Ahmad Iriqat, a young Palestinian, was shot dead by Israeli Border Police officers on June 23 at the Container Checkpoint near Abu Dis, north of Bethlehem, after his car veered off track, lightly injuring a policewoman. According to his family, the incident was an accident while Israel claims that he intentionally veered off the road so he could ram into the policewoman.
Iriqat, 27, was shot several times. Palestinians claim that he was left to bleed to death but Israel says that an ambulance arrived at the scene within minutes and that he was declared dead.
According to an Israeli police statement and the footage shown on television, Iriqat accelerated his vehicle and swerved into the officer. The police report said it was on purpose.
The officer was evacuated to a Jerusalem hospital and released the same day.
Iriqat’s family told The Media Line it was the night of his sister’s wedding and he was rushing to Bethlehem with items needed for the event.
“He was in a hurry and late. He absolutely had no intention to kill anyone or to run over the soldier, as the Israelis claim. Actually, it was the terror in the heart of the soldiers that prompted them to shoot and kill him on the spot,” Imad Iriqat, Ahmed’s cousin, said.
“Ahmad’s [own] wedding [was scheduled to be held in] in two months,” Imad continued. “It was supposed to be in May, but it was postponed because of the coronavirus and the state of emergency that was declared. They [the Israelis] have no evidence that he attempted to do what they accuse him of.”
The cousin expressed the family’s shock and confusion.
“We have mixed feelings,” he said. “We were preparing for his sister’s wedding that night, which turned into a funeral. We still can’t believe what happened.”
Dalal Iriqat, another cousin and a leading Palestinian academic and columnist, told The Media Line that what happened must have been an accident, a loss of control or a technical issue with the car, which had been rented for the wedding day, but that “as usual,” police were quick to pull the trigger.
“The video isn’t evidence against the innocent martyr Ahmad,” she said.
“It shows that he wasn’t speeding. Ahmad stepped out of the car to explain to the soldiers what happened, but they preferred to shoot and kill him rather than listen and understand the issue,” she stated. “It’s a war crime and a systematic error. His soul deserves an investigation.”
Osama Qwasme, a spokesperson and adviser for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction, told The Media Line that the incident was the product of Israeli incitement led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu against the Palestinian people.
“Ahmad was engaged to a young lady and preparing for his wedding…. He was an intelligent young man coming to life, but Israel decided to kill his joy, and his family’s joy as well,” he said.
“What happened with Ahmad shows the systematic, racist Israeli mentality, which sees Palestinians as second-class human beings, where killing them is a duty and a solution,” he stated.
Qwasme added that most such “field executions” come despite the absence of a real threat to Israeli police or soldiers, who then claim there was a car-ramming attack or an attempted stabbing to justify the killing.
Grisha Yakubovich, a former head of the Civilian Department in the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit, told The Media Line he regretted the incident, although “drivers anywhere in the world should behave in a certain way when passing [through] checkpoints, be they Israeli checkpoints or Palestinian, American or even European.”
He added that Border Police have a responsibility to their comrades.
“Let’s not forget that security guards at these checkpoints have to be very careful, and when there’s a potential threat or a suspicion, they have to act according to the rules of engagement,” Yakubovich, a former colonel, said.
“When a driver suddenly drives differently, it raises a red flag to the security guards. By the rules of engagement, when they see danger, they have to immediately eliminate the threat,” he explained.
Yakubovich says, however, that the rules of engagement are to shoot to wound rather than kill.
“I’m truly sorry for this death, and I’m not in a position here to judge or to say that’s right or wrong, as I wasn’t there. But I can definitely say that there is tension in the West Bank, especially after the PA heated up the streets after [announcements of Israel’s] annexation plan,” he said.
Lior Akerman, a political analyst and retired Israeli brigadier general, told The Media Line that the relevant officials conducted an investigation, although in real-time it looked like an attack.
“Understanding that there was no time to question the driver during the attack, and assuming the facts are correct, the shooting was justified,” he said.
Akerman added that it was important to remember that the personnel at the checkpoint had no idea who the driver was or that it was his sister’s wedding day.
“They have to respond quickly and neutralize the threat,” he said. “It is a fact that he accelerated the vehicle and hit the police officer.”
Fareed al-Atrash, a Palestinian lawyer and human rights activist based in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, told The Media Line: “Their fingers are always on the trigger; they could have arrested Ahmad instead of killing him.”
Atrash claims that Israeli security personnel have orders to shoot to kill as their first option, rather than to arrest suspects, saying the Israeli occupation systematically violates human rights and international laws at the encouragement of the Israeli government.
“Add to that the fact that soldiers know that they won’t be punished, and that if they are to be punished, it will be a very light punishment,” he said.
He maintains that such behavior has “major repercussions” on the psyche of Palestinians, especially their youth.
“The repeated crimes have created a state of terror and fear among Palestinians when passing through Israeli checkpoints. Citizens become confused and scared,” he said, because they know that not paying attention to a soldier’s order or even just a malfunction can cost them their life.
Noura Iriqat, another relative, is a human rights attorney and professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
“Palestinians are so securitized as a threat [by Israel] that we can’t make human mistakes, like lose momentary control of our car, press the accelerator in a moment of haste, get in a car accident,” she wrote on her official social media accounts.
“There is such deep dehumanization that the obvious question of journalists should be why is there a checkpoint between two Palestinian cities?” Iriqat’s posts continued. “Why would he do this on his sister’s wedding day? Why did the soldiers shoot him lethally? Why did they deny access to paramedics? Why is his image blurred [in the video] so that we can’t see [if] he is unarmed and confused?”