I watched in horror along with the rest of the world as a terror attack unfolded in lower Manhattan on Tuesday, October 31. A 29-year-old from Uzbekistan named Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov intentionally plowed into bicyclists and pedestrians before finally crashing into a school bus and brandishing two imitation firearms. Over the next hour, fatalities began to be reported: first six men and women dead, and then eight dead, plus 15 wounded.
But Saipov himself was not among the fatalities. An NYPD officer shot at him nine times, and when a bullet hit him in the abdomen, disabling him from causing further harm, the officer stopped shooting. Saipov will now be forced to account for his crime through the justice system.
That due process is crucial, as we saw with the Tsarnaev brothers, convicted of the attack on the Boston Marathon.
But for me, a Palestinian watching from occupied Hebron, it felt almost impossible to comprehend. The terrorist wasn’t killed on the spot? They managed to apprehend him alive?
It was surprising because it feels so antithetical to Israel’s approach.
On September 22, 2015, I watched as 18-year-old Hadeel Hashlamon walked through the metal detector at the checkpoint entrance to Shuhada Street in Hebron. She pulled out her bag from under her hijab for the soldier to search. When instructed that she would be searched further, and knowing that it would be by a man, she turned around to exit at the back of the checkpoint. Quickly, and without any reason I could see, a soldier pointed his rifle at her.
Moments later she was lying dead in a pool of blood on the ground of the checkpoint, just a few feet from the exit. She was shot with 10 bullets and then left there without any medical treatment.
The soldiers claimed she tried to stab them, though they never produced a knife. And because we have pictures of the incident, we know what actually happened: A terrified woman was killed as she tried to navigate another day of checkpoints, guns, searches and humiliation.
But even if she had tried to stab the soldier as they claimed, did the heavily protected and armed soldiers need to shoot to kill? Could they not just as easily have taken her into custody, utilizing any of the many nonlethal weapons and techniques available to Israeli soldiers?
Extra-judicial killings don’t only deprive the suspect of their right to due process — a crucial feature of any functioning democracy. They deprive the society itself of justice, without which no one’s rights are truly protected.
While sometimes there is an imminent and present threat of death that needs to be met with fatal force, Hadeel’s alleged crime was not that. If she were guilty of a crime, she should have been tried, not killed.
And the use of fatal force should be transparently investigated in every civilian case. Meanwhile, the soldier who killed Hadeel remains free. He has never been arrested, tried or held accountable in any way for the deadly shooting of a civilian.
Not long after Hadeel’s killing, in March 2016, Alor Azaria was caught on camera shooting Abdel Fattah al-Sharif dead as he was lying on the ground, wounded and unable to move. Abdel, 21 had approached the Tel Rumeida military post with the purpose of carrying out a knife attack. He had already been shot and wounded and was totally immobilized when Azaria walked over to thim and shot him dead. In contrast to Palestinian children who receive up to five years in military prison for simply throwing stones, Azaria received only an 18 month prison sentence. Rallies were held across Israel in support of him. Since beginning his prison term, he has been furloughed to spend Jewish holidays with his family. In September, his sentence was reduced from 18 to 14 months.
I myself almost lost my life to an extrajudicial killing. I was near the Shuhada Street checkpoint by the Beit Hadasah settlement when a settler lied, telling the soldiers that I had a knife.
They probably knew it was a lie. Israeli soldiers in Hebron are regularly briefed on me and my tried and tested commitment to pure nonviolence. Nevertheless, at the first excuse, the soldiers cocked their weapons to shoot.
I was terrified, knowing what was likely to come. I was sure I was about to die. I quickly lowered myself to my knees in the hope they would not shoot me. I talked to them in Hebrew, using a calm, submissive tone.
“I have nothing hidden on my back. I have no weapon. I have no weapon anywhere,” I said over and over.
These are Occupation survival skills — being fluent in Hebrew, knowing to get on my knees and try to defuse the situation, staying calm in the face of death. Not all of us have these skills. It saved my life. But mostly I was lucky.
Too often soldiers in Israel and policemen in America seem to shoot first, then ask questions later, or never.
It was thus amazing to watch the NYPD take a wounded but not dead Saipov into custody.
As someone committed to human life, I am glad Saipov was brought in alive. The act of hatred and terror he committed was horrific. But the US agencies that seek to prevent the next act of terror will surely benefit from him being wounded, rather than killed.
Extra-judicial killings deprive citizens of the rule of law, and cause irreparable damage to the societies that abide them.
As someone who lives in the most intensely occupied city in the West Bank, where the roads are divided between Jews and Muslims and checkpoints steadily increase, I know that it is disarmament and equality that will lead to a breaking of the cycle of violence and give all of us the chance for safety and peace.
Issa Amro is a human rights defender living in Hebron.