A wave of Palestinian stabbings of Israelis in the past month has triggered a deadly response, with some 40 suspected assailants fatally shot by Israeli security forces.
The shoot-to-kill policy has been endorsed at the highest levels of the Israeli government, but it has also drawn accusations that Israeli police and soldiers are using excessive force when they could have disabled or arrested attackers.
On Monday, the Israeli army acknowledged that in at least one instance an investigation had shown that the fatal shooting of a Palestinian woman who the military said had pulled a knife at a West Bank checkpoint was unnecessary. The military said the investigation had led to “professional conclusions regarding the use of force.”
The inquiry found that the woman, who was initially shot in the legs, could have been arrested instead of repeatedly shot again, according to Israeli media reports. The incident in late September came days before the eruption of the current surge of violence.
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The lethal Israeli responses have failed to stem the stabbings in Israel and the West Bank, where young Palestinians have carried out daily attacks in recent weeks, killing eleven Israelis.
On Monday, the army said that soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian when he tried to stab a soldier at a checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel.
In later attacks inside Israel, an 80-year-old woman and two other people were stabbed in Rishon Letzion, a suburb of Tel Aviv, and a 70-year-old man was stabbed in the coastal city of Netanya, police said. The attackers, one of whom was shot and wounded, were arrested.
The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said last month that the proper response to such attacks should bring about the “elimination” of the assailant.
Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the Israeli police, said that “every terrorist should know he will not survive the attack he is about to commit.”
Israeli border police and soldiers appear to be following those directives, often fatally shooting Palestinians suspected of carrying out attacks.
The killings have been followed by angry funerals in Palestinian cities and towns, stoking further unrest.
Voicing concerns about the calls for lethal force, several Israeli human rights groups said in a recent statement that Israeli officials have “openly called for the extrajudicial killing” of Palestinian suspects.
In contrast, when a Jewish assailant stabbed four Arabs in a revenge attack last month, he was overpowered without the use of gunfire.
The deadly Israeli response has brought expressions of concern from abroad.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel last month to carry out a “serious review” of whether its security forces are resorting to excessive force, calling the policy “troubling.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross condemned attacks on civilians but said firearms should only be used as a last resort to protect an imminent threat to life.
At a press briefing on Oct. 14, State Department spokesman John Kirby voiced concern over “reports of what many would consider excessive use of force” by the Israelis, though he later issued a clarification, saying he had not accused the Israelis of such a policy.
Reacting the next day to Kirby’s remarks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the lethal response of his security forces. “What do you think would happen in New York if you saw people rushing into crowds trying to murder people?” he told foreign reporters. “Do you think they would do anything differently than we are doing?”