The incident on Saturday in which two Border Police officers shot and killed a terrorist who was lying on the ground has caused an uproar. The footage of the attack at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate released by the police shows the terrorist’s stabbing and the Border Police response. The video, which went viral, shows one of the officers shooting the terrorist a second time as he made a move on the ground.
Let’s make sure the facts are clear: it was the terrorist, 25-year-old Mohammed Shawkat Salima, who set off on Saturday with the intent of carrying out an attack. The two Border Police officers did not start their shift with the intent to kill, they did what they were trained to do: act swiftly and prevent loss of life.
The victim is not the dead terrorist – who had served time as a security prisoner for incitement, and had boasted on social media of his intention to become a “shahid” (martyr.) Salima stabbed Avraham Elimelich, 21, in the neck and then tried to attack security forces who responded.
Some have criticized the Border Police response, comparing it unfairly with the Elor Azaria incident in Hebron in 2016. This is wrong. Azaria shot the incapacitated terrorist 11 minutes after he had been neutralized. The Border Police officers shot the terrorist a second time on Saturday within seconds of the initial shooting, and while he was still moving.
It is worth remembering the fatal stabbing attacks in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood in 1990. In that case, a Palestinian terrorist went on a murderous spree, killing three. Off-duty police officer Charley Chelouche shot at the terrorist’s legs but he was not fully neutralized, and managed to spring back and kill the heroic Chelouche. This became a symbol of what can happen when security forces do not shoot to kill.
It should also be stressed that police officers, soldiers or armed civilians in this sort of situation have a split-second in which to make a literal life-or-death decision: to prevent an assailant from carrying out further attacks by trying to neutralize the attacker without killing him or her, at the risk that they are still armed and dangerous and possibly wearing a suicide belt.
Some of the responses to the Border Police officers’ actions on Saturday were scandalous.
Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, a coalition member from Meretz, tweeted that the killing of the terrorist was an “act of indifference toward human life” that “deserves to be investigated.”
Joint List MKs Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Cassif accused the officers of carrying out an “execution,” with Touma-Sliman calling their actions a “horrible and terrible crime,” and Cassif going as far as labeling it a “blatant war crime.”
This turns the terrorist into the victim. Salima was not an innocent man suddenly shot down by security forces. On the contrary: he stabbed Elimelich, an innocent man crossing the road whose only “crime” was being a Jew.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the officers, saying they acted “quickly and with determination, as is expected of them.”
Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, a former commander of the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit, also backed the officers, noting that they had to assess the situation and danger and decide a course of action within seconds. “When in doubt, there is no doubt,” he tweeted, noting that the officers could not be sure whether the terrorist was about to trigger an explosive jacket.
If there is a question of improper action, of course, it should be investigated. After every incident the relevant security forces need to carry out their own operation check on how it was handled and the lessons that can be learned. But this does not mean turning the police or soldiers into the villains.
There has been a spate of so-called lone-wolf attacks in Jerusalem recently, including the fatal attack in which Eli Kay was murdered in the Old City last month. The public relies on the security forces carrying out their jobs to protect us all. They deserve our support and backing. If police and soldiers are scared to act for fear of being criminalized, no one will be safe.