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Bennett, Barlev say officers ‘acted as required’ by shooting Palestinian attacker

Public security minister says there was no need for Border Police to be interrogated, later clarifies that procedure is routine

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, November 9, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, November 9, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev expressed public support Sunday for two Border Police Officers who shot a Palestinian attacker to death in Jerusalem a day earlier, saying that they “acted as required,” despite a Police Internal Investigations Department investigation into the incident. The suspected terrorist stabbed an Israeli civilian in the neck, moderately-to-seriously wounding him.

Barlev said in an interview that he believed there was no need for the officers to be questioned at all, but later clarified that the procedure was in fact routine.

The incident, said by police to be a suspected terror attack, has come under intense scrutiny due to video from the scene showing the officers firing at the suspect several times as he was already lying on the ground.

The officers have said they feared he was still dangerous when they shot him, and they did not know what he was holding or concealing on his person.

“The [officers] acted as required,” Barlev told the Ynet news site Sunday morning. “There was no space for doubt as to whether the terrorist had an explosive belt or not, so they acted correctly.”

Barlev, whose ministry oversees the police, said that the officers had acted as per their training and should be praised.

“They entered into combat, did not hesitate, and neutralized [the target] appropriately. This is what we expect from police officers, the Border Police, and the IDF,” he said.

A Palestinian stabs a Haredi man in Jerusalem before being shot dead by police on December 4, 2021 (video screenshot)

Border Police chief Amir Cohen met with the two officers on Sunday and gave them back their guns, which were taken when they were questioned over the shooting.

He also ordered that they return to operational duty.

The two officers killed the suspected terrorist after he stabbed Avraham Elimelich, an ultra-Orthodox man, in the neck, on a street near the capital’s Damascus Gate, then attempted to attack the officers. The suspect was in Israel illegally and had been arrested for incitement in 2019.

Video filmed by a passerby shows the officers firing two shots at the attacker while he is moving on the ground.

Police released video of the entire incident, showing that the officers did not immediately fire at the assailant, doing so only after he moved, apparently trying to get up.

The assailant was seen crossing a street, then turning and repeatedly stabbing Elimelech. He then ran at the responding officers, who shot him several times.

Barlev said the full video of the incident showed that the officers acted correctly.

“The moment you see only the last seven seconds of the video, which you see a seemingly immobilized terrorist lying on the floor and them shooting at him, this, of course, distorts the picture and this is what confused many and possibly the Police Internal Investigations Department as well,” he said, adding, “My personal opinion is that an investigation should not have been opened.”

Barlev nonetheless noted that “the Police Internal Investigations Department, which is under the Justice Ministry, is an independent body that makes decisions by its own discretion, as it should.

“Like every official body in the State of Israel, they too are not immune from mistakes, neither in the past, nor in the present, nor in the future, but their independence is important.”

Shortly after his interview, Barlev walked back his criticism of the investigation, saying on Twitter, “In any shooting of a police officer within the boundaries of the Green Line where there is a casualty, regardless of the type of incident, the Police Internal Investigations Department is obligated to open an investigation. Hence the head of the Police Internal Investigations Department has no discretion as to whether to open an examination or not.”

Barlev said he “had not known this fact and therefore it was possible to understand from things I said that I was criticizing the Police Internal Investigations Department, which is not the case.”

According to Army Radio, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who on Saturday night praised the officers, was also unhappy with the decision to open an investigation.

The officers “acted very quickly and resolutely, as is expected of police officers, against a terrorist who tried to murder an Israeli civilian,” said Bennett in a tweet Saturday. “I wish to convey to them my full backing. That is how our forces are expected to act and that is how they acted. We must not allow our capital to become a terror hotspot.”

Speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Bennett said, “Regarding yesterday’s incident at Damascus Gate — I am glad that this time, not long after the edited Palestinian video was distributed, the full video was published by the police. I suggest to everyone: Never rush to make a judgment about the behavior of officers in complex operational situations in the face of terrorism. It’s always better to wait a minute.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2021. (Emil Salman/POOL)

He said that “the full video leaves no room for doubt — the [officers] acted excellently, just as is required of them in such an operational situation.”

One of the officers reportedly told police investigators that he was confused as to why he was being investigated. “I don’t understand why I was interrogated at all,” he said, according to Ynet, which also reported that both officers had returned to work Sunday and had been returned their confiscated weapons.

“I understood that he was still a threat, and as soon as we saw that he was neutralized, it was over,” he reportedly said during his questioning, according to Channel 13 news.

The shooting of the stabber as he lay on the ground drew protests from lawmakers in Arab Israeli parties.

Some critics compared the incident to IDF soldier Elor Azaria’s 2016 shooting of an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in Hebron, which resulted in Azaria being sent to prison.

But it was doubtful that the two cases were comparable: Azaria shot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif after he had been subdued and was not considered a threat. In Saturday’s incident, the officers stopped firing at the assailant within some 20 seconds of the moment he lunged at them.

Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej of the left-wing Meretz party criticized the officers, saying, “Faced with attempted murder, assailants should be shot to save lives, not in order to take [the attackers’] lives when they no longer pose a threat.”

The Joint List’s MK Aida Touma-Suleiman said the policemen had executed the man “when he no longer posed a threat.”

Her colleague Ofer Cassif called the shooting “an extrajudicial execution,” adding: “Shooting an injured person lying on the ground when he is no longer a danger, regardless of his actions, is a war crime.”

Avraham Elimelich, the victim of a stabbing attack in Jerusalem, speaks from the hospital, on December 4, 2021. (Screenshot)

Speaking from his hospital bed, the victim of the attack, Avraham Elimelich, 21, said, “I was coming back from prayers at the Western Wall. I passed Damascus Gate and crossed the street. I wasn’t paying attention and suddenly the terrorist was chasing me.

“He came to kill me, tried to stab me everywhere on my body. The soldier that got there separated us, and then the terrorist went to stab him, and they killed him.”

Muhammad Salima, a Palestinian shot dead after stabbing a Haredi man in Jerusalem on December 4, 2021 (Courtesy)

The attacker was identified as Muhammad Shaukat Muhammad Salima, a 25-year-old from the West Bank town of Salfit who was in Israel illegally.

Media reports said he had been arrested and served time in 2019 for incitement to violence and was not affiliated with the Hamas terror group or Fatah.

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