A wave of knife attacks on Israelis continued on Tuesday, as a Palestinian man, suspected of killing an American tourist and stabbing at least nine others, was shot and killed by police officers near the port of Jaffa.
A Dutch journalist, Olaf Koens, happened to be near the scene of the attack and documented the immediate aftermath.
While most local news reports focused on the fate of the victims — including the 28-year-old American who was killed, Taylor Force, a U.S. Army veteran who was studying business at Vanderbilt University — and the fact that the stabbing spree took place just over a mile away from a visiting Vice President Joe Biden, part of the stabbing rampage, and the efforts by the police to subdue the suspect, were captured on video that circulated widely on social networks.
Tragic attack in Jaffa today, taking the life of an American. There is no justification for such acts of terror.
— Vice President Biden (@VP) March 8, 2016
That video, which was recorded in dim light and downloaded from WhatsApp by journalists, is murky at key moments, but it prompted a heated argument online about whether or not it showed the extrajudicial killing of a suspect who was already wounded and lying on the ground.
The first of two clips of the incident, recorded by someone driving past the attack, shows the suspect, identified as Bashar Masalha, a 22-year-old laborer from the West Bank, running along a boulevard, lashing out at drivers stuck in traffic.
That video ends with the suspect being chased down by officers and what sound like 10 distinct gunshots being fired.
A second clip, either filmed by the same witness moments later or another bystander with a similar phone, begins with the suspected attacker lying on the ground, apparently subdued, as two officers train their guns on him.
In the background, as the Israeli journalist Dimi Reider notes, an enraged spectator can be heard urging one of the officers to shoot the suspect in the head.
— Dimi Reider (@dimireider) March 8, 2016
Near the end of the clip, a shot rings out and another voice can be heard reproaching the officer for firing at the suspect.
To some viewers, like the Palestinian journalist and blogger Jalal Abukhater, that portion of the video is proof that the suspect was executed.
Video of injured Palestinian (immobile, on the ground) being executed in the head by Israeli police officers – Jaffa https://t.co/NVZdzUyfyA
— Jalal (@JalalAK_jojo) March 8, 2016
Enough with the charade of "justice system" within Israel "proper". In Tel Aviv, extra-judicial execution is normal if you're Palestinian.
— Jalal (@JalalAK_jojo) March 8, 2016
While the man’s head did appear to move slightly in the video before the final gunshot, and then not after it, in the absence of an autopsy, it is hard to say if the suspect died from that shot, or the earlier barrage.
The killing of the American tourist and the suspect, and three other Palestinians who died during separate knife and gun attacks on Tuesday, brings the total number of fatalities from the outbreak of violence in the region since October to more than 200. Of those, 28 have been Israeli victims of attacks, two have been Americans, and 119 have been suspected Palestinian attackers. Dozens more Palestinians have been shot and killed at protests.
As the Jerusalem Post reporter Ben Hartman noted on Twitter, not one Israeli police officer has been charged with the use of excessive force for killing any of those Palestinian suspects.
— Ben Hartman (@Benhartman) March 8, 2016
The only recent prosecution of that type was of four men, including a soldier and prison guard, who brutally beat and kicked an Eritrean bystander they mistook for a Palestinian attacker following a shooting attack at a bus station in October. The Eritrean migrant, Habtom Zerhom, was crawling away from the gunman along with other bystanders, when a security guard assumed he was an attacker and shot him. As he lay dying, the man was jeered and beaten by a crowd of Israelis, including a uniformed solider who kicked him and a civilian who dropped a bench on his body.
— ???????? (@m7madqubbaj) October 18, 2015
While some Israelis are horrified by such incidents of mob violence, and have raised alarms about a breakdown in the rule of law and a lack of accountability for the police, the country’s government has justified the response by comparing it to a state of war.
After Tuesday’s attacks, Israel’s intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, told Israeli television, “We are in the midst of a war against ISIS-style Muslim extremist terror.”
“We are in an emergency situation,” he added. “There are murderers here who are motivated by hatred and we cannot allow Jews to continue to get harmed.”
What that might mean for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, or residents of the West Bank who have lived under Israeli military occupation for 49 years, he did not say.