr Dan village west of Jenin in the northern West Bank on Thursday.
The teen was fatally injured during an Israeli incursion into Kafr Dan to prepare to demolish homes belonging to the families of two Palestinians who allegedly attacked an Israeli checkpoint on Wednesday, killing a military officer. The two alleged gunmen – Ahmad and Abdulrahman Abed – were killed in an ensuing firefight.
Defense for Children International-Palestine, a human rights group, said that an Israeli soldier occupying a Palestinian home fired two bullets from a window, striking Odai in the head and chest. There were confrontations between the raiding military and Palestinian residents at the time.
The rights group said that the slain teen had arrived at the site of the confrontations on a motorbike “while holding a homemade gun.”
“[Odai] allegedly attempted to shoot in the direction of Israeli military vehicles parked about 50 meters (165 feet) away,” Defense for Children International-Palestine added.
“An Israeli sniper fired at least two bullets at Odai from around 150 meters (490 feet) away, killing him. It is unclear if Odai fired the weapon before he was killed, according to information collected by DCIP.”
He was the second child killed in Kafr Dan village this year; Shawkat Kamel Shawkat Abed, 17, died after being shot by Israeli soldiers in April. Two other Palestinians – Shas Kamamji and Mustafa Abu al-Rub – were killed in Kafr Dan during that month.
Around 90 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and settlers so far this year. It is the deadliest year in the territory since 2015, when around 100 Palestinians were fatally injured.
Around a third of those killed this year were in the Jenin area, which has been subjected to nightly raids after a wave of attacks in Israel beginning in late March.
There was a brief reprieve of 18 days in July during which no Palestinians were killed in the West Bank, thanks to pressure from the Biden administration to avoid further escalation in the run-up to the US president’s visit.
For Biden’s Washington, dead Palestinians are little more than a public relations problem.
Under pressure from Democrats in Congress after the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May, the Biden administration is reportedly asking Israel to review its rules of engagement.
Abu Akleh, who was wearing a helmet and protective vest marking her as press at the time she was shot with a carefully aimed bullet, was a US citizen. Her family demands a US investigation into her death.
Chris Van Hollen, a US senator, said on Wednesday that the secretary of state had not responded to a letter from lawmakers asking for “answers to basic questions around [Abu Akleh’s] shooting and a copy of the report produced by the US Security Coordinator.”
That report, released on the Independence Day holiday in the US, parroted the Israeli line that Abu Akleh’s killing was an operational error and “tragic mistake,” stating without demonstrating its claim that she was not deliberately targeted – despite all evidence to the contrary.
In July a group of us wrote to @SecBlinken seeking answers on the shooting death of American journalist Shireen Abu Ahleh & a copy of the US Security Coordinator report. No response yet. Glad today SFRC adopted my amendment demanding we receive the report. Need accountability. pic.twitter.com/IUHUASk5wO
— Senator Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) September 14, 2022
Van Hollen introduced legislation endorsed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee requiring the State Department to provide the report and said that he would “continue pressing for full accountability and transparency around the death of Shireen – anything less is unacceptable.”
On Thursday, Senator Patrick Leahy challenged the US Security Coordinator’s findings.
“The USSC, echoing the conclusion of the [Israeli military], apparently did not interview any of the [Israeli] soldiers or any other witnesses,” Leahy said.
“To say that fatally shooting an unarmed person, and in this case one with PRESS written in bold letters on her clothing, was not intentional, without providing any evidence to support that conclusion, calls into question the State Department’s commitment to an independent, credible investigation and to ‘follow the facts.’”
He added that the Leahy Law must be applied if Abu Akleh’s killing was intentional and no one is held accountable by Israel.
The 1997 Leahy Law, named for Senator Leahy, who sponsored it, prohibits the US from providing military assistance to units of foreign militaries when there is credible information that those units violated human rights with impunity.
While claiming to support accountability for Abu Akleh’s slaying, the Biden administration has deferred to Israel’s self-investigation mechanism, long discredited by international organizations and human rights groups.
Israel announced the findings of its internal probe earlier this month, admitting that one of its soldiers is likely responsible for the journalist’s death.
According to the Israeli military, Abu Akleh was “mistakenly shot by an Israeli soldier while under fire who was using a telescopic scope and misidentified her as an armed Palestinian,” as reported by Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper.
Eyewitness testimony and footage from the scene make clear that no armed Palestinians were present and Israeli soldiers did not come under fire at the time that Abu Akleh “was intentionally targeted with aimed shots,” as a firearms expert told CNN.
Yair Lapid, Israel’s prime minister, has rejected Washington’s toothless demands, saying last week that “no one will dictate open fire regulations to us when we are fighting for our lives.”
He added that he would “not allow them to put an [Israeli] soldier on trial who defended himself against fire from terrorists, just to receive a round of applause from the world.”
Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, likewise said that the military’s rules of engagement are set by the chief of staff “and he will continue to set the open fire policy in accordance with the operational needs and doctrine of ethics of the [Israeli military].”
To the int'l community, they say – we have the most moral army in the world, with some of the strictest rules of engagement of any army, we don't shoot if there's any danger to civilians, even if that means putting our own soldiers in danger.
— Breaking the Silence (@BtSIsrael) September 8, 2022
This morning's Yediot newspaper featured a call from the senior West Bank brigade commanders: "When in danger, a combatant isn't going to stop and check the document to see when they can and cannot shoot." pic.twitter.com/JjtxgcjKEW
— Breaking the Silence (@BtSIsrael) September 8, 2022
Those rules of engagement are classified and apparently not even well understood by soldiers, who in any case have been assured by Israel’s most senior leaders that they will face no consequences for maiming and killing Palestinians.
And Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, has in turn assured Tel Aviv, which receives a floor of $3.8 billion in military assistance from Washington each year, that “Israel is a sovereign country and will make their own decisions.”
Meanwhile, State Department officials are preoccupied with maintaining Palestinian Authority “security cooperation” with Israel, rather than protecting Palestinians’ right to life, to say nothing of ending the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Terror group designations
But Tel Aviv knows that ultimately, it cannot get away with its crimes without cover from Washington.
And so Israel sent officials to the US capital to persuade the State Department to back its designation of prominent Palestinian groups as “terrorist” organizations – a move widely condemned by progressive lawmakers and even some liberal Zionist groups in the US.
The targeted groups include Addameer, Al-Haq, the Bisan Center for Research & Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Health Work Committees.
Israel raided and sealed the organizations’ offices in the area of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in August.
Several European Union states publicly rejected Israel’s allegations and have pledged to continue funding the targeted groups, some of which have provided evidence for the International Criminal Court’s war crimes investigation in Palestine.
But as Mary Lawlor, an independent UN expert on human rights defenders, told the publication Mondoweiss, it isn’t enough to stop Israel’s persecution of Palestinian civil society leaders.
“They really have to use more leverage to stop these aggressive attacks and to get this designation of terrorist rescinded,” Lawlor said.
And Washington must be compelled to place meaningful pressure on Israel.
“One centimeter of the US is worth more than a meter of the EU,” she said.