Updated | June 9, 2:48 pm
Two Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli civilians at a busy restaurant complex in central Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, killing at least four and wounding six, according to a police spokesman.
The suspected attackers were both arrested close to the Sarona Market, where the shootings took place. As the Israeli journalists Noam Sheizaf and Anshel Pfeffer pointed out, the scene of the attack is just across the street from the headquarters of the Israel Defense Forces, although the attackers clearly aimed at civilians, not members of the security forces.
Sarona Market, where Tel Aviv attack took place, is across the street from IDF Central Command (Kirya)— noam sheizaf (@nsheizaf) June 8, 2016
Tempting as it may be to describe this as attack on IDF HQ across the road, all casualties are civilians out eating. No shooting at soldiers— Anshel Pfeffer (@AnshelPfeffer) June 8, 2016
Israeli journalists quickly obtained and shared video recorded by witnesses to the aftermath of the attack, including images of one suspect being shot as he fled outside the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, about a five minute walk from the Benedict restaurant where the shooting spree took place.
In the first of three clips showing the suspect lying on the ground after he was shot, an onlooker can be heard urging police officers to execute him with a bullet to the head, according to a translation by Sheera Frenkel of Buzzfeed.
The officers instead handcuffed the suspect and took him to a nearby hospital for treatment, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
The civilian’s demand for the immediate, extrajudicial killing of the suspected gunman by officers echoed similar calls made by Israeli witnesses in the immediate aftermath of attacks, mostly on civilians, carried out by Palestinians armed with knives or guns in the past year. Almost the same words were used by a spectator on another Tel Aviv street in March, when a police volunteer, egged on by the crowd, shot a Palestinian suspected of killing an American tourist, after he had already been wounded and immobilized.
Later that month in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, an Israeli army medic, Elor Azaria, was caught on video executing an immobilized Palestinian suspect, Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif, killing him with a shot to the head as he lay on the ground.
Although Azaria is currently being prosecuted by Israel’s military for manslaughter, sympathy for the soldier is widespread among the civilian population, and his name was mentioned Tuesday night in online calls for the summary execution of the attackers in Tel Aviv.
As such demands for the immediate execution of suspected attackers grow more frequent, Israel’s new defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has promised to introduce the death penalty for anyone charged with terrorism in Israeli military courts. As Haaretz reported last month, since Israelis charged with murder are almost always tried in civilian courts, that would set up a system in which capital punishment would effectively apply only to Palestinians.
Harrowing security camera footage of the attack on Wednesday, posted online by Israeli news outlets, showed the gunmen, wearing suits, abruptly get up from a table and start firing, shooting patrons at point-blank range before fleeing the restaurant. As the attackers left, one of them appeared to throw down a homemade rifle later photographed at the scene.
The two men were later identified as cousins from the South Hebron area, according to the Palestinian filmmaker Enas I. al-Muthaffar.
Israel’s foreign ministry expressed outrage that the attack was celebrated by some Palestinians on social networks, including at least one senior Hamas official, Ismail Haniyyeh.
While prominent voices in the Palestinian diaspora — like Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Ahmed Masoud, a writer born in Gaza, the poet Remi Kanazi, and Ali Abunimah, a founder of the Electronic Intifada — call for nonviolent resistance, they expressed frustration on Wednesday that the international media seems much more interested in the killing of Israelis than killings by Israelis.
Glad media is covering horrible violence in Tel Aviv, wish they paid more attention to systematic violence of occupation underlying it all— (((YousefMunayyer))) (@YousefMunayyer) June 8, 2016
You forget just how little the US media values the lives of Palestinians until an Israeli is killed or injured.— Remi Kanazi (@Remroum) June 8, 2016
Notice how forensic mainstream media are whenever Israelis are hit by violence? Daily violence against Palestinians is ignored.— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) June 8, 2016
Update | Thursday, 9:58 am:
The morning after the attack, as Israeli officials put the attackers’ entire home region under lockdown, some Israeli and Palestinian commentators and politicians argued in more detail that failing to understand the context for the attack — without in any way justifying it — just serves to foster the dangerous illusion that ever harsher security measures against the entire Palestinian population can lead to lasting peace and security for Israelis.
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List alliance of Palestinian parties in Israel’s parliament, condemned the violence in clear terms, the Jerusalem Post reported, but said the Israeli government’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza only perpetuated “the cycle of terror and bloodshed.”
“My heart goes out to the families. An attack against innocent people is always reprehensible, there can be no justification for shooting civilians in the street,” Odeh said. “We must fight together to bring an end to the occupation and do the right thing for justice and peace for both peoples.”
Tel Aviv’s mayor, Ron Huldai, who urged citizens to go back to their normal lives as soon as possible also told Israel’s Army Radio that it was a fantasy to expect Palestinians to simply accept the harsh conditions of life under endless occupation, in which a whole population is subjected to a prison-like security regime. “We might be the only country in the world where another nation is under occupation without civil rights,” Huldai said. “You can’t hold people in a situation of occupation and hope they’ll reach the conclusion everything is alright.”
“Huldai’s comments come at a time when the occupation has all but disappeared from the Israeli public consciousness, and Palestinian violence is seen as senseless and random,” Edo Konrad observed in the online Tel Aviv magazine +972. But, he added, “simply speaking the truth in a country where the idea that 50 years of military dictatorship might just have something to do with Palestinian violence is now popularly viewed as something akin to treason.”
Indeed Huldai’s remarks were quickly rejected by the country’s deputy defense minister, Eli Ben Dahan, a rabbi from the rightwing Jewish Home party who once said Palestinians “are like animals, they aren’t human.” He called the mayor’s comments “bizarre” and “delusional,” arguing that the killing of Jewish immigrants in 1929, during Arab riots over British plans to create a national home for the Jews in Palestine, somehow proved that the current violence was not prompted by decades of Israeli military rule.
Another member of parliament from the same party, Bezalel Smotrich, wrote on Twitter Thursday morning: “I am very concerned by the fact that the terrorists left the scene alive yesterday. A terrorist who goes to harm Jews should not come back alive, period.”
Before the mayor’s interview, Mairav Zonszein, a Tel Aviv-based writer, took issue with his earlier plea for normal life to continue in the city. “Mayor Huldai implored us to go back to our routine, back to business as usual,” Zonszein wrote on the Israeli news site +972. “But this is completely misguided. Strength and resilience cannot come from trying to push reality aside, disregarding the entire picture and continuing on as if life here is normal. Rather true strength will come from looking critically and deeply at what perpetuates this violence.”
And “routine” is a very relative term: it depends on whose routine you are looking at. The fact that most Jewish Israelis have the ability to go back to a “normal” routine reflects an immense privilege. They have the privilege of freedom of movement and human rights and a representative government to protect them and so many other rights that Palestinians simply do not have. Having a daily routine to go back to, a routine that is free of violence, is a privilege that most Israelis have and most Palestinians do not. And anyway, increasingly, the default routine for Israelis is stabbing attacks and bomb shelters.
The Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab called the killing of the civilians “unjustifiable,” but argued that expecting peace without justice was deluded. “Israelis should enjoy a normal life but they can’t expect to do that while denying it to others under their control,” he observed in a column for Al Jazeera English.
“Without a political horizon, the Palestinian public is depressed, desperate and totally frustrated,” he added. “They blame their leaders for leaving them in this neither-peace-nor-war limbo for decades. And they are left alone in their struggle to shake up complacent Israeli public opinion. This is the kind of frustrating environment that motivates individuals who carry out these acts.”