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B'Tselem: Eyewitness report casts doubts on army's narrative in Palestinian woman's killing

July 5, 2016 7:27 P.M. (Updated: July 5, 2016 9:06 P.M.)
A screenshot of a video reportedly showing the moment when Sarah Tarayra was killed by Israeli forces in Hebron on July 1, 2016. (Credit: B'Tselem)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Eyewitness testimony and video footage have cast doubts on the Israeli narrative surrounding the death of a Palestinian woman on Friday in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported on Tuesday.

On July 1, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian woman, identified as 27-year-old Sarah Tarayra, after she allegedly attempted to carry out a stabbing attack against border police officers near the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron’s Old City.

According to B’Tselem, Israeli police stated that Tarayra was taken to a small room at a Hebron checkpoint because she “appeared suspect,” only to unsuccessfully attempt to stab a policewoman, at which point the police said another officer “responded quickly and carried out a precise and targeted shooting towards the terrorist until she was neutralized.”

However, B’Tselem said in a statement that an account by a Palestinian bystander present on the scene that day who filmed part of the encounter contradicted official police reports that Tarayra -- whom was identified by the NGO as Sarah Hajuj -- represented an imminent threat when she was killed by Israeli border police officers.

B’Tselem claimed that the information it had received indicated “that the Border Police officers could almost certainly have stopped Hajuj with non-lethal means, thereby rendering the shooting unjustified.”

According to the witness, a scuffle was heard coming from the room in which Tarayra was being held, after which two Israeli officers were seen exiting while coughing and covering their faces with their hands. The witness added that the second police officer to exit the room was holding pepper spray in her hand, as B’Tselem said that photographs of Tarayra’s body showed “remnants of pepper spray” on her face.

A video shot by the eyewitness from that moment on showed at least six Israeli officers standing outside of the open room when they started running away from the door for a reason left unclear in the footage, and fired at least four shots.

“At that stage, police officers had already sprayed her face with pepper spray, a substance that usually has a highly debilitating effect on people, Therefore, the argument that shooting to kill was necessary and the only way of stopping Hajuj under those circumstances is untenable,” B’Tselem wrote.

“There was clearly no justification for excessive gunfire when Hajuj no longer posed a threat, carrying it out just with a view of killing her.”

B’Tselem denounced what a number of groups have termed a “shoot to kill” policy by Israeli forces, which has led to the "extrajudicial execution" of a number of Palestinians despite circumstances in which they could have been apprehended without the use of lethal force.

“This open-fire policy has been broadly backed by senior politicians and high-ranking military commanders, granting immunity to individuals implementing it. It is these leading figures who bear the moral and legal liability for the death of Palestinians in such circumstances,” B’Tselem stated.

More than 220 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis and some 32 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians since a wave of unrest first swept across the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel in October.

The majority of Palestinians allegedly carrying out attacks have been shot dead on site, but investigations by rights groups have reported that a number of Palestinians killed did not pose sufficient threat for the use of lethal force at the time of their death.

The Hebron area in particular grew as the epicenter of upheaval. The checkpoint near the Ibrahimi Mosque, where Friday's incident took place, is located in Hebron's Old City, parts of which had been designated as a "closed military zone" by the Israeli army since November amid dozens of cases in which more than 40 Palestinians were killed.

Palestinian residents of the Tel Rumeida area were forced to register under a number system in order to enter or exit the neighborhood, and locals have reported heavier restrictions imposed by the army that B'Tselem has referred to as "draconian measures."

While the closed military zone status was lifted mid-May following a period of relative calm, severe restrictions on movement for Palestinians in Hebron remain, particularly in the area designated as H2 -- under full Israeli military control -- which encompasses the Ibrahimi Mosque and much of the Old City.

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