Killing with impunity: Israel’s undercover units in Palestine

Ahmed Fahd's sister Roseanne cries at his funeral while holding a poster at the al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah [Al Jazeera]

Ramallah, Occupied West Bank – The grief and anger was palpable as women wept, young men chanted with raised fists, and masked gunmen fired into the air during the funeral of Ahmed Fahd, 24, at the al-Amari refugee camp.

Fahd’s family told Al Jazeera that Israeli undercover agents first arrested him and then shot him in the back several times at close range about 5:30am, before leaving him to bleed to death on a street in the Um al-Shayaret neighbourhood of Ramallah on Tuesday.

“My son was shot without mercy. He was a loving son who had many friends and was always smiling,” Um Fahd said as she clutched a poster of her son and wept uncontrollably.

Fahd, who was an employee at El Bireh Municipality, was to be married in a few weeks’ time.

A spokesman for the Palestinian health ministry, Muhammad al-Awda, told Al Jazeera that according to doctors at Ramallah Hospital, Fahd was shot multiple times at close range.

“Doctors reported that one of the bullets that entered his back made a 2.5cm entry hole but when it exited his stomach the hole was 7cm – proving that he’d been shot at close range,” said al-Awda.

Palestinian medics on the ground have reported Israeli forces using live rounds known as the “butterfly bullet”, which “explode” upon impact, pulverizing tissue, arteries and bone while causing severe internal injuries and large exit wounds.

“He also had several bullet wounds in his legs,” the health ministry spokesman added.

Sabrin Abu Libdeh, a family friend, told Al Jazeera an intelligence official from Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet, later phoned the family to apologise, saying agents had not meant to kill the younger Fahd, but were actually after his brother and uncle who they accused of being involved in “terror activities”.

“What good is their apology now?” asked Ahmed’s sister Roseanne, her eyes puffy from weeping. “Will that bring him back?”

Ahmed Fahd’s family console each other at his funeral on Tuesday [Al Jazeera]

‘Assassinating Palestinians’

While the Israelis acknowledged their “mistake” in this particular incident, Shawan Jabareen, from the Al-Haq human rights organisation in Ramallah, said the ongoing killing of Palestinians by Israeli security forces, particularly the undercover units, was no accident.

“We are currently investigating his death but the killing is part of a deliberate Israeli policy of assassinating Palestinians at close range by undercover units known as Musta’ribeen as well as regular troops,” Jabareen told Al Jazeera.

“The soldiers come into Ramallah nearly every night after 2am to carry out arrests.

“There have been a number of cases where Shin Bet intelligence officers phoned the families of Palestinians they killed after shooting them at close range and blocking ambulances from evacuating those critically wounded – young men whom they accused of armed attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers – saying that ‘the account had now been settled.’

“So clearly these were acts of revenge,” he said.

Jabareen explained his organisation documented numerous cases of Israeli security forces killing Palestinians when their lives had not been endangered.

“We presented statistics and documentation to various international organisations showing that 95 percent of the deaths were unnecessary.”

The Musta’ribeen are Israeli special forces renowned for their brutality who pose undercover as Arabs and operate in Palestinian societies. The commandos dress like Arabs, portray the customs and etiquette of Arab culture, and speak fluent Arabic in the appropriate dialect.

‘Inciting the situation’

Gary Spedding, a consultant on the Middle East, said the activities of the Musta’ribeen “allow the Israeli military and border police to identify protesters they wish to arrest and detain”.

Israeli affairs expert Antoine Shalhat explained the main missions of the Musta’ribeen “include gathering intelligence and counter-terrorist operations”.

These undercover units have also been involved in the sweeping arrest campaign of Palestinians currently being carried out in northern Israel, following protests there against the deaths in Gaza and the violence in occupied East Jerusalem over Palestinians being expelled from their homes.

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) said it received “allegations of undercover officers posing as protesters and inciting the situation, attacking civilians very violently and making severe threats, especially against minors”.

“There have been cases when undercover officers pulled people, including minors, off the street without identifying themselves, which made the arrests look like kidnappings,” said PCATI.

Following the recent establishment of a new undercover unit specifically for operating in Arab areas, Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, sent a letter to senior Israeli police officials and politicians saying no democracy in the world would approve of the establishment of a police unit directed at a specific ethnic group.

Israeli forces fire at Palestinian demonstrators near the Jewish settlement of Beit El near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank [Abbas Momani/AFP]

‘Permissive rules of engagement’

Yet the killing of Palestinians on an almost daily basis continues unabated with at least 28 Palestinians killed in the West Bank alone in May during clashes with Israeli security forces or during arrests.

And so does the impunity of Israeli security forces.

“As in the vast majority of cases in which security forces harmed Palestinians, none of those responsible have faced charges,” Israeli rights group B’Tselem said in a report.

Citing some examples from when the second Intifada began in late 2000 through 2015, B’Tselem demanded an investigation in 739 cases in which soldiers killed, wounded, or beat Palestinians, used them as human shields, or damaged Palestinian property.

The rights group said figures from mid-2016 show in one-quarter of cases, no investigation was ever launched, in nearly half the probe was closed with no further action, and only in extremely rare instances were charges brought against the accused soldiers.

B’Tselem said it would no longer cooperate with the “whitewash” military investigations as these had not led to any accountability.

Meanwhile, Israeli human rights group Yesh Din pressed the Israeli military to investigate Palestinian deaths in Gaza during the Great March of Return, when Palestinians protested against the siege at the Israeli barrier.

“The combination of permissive rules of engagement regarding firing at unarmed protesters and a law enforcement system that prevents genuine, effective investigation of protester deaths is a lethal one,” Yesh Din stated in one of its latest reports.

“The result is the unfortunate, unnecessary loss of many lives, a lack of accountability for harming innocents, and the abandonment of Gaza’s residents who remain defenceless against the spectre of losing their lives.”

Source: Al Jazeera