QATANA, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian siblings gunned down at a West Bank checkpoint after approaching Israeli troops — with knives, according to Israel — were needlessly killed and could have been subdued without deadly force, their parents, witnesses and an Israeli lawmaker said Thursday.
The fatal shootings of 24-year-old Maram Taha and her 16-year-old brother Ibrahim raise new questions about Israel’s use of lethal force against knife-carrying Palestinians in recent months, said the Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
Israeli police have said security forces at the Qalandiya checkpoint opened fire on the Taha siblings on Wednesday after they ignored calls to halt and Maram Taha threw a knife toward a policeman.
Police did not explain why lethal force was used after the sister dropped the knife and why her brother was fatally shot. Two knives were found on the teen, but only after he was killed, police said.
Three witnesses interviewed separately Thursday said that the siblings were at least 20 to 25 meters (yards) from Israeli troops when they were shot. The witnesses, including a coffee vendor and a fruit seller, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from Israeli authorities.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Thursday that security camera footage of the incident, which could presumably clear up questions, would not be released until an investigation is completed. She did not say when such a probe might be finished. In recent months, police have rarely released footage of stabbings.
Dov Hanin, a dovish Israeli lawmaker, demanded that the security footage be released and quoted witnesses as saying the Taha siblings posed no threat.
Wednesday’s shootings are part of a deadly routine in the volatile region in recent months.
Dozens of Palestinians, often in their late teens or early 20s and mostly acting on their own, have attacked or tried to attack Israelis with knives or other means, such as ramming them with cars.
Twenty-eight Israelis and two Americans have been killed by Palestinians since September, while some 200 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli troops and civilians, the vast majority in what Israel says were attacks or attempted attacks.
Human rights groups alleged that Israeli forces have often been quick to pull the trigger, rather than trying to subdue suspects.
Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B’Tselem, noted that security forces are only permitted to use lethal force when their lives are in danger.
“When we look into the circumstances, very often we find that the degree of threat posed by an individual was much lower than the claim made by the security forces, and they are still killed,” Michaeli said.
She said that calls by some Israeli officials saying that attackers should expect to be killed may have been an influence.
Earlier this year, the Israeli military chief angered right-wing nationalists when he urged soldiers to use only necessary force in subduing attackers. Hawkish lawmakers said at the time the military chief’s comments weakened Israel.
Samri, the police spokeswoman, said security forces are “trained to act quickly, to seek contact and to neutralize the attacker.”
In the West Bank village of Qatana, Saleh and Fatima Taha grieved for Maram and Ibrahim, two of the couple’s seven children. Maram left behind two young daughters.
Saleh Taha, 61, said that even if the object his daughter threw on the ground was a knife, troops didn’t have to kill her.
“And why did they kill her brother? Did he throw anything at them? He didn’t,” he said.
The parents said Maram and Ibrahim had told them Wednesday morning that they were going to a West Bank hospital for a checkup, and that the family only heard from neighbors later that day that the two had been killed.
Saleh Taha said he was summoned by Israeli troops for questioning later Wednesday, and that the bodies of his children had not been handed back to the family yet.
Maram Taha moved back to her father’s house a week ago, a possible indication of difficulties in her personal life. Her parents dismissed the idea that the siblings had attempted to carry out a politically motivated attack.
Israel alleges that Palestinian factions and social media activists incite to attacks, while Palestinians argue that half a century of Israeli military occupation is reason enough. In some cases, motives are personal, including Palestinian women trying to escape difficult circumstances at home by trying to get arrested or killed.
Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Jericho, West Bank, and Daniella Cheslow in Jerusalem contributed to this report.