Former senior police officials said Saturday it seemed unlikely that there was no footage of the deadly shooting of a man by security officers in Jerusalem’s Old City. Police have described the incident as a “terror attack,” while eyewitnesses and the man’s relatives have denied the official account.
Police said 26-year-old Mohammed Elasibi — a resident of the Bedouin town of Hura in southern Israel, grabbed the gun of a police officer and fired it twice before he was shot dead.
Police said Saturday afternoon that the shooting was in an area not covered by security cameras, a claim Channel 13 news described as “puzzling.”
Police also said that “unfortunately the terror attack itself was not recorded on the body cameras of the officers involved.”
The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department was looking into the incident, and would decide whether it warranted an investigation.
Former Jerusalem police chief Yair Itzhaki earlier told a cultural event in Rishon Lezion that it seemed unlikely there was no footage of the incident.
“I don’t see the possibility that there is no police documentation. I personally placed the array of security cameras there,” Itzhaki said.
An unnamed former senior police commander expressed a similar sentiment about the lack of publicly released footage in comments to the Ynet news site.
“The place is flooded with cameras, so unless there was a system malfunction, I find it hard to believe that they did not record the shooting,” the ex-commander said.
“The road leading to the gate is also filmed so it doesn’t make sense that the incident wasn’t filmed,” they said.
Police have doubled down on their version of events, and issued multiple statements in which they decried the “false publications” about the incident, including on the claims that the area would have been covered by CCTV.
The latest statement also said that Elasibi had recently become more religiously observant, without providing further context.
The force also issued statements taken from several of the cops involved.
“I was checking the suspect, I asked him where he was from and asked him to leave as the area was closed at that time,” an officer identified only as ‘Mem,’ the first initial of his name, said. “He argued with me and I took him toward the exit. At a certain point the attacker turned to me, grabbed my gun and managed to fire a few bullets toward [Border Police] officers. I managed to take control of him within seconds, to get the weapon out of his hands and I neutralized him along with the second policeman with me.”
His partner ‘Yud’ said: “I felt our lives were in real danger. If I hadn’t tackled him, shot him and neutralized him, he would have shot me, my partner and the Border Police cops.”
A Border Police officer, ‘Lamed,’ backed up their testimony, saying the suspect “aimed the gun at my head” and that she hid behind a cement pillar as he fired. Another, ‘Mem,’ said “If the policeman hadn’t shot and neutralized him, we wouldn’t be here.”
Elasibi’s family had earlier called for the release of video footage of the shooting near the Chain Gate, an entrance to the Temple Mount holy site.
“We know that every meter in the alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem is recorded and the police are supposed to be equipped with cameras,” Fahad Elasibi told Haaretz, questioning why the footage has not been released.
He said that the situation was reminiscent of “the story of Yaqoub Abu al-Qia’an in which the truth was revealed only after years.”
Abu al-Qia’an was shot dead by police in January 2017 after his car plowed into policemen who had come to demolish homes in his unrecognized village, killing officer Erez Levi. Three-and-a-half years later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Abu al-Qia’an’s family, saying that while police had insisted he was a terrorist, “it turned out that he wasn’t.”
An unnamed relative of Elasibi told the Walla news site that there needed to be a thorough investigation into the shooting: “Every moment that the videos are not published, the level of police credibility decreases.”
The head of the Ra’am party Mansour Abbas also demanded the immediate release of the footage: “I don’t believe the police version that there is no documentation from the security cameras. There is an attempt to cover up and hide the truth.”
Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman tweeted that “according to the eyewitnesses it was a cold-blooded murder, and the police are lying and smearing.”
“Just as they did in the murder of Iyad Halak and Yaqoub Abu al-Qia’an and others. There, too, they claimed that the murdered Palestinian was a “terrorist” in order to whitewash their crimes,” Touma-Sliman said, citing the killing of a Palestinian man with autism by a police officer in May 2020.
Police said Israeli security forces shot and killed Elasibi in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday night after he took an officer’s weapon.
Police said Elasibi was stopped by officers for questioning when he attacked one of them, grabbed his firearm, and managed to fire off two shots during a struggle. The officers felt threatened and responded with gunfire, “neutralizing him on the spot,” police said.
However, witnesses and family members denied the police version of events, saying that Elasibi was not a terrorist and that he was “killed in cold blood.”
Witnesses told the Ynet news site that Elasibi, who was set to take his final exams after medical studies in Romania, did not pose a danger to the officers.
“Police officers were treating a woman inappropriately and he intervened and tried to help her — then they shot him. The shooting was completely unnecessary,” an unnamed witness said, noting that Elasibi was unarmed.
People who were on the scene told the Haaretz daily that the man was shot at close range, approximately ten times.
“Mohammed was murdered in cold blood without posing any danger. He is a successful person who studied medicine, and never thought of harming anyone,” the man’s relatives said in a statement to Ynet.
Elasibi’s hometown of Hura on Saturday declared a day of mourning and a two-day strike.
The incident occurred near the flashpoint Temple Mount as security forces were on alert during the sensitive Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Police officials held a situational assessment after the incident and deployed reinforcements to the area.
Police said that, contrary to reports circulating on social media, there were no significant disturbances on the Temple Mount or in the Old City.
Some Border Police were involved in minor scuffles, with video showing officers wielding batons and grappling with passersby on what appeared to be an Old City street.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 31, 2023
For Palestinian Muslims, worship at the site’s Al-Aqsa mosque — the third-holiest site in Islam — is a central part of the Ramadan festival. Jews revere the same site as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism as the location of the ancient Temples.
Security forces were already on alert in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Friday as tens of thousands of Muslims took part in mass prayers at the site on the second Friday of Ramadan.
The Muslim holy month, which began Thursday and will end April 21, often sees elevated Israeli-Palestinian tensions, with frictions already high this year in Jerusalem and across the West Bank following months of deadly violence.
The military has eased some restrictions on movement for West Bank and Gazan Palestinians to allow women, children and some men to pray there without permits.
Last Friday, prayers in Jerusalem passed without major incident, however, police detained one man suspected of incitement for hanging the banner of a terrorist organization at the complex.
Some officials have warned that this Ramadan may be the most difficult to handle in years, as tensions remained high amid a cycle of deadly Palestinian terror attacks and deadly Israeli raids in the West Bank, as well as an uptick in settler violence.
Palestinian terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent months have left 15 dead and several more seriously hurt.
At least 86 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.