Israel: The Willing Executioner

Rasha Oweissi, 23, was a good 30 feet back from a West Bank checkpoint when she was shot and killed, clutching a knife and a bag with a suicide note. Hadeel Awwad, 16, waved a pair of scissors at a Jerusalem security guard and was brought down in a hail of bullets. Ashrakat Qattanani, 16, was killed as she lunged at a woman near a military post.

Their names appear in a New York Times story today, which informs us that some 20 percent of alleged attackers in the past two months have been women, a new and surprising turn of events in the annals of resistance to the Israeli occupation. The article goes on to examine why so many young women in the current Palestinian uprising are “wanting to be killers.”

But the story avoids the obvious question here: How is it that some Palestinians are now courting martyrdom by showing up at checkpoints armed with kitchen knives?

Diaa Hadid and Rami Nazzal skirt this issue throughout the article. There are quotes from Ashrakat’s father who proudly states that his daughter chose to be a martyr, and there is talk of the “romantic” aura of dying for the cause of Palestinian freedom, but nothing is said of the Israeli role here: the summary executions carried out under the thinnest pretexts.

The practice is well known to Palestinians, however, and B’Tselem, the Israeli monitoring group, recently wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding an end to a “horrific string” of unlawful killings. The letter states, “There can only be one outcome in cases that combine an individual with Arab appearance and a knife: execution on the street.”

As a result, any troubled young person looking for martyrdom knows she has only to hold a knife in hand and walk toward a checkpoint to achieve her goal. Thus, Rasha Oweissi could write her suicide note, confident that the executioners would do their job.

The real story here, so carefully avoided in the Times, is the presence of willing executioners at the checkpoints. This angle, however, does not fit into the narrative of Israeli victimhood, so we find this print headline on the article today: “Palestinian Women Assert Role in Uprising,” as if we are celebrating their emancipation as they take up arms.

But there is little to celebrate. The story reports that most of the would-be female attackers have been killed in the two months since the recent spate of knife and vehicular assaults began and that those who survived have been taken into custody. At the same time, not a single Israeli has died at their hands.

Readers do not learn, however, that several of these women died under disputed circumstances. Hadeel Hashlamoun, 18, was the first victim of the trigger-happy forces in this recent surge in violence. She was shot in late September at a checkpoint in Hebron, and although Israeli officials reported that she had a knife, eyewitnesses dispute this. B’Tselem noted the discrepancies and called her death an extrajudicial execution.

The Times story today, however, asserts that Hadeel “pulled out a knife,” ignoring the controversy surrounding her killing.

Hadid and Nazzal note that B’Tselem called the deaths of Hadeel Awwad and Ashrakat Qattanani “public, summary street executions,” but the full import of the B’Tselem charges are not to be found in the Times.

In fact, the organization asserts that the highest levels of the Israeli government are responsible for the series of unlawful killings. “Your government permits—and encourages—the transformation of police officers, and even of armed civilians, into judges and executioners,” B’Tselem writes in its open letter to Netanyahu.

The letter notes that senior members of the government have incited this violence through “inflammatory statements,” and it continues, “A new pseudo-normative reality has effectively emerged in which a ‘shoot to kill’ approach must always be adopted, no matter the circumstances, even when the suspect no longer presents any danger whatsoever.”

Thus reports show that Ashrakat Qattanani was killed after she had been run over by a car and that Nourhan Awwad was shot at close range after being beaten to the ground by a man wielding a chair. Likewise, Hadeel Hashlamoun stood behind a barrier and several feet from heavily armed officers when a hail of bullets ended her life.

A careful reader of the Times story might have noticed that security forces indulged in overkill, emptying rounds of bullets into the bodies of young women after they were already immobilized and lying wounded on the street, but the article avoids any close look at the behavior of police and soldiers, not to mention the provocative comments of government officials.

Once again the Times averts its gaze from the reality on the ground in Palestine. Here we had an opportunity to look at the tragic intersection of youthful romanticism and Israeli brutality, but the newspaper can provide only one side of this equation: Israel gets a pass, as usual, even when the evidence for its crimes is in plain sight.

Barbara Erickson

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