JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Palestinians who witnessed Israeli border police shooting and killing 16-year-old Fatima Afif Abd al-Rahman Hjeiji in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday evening said the girl was “executed in cold blood” and did not pose a lethal threat when she was hit with some 20 bullets outside of the Old City.
Israeli police claimed Hjeiji “approached Israeli police and border guards stationed at the site, drew a knife, and tried to attack them while calling out ‘Allah Akbar’ in an attempt to hurt Israeli forces, who determinedly and professionally neutralized her.”
However, shortly after the shooting, an eyewitness told Ma’an that Hjeiji had been standing near Damascus Gate, more than ten meters away from a group of Israeli border guard soldiers, before she was killed.
“One of the soldiers started to shout ‘knife! knife!’ and moments after that, about five soldiers opened fire at her from every direction,” he said.
Another witness said the girl was first hit in the chest and fell to the ground, “but Israeli soldiers continued to fire at her back.”
Witnesses highlighted that a parked car nearby was riddled with bullets, indicating the extent of indiscriminate force used on the teenage girl, allegedly armed with only a knife.
In the wake off the killing, Israeli forces cordoned off the area as bystanders tried to crowd around Hjeiji’s body. Israeli border guards, intelligence officers, and police on horseback deployed heavily in the area and denied locals access to the Old City.
In the ensuing chaos, Israeli forces “haphazardly used pepper spray on Palestinians to keep them away from from the girl,” a witness told Ma’an.
A young Palestinian man sustained face burns after Israeli forces attacked him with pepper spray near Damascus Gate, and a nine-year-old child, Mahmoud Abu Sbeih, was badly bruised from falling over after he and a group of teenagers were chased by mounted police officers.
An impassioned bystander confronted Israeli police, shouting: “Why do you continue to tell lies? What did that girl do? What did she do? Do you actually want peace?”
Israeli police spokespersons had also published a photo of a knife that allegedly seized at the scene, and said a letter written by Hjeiji, in which she bid farewell to her family, was also found.
According to Israeli police, the note “included verses from the Quran, and was signed ‘martyr,’” the term used by Palestinians to refer to those who are killed by Israeli forces.
Israeli authorities and media outlets have claimed in a number of cases that Palestinians were shot after they intentionally provoked Israeli forces at military checkpoints in order to commit suicide, after a pattern of extrajudicial executions of Palestinians by Israeli forces emerged over a wave of violence that peaked in the fall of 2015.
Eyewitnesses have also said in a number of cases that Israeli security forces planted knives on slain Palestinians to claim that they were acting in self-defense.
An Israeli settler was shot and killed earlier this month at a military checkpoint, representing a rare case of Israeli forces taking lethal action on a Jewish Israeli since Israel became the target of international condemnation for implementing a “shoot-to-kill” policy on Palestinians who allegedly or actually carry out attacks.
Haaretz, considered to be Israel’s most left-leaning news outlet, wrote in the report on the incident that “the concept of ‘suicide by police’ is well known in countries with large Muslim populations, because Islam forbids suicide, but being killed by a policeman or soldier is often considered an honorable death that entitles the dead man to the status of a martyr.”
However, “suicide by cop” is a well-known and researched phenomenon, particularly in the United States where police, like Israeli forces, are routinely denounced for excessive use of lethal force on civilians with impunity.
While Israeli officials have routinely claimed that Palestinian attacks are part of a international rise in Islamist extremism, many Palestinians have instead pointed chiefly to the frustration and despair brought on by Israel’s decades-long military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the absence of a political horizon.
According to Ma’an documentation, Hjeiji is the 20th Palestinian to have been killed by Israelis since the beginning of the year, seven of whom were minors. Seven Israelis have been killed by Palestinians during the same time period.