A Deadly Operation in the West Bank

Israel and the international community should review whether the rules of engagement are too loose in the West Bank.

When news surfaces about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s hardly ever good. Of course, no one should expect anything different when negotiations are at a standstill. But this particular story hits close to the heart, regardless of whether you are an Israeli or Palestinian sympathizer.

Last week, an unarmed Palestinian man named Amr Qawasme was shot and killed in his home by Israeli commandos searching for an Hamas operative in the West Bank town of Hebron. The suspect, who has since been arrested by Israeli forces, was reportedly charged a few years back on suspicion of terrorism, including allegations of orchestrating suicide bombings against soft Israeli targets.

The Hamas operative in question was a “big fish” for Israel whose right-wing government has made it its mission to neutralize Hamas in their area of control. Some 60 percent of the West Bank is still controlled by Israeli ground troops.

Weakening Hamas in the part of the West Bank that is controlled by the Palestinian Authority is certainly a worthwhile goal. The only problem, as was the case in this particular operation, is that innocent Palestinians are often caught in the line of fire. A 67-year old Palestinian man, who was in his bed when troops stormed into his home, is just the latest victim.

This incident is hardly an isolated case. In fact, the killing of Amr Qawasme comes after two more lethal confrontations occurred in the West Bank between Israeli police and Palestinian civilians. On January 2, a Palestinian woman who was peacefully protesting the construction of an Israeli security fence in the town of Bilin died after succumbing to the tear gas that was used by the police to disburse the crowd.

Days before that unfortunate event, another Palestinian man was killed at a West Bank checkpoint after refusing to obey orders given by Israeli troops manning the area.

All three deaths need to be taken seriously. Investigations and official reports will no doubt be undertaken in order to arrive at a somewhat accurate conclusion of what really happened. But standard operating procedure is hardly enough. As is the case with most government-sponsored investigations, new facts are rarely uncovered and discoveries that are seen as unflattering are usually hidden from public view. Most of the time, investigations after a violent incident are simply designed to show the world that the situation is being handled through official channels.

As an alternative to this status quo, Israel needs to sponsor a wholly different type of investigation, one that is unbiased and comprehensive rather than political. And the main issue that Israelis — if not the international community — should look at closely is whether the rules of engagement in the West Bank need a reevaluation.

Israeli soldiers may also find it wise to transfer more responsibility for policing in the West Bank to the Palestinian Security Forces, an institution steadily increasing in capability and manpower thanks to the efforts of American trainers.

To date, the Palestinian police are only given a limited jurisdiction of where to patrol, forcing Israeli troops to take charge in the remainder of the territory. Such an arrangement may work in the short term but it cannot be sustained indefinitely. The status quo virtually guarantees that more incidents between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians will happen. And that is nothing short of disastrous for Israel’s security and the Palestinian Authority’s credibility among its own people.