Israeli politicians deeply divided on the killing of Damascus Gate terrorist

Where do Israel's public officials stand on the killing of Mohammed Shawkat Salima, the terrorist who stabbed a man in Jerusalem's Damascus Gate?

 Israeli Border policemen patrol the area near the site of a shooting incident in Jerusalem's Old City November 21, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Israeli Border policemen patrol the area near the site of a shooting incident in Jerusalem's Old City November 21, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

The terrorist who carried out a stabbing attack at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem was killed on Saturday by two Border Police officers while laying on the ground. The killing of the attacker, 25-year-old Mohammed Shawkat Salima, received polarized reactions from Israeli public officials. 

The two officers are currently being investigated by the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Department (PID).

Knesset MKs in the coalition and opposition took up opposing views, some expressing support for the Border Police officers for their actions while others said that Salima's killing was out-of-court sentencing by authorities. 

In footage from the stabbing attack, which left a 20-year-old haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) man moderately injured, the officers can be seen shooting at the terrorist, after which he falls to the ground, then once more shooting at the ground where Salima was laying injured as another officer seemingly gestures that they should hold their fire.

Israel Border Police officers arrest a protester at the Damascus Gate (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Israel Border Police officers arrest a protester at the Damascus Gate (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Border Police Commander Amir Cohen quickly gave his full support to the Border Police officers at the scene. "The officers acted resolutely, ending the incident by preventing a larger attack on both civilians and officers," Cohen said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the Border Police officers for their actions, stating they acted "quickly and with determination, as is expected of them."

Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter he "commends the actions of Border Police forces, who bravely neutralized the terrorist."

"The fighters acted courageously in order to neutralize a murderous terrorist," Likud MK Avi Dichter wrote on Twitter.

"Without their awareness, it seems that he was determined to hunt down another Jew - any passerby, including the police officers themselves," He added.

"The decision to investigate the officers is irrational both operationally and professionally. Brave fighters, you saved lives and are worthy of all the praise for it!" he concluded.

The right-wing factions within the Bennett-led Israeli government all voiced their support of the officers, including Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel.

Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai and Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev also expressed their support for the officers, with Bar Lev offering an explanation for their actions. According to Bar Lev, the officers made the right call in determining whether the terrorist was wearing an explosive belt.

"If there is doubt, there is no doubt," Bar Lev said on Twitter.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej was critical of the way the officers handled the situation, which he described as an "act of indifference towards human life" that "deserves to be investigated."

"You must only shoot attackers to save human lives," said Frej. "Not take their lives when they no longer pose a danger,"

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli appeared conflicted in her response to the attack, stating that while "terrorism must be fought with a heavy hand," she expects Israel Police and Bar Lev to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.

Joint List MKs Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Cassif were both outspokenly critical of the officers, with Touma-Sliman calling their actions, which they both described as an "execution," a "horrible and terrible crime." Cassif said the killing was a "blatant war crime."

Azaria returns home after serving his sentence, May 8, 2018. (credit: A. SHOSHANI)Azaria returns home after serving his sentence, May 8, 2018. (credit: A. SHOSHANI)

The last precedent of a situation similar to this was the very divisive and public trial of Elor Azaria, the former IDF soldier who killed a subdued Palestinian terrorist after he had posed no threat in March 2016.

Azaria was convicted of manslaughter and served 14 months of an 18-month manslaughter sentence.