A Palestinian teenager returning from a fun night out with his family at a local swimming pool was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers early Tuesday morning in what the Israeli military has now said appears to have been a mistake.
A statement from the Israeli army said that overnight three civilians were injured and multiple cars damaged after a number of Palestinian youths hurled rocks and firebombs at people traveling on Route 443. The road, which connects Israel’s main airport to Jerusalem, runs partially through the West Bank and rock throwing incidents are common.
“Nearby forces acted to protect further civilians from being injured and pursued the suspects. From the initial inquiry, it appears that uninvolved bystanders were mistakenly hit during this pursuit,” said the army.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, said that an investigation into the incident had been launched.
The incident took place after more than eight months of shooting, stabbing and vehicular attacks by Palestinians against Israelis that have left 33 Israelis and four foreign nationals, including two Americans, dead. More than 180 Palestinians have also been killed, more than half carrying out attacks against Israelis and the rest in clashes with Israeli troops.
While the level of violence has dropped significantly over the past two months, tensions in the region remain high. Two weeks ago, two Palestinian gunmen opened fire on civilians at a food mall in Tel Aviv, killing four Israelis.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health identified the dead teenager from Tuesday’s attack as Mahmoud Raafat Badran, 15, from the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Tahta. Four other Palestinian teenagers traveling with him were injured, with one in critical condition.
Palestinian media reported that the group had been returning from a late night swim in the village of Beit Sira when they were shot. It is currently the holy month of Ramadan and Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink during the daylight. Many of the holiday’s social activities take place during night time hours.
Ahmed Shami, a cousin of the dead teen, said that the family is in shock.
“It is the summer and it’s Ramadan, people leave the village to go to the pool in Beit Sira, they were coming back between 1:15 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. and suddenly Israeli forces started shooting at their car. No one asked them to stop or asked them for ID,” said Shami.
He said the family is currently waiting for the Israeli army to return Mahmoud’s body so he can be buried immediately in accordance with Muslim traditions. In recent weeks, Israelis have said that they would not return bodies of Palestinians who carry out attacks against Israelis because the funerals often lead to further violence and tension. Palestinians say this is collective punishment.
Shami said Mahmoud and his cousins were returning home from swimming in the pool.
The Palestine Liberation Organization released a statement calling the incident a “brutal attack.”
“This cold blooded assassination reaffirms our calls to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, to initiate an immediate extensive investigation into Israel’s extrajudicial killings of Palestinians; particularly children,” the Palestinian governing body said in a statement.
The three injured in the rock throwing incident reportedly included two tourists from the United Kingdom and Belgium. They were treated in a nearby hospital, Israeli media reported .
Israeli forces have come under fire both locally and abroad by critics who say they have responded too harshly during some of the attacks. In the international arena, some have accused Israel of carrying out extrajudicial killings of Palestinians.
In March, an Israeli soldier was caught on camera shooting dead an already injured Palestinian attacker, who had been disarmed after stabbing another soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron. The soldier who carried out the shooting, Elor Azaria, is currently on trial for manslaughter and conduct unbecoming of a non-commissioned officer.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Ruth Eglash