US ‘excessive force’ comment touches nerve in Israel
JERUSALEM – Reuters
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon (L) and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (R) as he speaks during a joint news conference in Jerusalem October 8, 2015. Reuters PhotoIsrael bristled Oct. 15 at U.S. suggestions it may have used excessive force to confront Palestinian stabbings, and also published hospital images it said refuted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s allegation a teen suspect had been “executed.”
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon accused Washington of “misreading” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying shooting knife-wielding Palestinians was self-defense. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called the U.S. remarks “foolish.”
With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry due to travel to the Middle East soon to try to calm the violence, Israeli officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly ordered cabinet ministers to say no more publicly about the latest acrimony in a long-troubled relationship with the Obama administration.
Thirty-two Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed in the past two weeks of bloodshed. The Palestinian dead include 10 knife-wielding assailants, police said, as well as children and protesters shot in violent demonstrations.
The violence has been triggered in part by Palestinians’ anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is Islam’s holiest site outside Saudi Arabia and is also revered by Jews as the location of two destroyed biblical Jewish temples.
At a daily press briefing on Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Israel, which has set up roadblocks in Palestinian neighborhoods of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem to try to stem attacks, has a right and responsibility to protect its citizens.
He added: “Now, we have seen some - I wouldn’t call the checkpoints this - but we’ve certainly seen some reports of what many would consider excessive use of force.
“Obviously, we don’t like to see that, and we want to see restrictions that are elevated in this time of violence to be as temporary as possible if they have to be enacted,” Kirby said, without citing specific incidents.
Asked on Army Radio about the remarks, Yaalon said: “Are we exercising excessive force? If someone wields a knife and they kill him, is that excessive force? What are we talking about?”
Kirby’s comments touched a nerve in Israel, especially after allegations by Abbas, in a televised speech in Arabic on Oct. 14, that Israeli forces were “executing our sons in cold blood, as they did with this child, Ahmed Manasra, and other children in Jerusalem and other places in Palestine.”
Many Palestinians were incensed by amateur video that had shown Manasra, 13, lying on the street in Pisgat Zeev, a Jewish settlement on the northern edge of Jerusalem, with blood coming from his head. Israeli police said that he and a cousin stabbed two Israelis there on Oct. 11.
The 15-year-old cousin was shot dead, and Israel said that day that Manasra was alive and taken to hospital after being hit by a car during the attack. On Thursday, after Abbas’s address, Israel’s Government Press Office released a video, without sound, showing a youth it identified as Manasra being spoon-fed in a bed in Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital. A doctor said he could be discharged soon.