RAMALLAH – In early February, 41-year-old Fayez Ahmed Faraj, a father of nine from the city of Hebron, 30 miles south of Jerusalem, in the southern West Bank, was shot dead in his home town by Israeli soldiers after he allegedly tried to stab one of them.
After a preliminary investigation the Israeli military authorities stated that the soldiers had acted in defense and had used the necessary force.
The media subsequently reported that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier who shot Faraj dead had acted within reason.
But further investigation by Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, and eye-witness reports, dispute the official version of events.
Questions have been raised and doubts expressed about the circumstances surrounding the shooting.
"This is not the first time that Israeli security forces have shot to kill when their lives have been in no danger. We have recorded many such incidents," says Shawan Gabardine from the Palestinian human rights organization’s Al Haq in Ramallah.
"There seems to be a deliberate policy often to kill following the smallest provocation. Palestinian life is cheap for the Israelis," Gabardine told IPS.
According to eye-witnesses and paramedics following a possible verbal altercation with the soldiers Faraj was shot seven times in the course of an hour even as he lay on the ground seriously wounded and barely able to move.
The witnesses further claim that not only did the Israeli soldiers fail to arrest Faraj but they deliberately framed him by taking a knife from a nearby military jeep and threw it on the ground next to the dying man after they had shot him. They then took photographs for "evidence".
Paramedics from the Palestine Red Crescent (PRC) also state that when they tried to evacuate the critically injured man to hospital they were held up at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers.
The hospital the paramedics were trying to reach was only a few hundred meters away from where the shooting took place. Time was of the essence as Faraj had lost copious amounts of blood.
One of the paramedics, Eid Abu Munshar, told Israeli human rights group B’tselem that one of the Israeli soldiers entered the ambulance and pulled the intravenous drip from Fayez’s arm.
Later an IDF officer ordered Faraj to be transferred to an IDF jeep. He was then placed in an intensive care ambulance where he waited another critical half an hour.
None of these subsequent details made media headlines with the exception of the investigative journalist Gideon Levy from the Israeli daily ‘Haaretz’ who decided to investigate further.
Further complicating the issue was the fact that several weeks earlier a Palestinian policeman had stabbed an Israeli soldier to death in the West Bank and many believed this to be a copy-cat killing.
Levy’s report raised several other questions regarding the murky circumstances and confusion surrounding Faraj’s death.
After speaking to Faraj’s employers and family he established that Faraj had little motivation to carry out a stabbing attack.
He was one of the few Palestinians in possession of a security permit to both enter Israel and sleep overnight something that a Palestinian deemed a security risk by the IDF would never have.
Faraj had been employed by the same Israeli company for 15 years in Tel Aviv where he worked as a shoemaker and was described as a happy guy. He had Israeli friends, spoke Hebrew fluently and was economically well off.
He was not an Islamic ideologue and as his brother explained to Levy if Faraj had wanted to attack Israelis he had plenty of chances to do so in Tel Aviv.
B’tselem, too, was not satisfied with the previous conclusions drawn and wrote to Israel’s Judge Attorney General asking that the case be thoroughly investigated
"The circumstances of the incident, as they appear from B’Tselem’s investigation, contradict the announcements issued by the army," said the group’s website.
Al Haq, meanwhile, raised the following issues. Fayez was unarmed; the soldiers opened fire on him on three separate occasions; and in the aftermath of the shooting, an Israeli soldier took a knife from his own pocket and threw it down beside the victim.
A military investigation is currently underway. However, Gabardine is skeptical of the results.
"What is particularly problematic for us is that when the Israeli military or settlers attack Palestinians under dubious circumstances and these cases are brought to the attention of the relevant Israeli authorities very few are opened and even fewer lead to a conviction," Gabardine told IPS.
Lior Yavne from the Israeli human rights organization’s Yesh Din which helps Palestinians to lay charges against Israeli attackers in the West Bank concurs. "Less than eight percent of cases opened result in any conviction."
"In many instances the police allegedly either ‘lose the paper work’ or ‘can’t identify the perpetrators’. This is not a problem they seem to have when investigating Palestinians accused of crimes against Israelis," Yavne told IPS.
(Inter Press Service)