RAMALLAH, West Bank — About two things, almost everyone agrees.
A Palestinian teenager threw rocks at an Israeli army vehicle near the main military checkpoint in the West Bank city of Ramallah last Friday. And a senior Israeli army commander got out of his jeep and fatally shot the teen, making him the third son in his family to die in clashes with Israeli soldiers.
The Israeli military said the officer feared for his life; Palestinians say the teen was fleeing when he was gunned down.
Hours after the confrontation, Israel’s top political leaders came out in support of the brigade commander, Col. Israel Shomer, calling the shooting a “decisive” act of “self-defense” that would send a powerful “message” to rock throwers — who rarely pose a serious threat to soldiers in helmets and protective gear but have come to symbolize Palestinian resistance.
“Whoever rises to kill you, kill him first,” said Naftali Bennett, education minister and leader of the Jewish Home party in the coalition government, offering support for the colonel’s actions.
Qais Abu Layla, assistant general secretary of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of the political factions in the West Bank, called it another example of “coldblooded killings.”
“It was obvious that neither the officer nor the soldiers that were with him acted in self-
defense,” he said. “There was no threat to their lives at all.”
Palestinians including doctors, witnesses and relatives — backed by Israeli human rights activists — say Mohammed al-Kasbah, 17, was shot in the back and side, appeared to pose no lethal threat, and was one more victim in what they call a string of recent killings by Israeli soldiers who act with impunity in the occupied West Bank.
There has been a well-publicized spike in attacks by Palestinians against Israelis in recent weeks, with drive-by shootings, stabbings and ambushes that Israeli politicians have accused the Palestinian leadership of inciting.
But Palestinians point to a parallel trend — raids, arrests, home demolitions and violence by Jewish settlers and soldiers. So far this year, Israeli soldiers have killed 14 Palestinians in the West Bank and wounded 955, according to the United Nations.
The shooting of Kasbah is the latest reminder of how the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, now in its 48th year, continues to take lives and leave scars. It also offers a snapshot of the often huge disconnect in perceptions and viewpoints between the two sides, which now plays out on the wider stage of social media.
Israeli media focused on the case because of the high rank of the officer involved; Palestinians emphasized the fact that Kasbah joined his two brothers killed
in confrontations with Israeli troops.
Video taken immediately after the shooting shows young Palestinian men surrounding Kasbah, who is bleeding, still conscious, but pale and gasping. An emergency room nurse and a surgeon said in interviews that the youth was dead upon arrival at Ramallah’s central hospital 30 minutes later.
In recent weeks, one unarmed Palestinian was shot and injured when he approached an Israeli checkpoint and shouted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.” Another was shot and wounded when Israelis said he threatened them with a gasoline bomb. A 14-year-old was shot in the thigh when he confronted soldiers during a protest against an Israeli barricade near his village. Another was killed after he fired a handgun at Israeli troops.
The slain teen’s father, Sami al-Kasbah, acknowledged that his son was throwing rocks at soldiers.
“So what?” said the father, who runs the little canteen at a U.N. school in Qalandiya refugee camp in Ramallah, a mile from where the shooting took place. “The youth throw rocks every day. They throw rocks and the soldiers keep driving. But on this day? An Israeli general gets out of his jeep and shoots my son. Why?”
The incident on Friday occurred around 6:30 a.m. at a busy intersection near the Qalandiya crossing separating East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It is a scene of frequent clashes between Palestinian demonstrators who hurl rocks and gasoline bombs, and Israeli troops who respond with tear gas, rubber bullets and often live fire.
After Kasbah was struck by at least two bullets, two witnesses told The Washington Post, one of the Israeli soldiers stood over him and gave him a kick. The Israeli commander and his troops did not offer medical aid and quickly left the area, according to the witnesses. An Israeli military spokesman said the Israeli troops did pull back to let the Palestinians retrieve the teen and take him to the hospital.
Israeli military officials posted a picture of the jeep with a large crack on its windshield.
Fahdi Ziad, who works at the gasoline station at the intersection, said three Israeli soldiers in the damaged jeep pursued the rock throwers and fired at least seven rounds.
“The soldiers chased them,” Ziad said.
Ahmed Taher, 17, who was throwing rocks beside Kasbah, said after his burial: “We were running away.”
The gasoline attendant said they saw one soldier shoot Kasbah from a distance of 10 or 20 yards. He fell to the ground. “Then they kicked him and left,” he said.
Libby Weiss, a spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces, said the senior commander, Shomer, and his men faced “imminent mortal danger.” They first ordered the rock throwers to stop, she said, and when the throwing continued and the attackers advanced, the commander “opened fire on the main perpetrator.”
Supporters of the Israeli colonel, including Israeli military officials, have been pointing to an image of Kasbah, taken from social media, that shows Kasbah posing with an assault rifle in a room.
The photograph was not taken at the scene, but it shows a menacing young man with a gun.
Tamer Imtour, an emergency room surgeon at Ramallah’s central hospital, said in an interview that the fatal bullet struck the teen in the back. The hospital’s official medical report states that one bullet entered Kasbah above his left back shoulder and exited under his right armpit. Another bullet hit his jaw.
Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the organization’s field investigators interviewed witnesses who said the teens were moving away from the Israeli commander when the shots were fired.
It is rare for an Israeli soldier to be prosecuted for shooting a Palestinian in the West Bank, with just a handful of trials in recent years.
In this case, Shomer’s superior officer, the head of the central command, Maj. General Roni Noma, declared the shooting proper. Israeli military police, however, will review the shooting. Shomer remains on duty.
The father of the slain teen was receiving visitors on Sunday at his cement block home in the Qalandiya camp, a six-decade-old neighborhood built from a settlement of displaced Palestinians.
He looked exhausted, and his answers were offered in a kind of blank recital.
In 2001, his 11-year-old son was fatally shot by an Israeli soldier at the nearby checkpoint after throwing rocks, he said. The boy’s older brother, who was 15, was killed by Israeli gunfire in another incident 40 days later at the siege of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s compound, said the father.
“You ask me why this happened to my family? I will tell you,” Kasbah said. “The reason is that we live in this camp. All we have known is jail, jail, jail. If we were still living in my home village, none of this would ever have happened.”
Sufian Taha and Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.