The death of 28-year-old Ahmad Erekat at a checkpoint east of Jerusalem on Tuesday has thrown into sharp relief once again the bitter divisions and lack of trust between Israelis and Palestinians. Police video of the incident released a day later appears only to have underlined the sharp differences.
The grainy video shows a car approaching the checkpoint slowly, before accelerating and turning sharply towards a police booth, sending a female police sergeant flying backwards.
Israeli police say it was a deliberate attempt to ram a car into Israeli security forces. Relatives of the driver, among them a senior Palestinian official, say he lost control of his vehicle and accidentally mounted the curb.
The final seconds of the 12-second clip shows Ahmad Erekat getting out of the car, and an officer shooting him. His figure exiting the car was blurred before the video’s release to the public, making it impossible to tell whether he presented a threat or if he had his hands in the air as he was shot dead.
Many who denounced the collision as a terror attack say the soldier who opened fire was acting in reasonable self-defense. Others, including Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Saeb Erekat, a relative of the car driver, say the shooting was cold-blooded murder.
Ahmad Erekat worked in the advertising industry, his cousin Imad told CNN, and was due to get married in a month’s time
On Tuesday, the day in question, his sister was getting married and he had errands to run in preparation for the celebration, Imad said. His errands would take him from his home in Abu Dis, which sits in the West Bank immediately to the east of Jerusalem, to nearby Bethlehem. Relatives say he was pressed for time.
“Ahmad left in a hurry to continue last minute preparations for the wedding. It is what any brother would do for his sister when it is her wedding,” Imad said
“He was in a rush and what seems to have happened when he arrived at the Container Checkpoint is that the car slid and slipped and Israeli forces opened fire on him and killed him.”
Another cousin, Noura Erakat, an assistant professor at Rutgers University in the United States, said those who watched the video and called it a terror attack were being biased.
“This is hardly evidence of an attack,” she wrote on Facebook. “Palestinians are so securitized as a threat that we can’t make human mistakes, like lose momentary control of our car, press the accelerator in a moment of haste, get in a car accident.”
Israeli police said the incident was terrorism. “Yesterday at 16:00 an attack took place and the terrorist was shot and killed. In the footage, the terrorist drives his vehicle towards the security crossing, slowly and then drove in the direction towards the female border guard at an angle and the female officer was injured lightly and taken to hospital,” read a statement accompanying the public release of the video.
Shani Or Hama Kadosh, the border police sergeant hit by the car was released from hospital where she was treated for light injuries.
“A car pulled up and I pointed at it to stop. The car began slowing down. The moment I saw it starting to slow down, I moved in its direction. I took a step, [the driver] saw that I had made the step, he looked me in the eyes, turned the wheel, ran me over, and I was thrown in the opposite direction,” she told Israeli television.
“In the beginning I never understood why he was looking at me. Only when I flew through the air did I understand it was an attempt at an attack.”
The police-released video was not the only one circulating. An eyewitness recording purporting to show Ahmad Erekat immediately after he was shot was posted on the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency, WAFA. It appears to show him lying on the ground in near stillness, his fingers moving slightly and his chest heaving. No one is seen attending to him during the course of the minute-long clip.
His family, as well as a Palestinian ambulance service, allege that he was denied medical treatment and left to bleed on the road.
The Israeli army says one of its ambulances arrived on the scene within five minutes and that a military paramedic declared Ahmad Erekat dead at that point. Explaining why no one had treated Ahmad Erekat before the ambulance arrived, a border police spokesman said, “it was the kind of incident where you don’t let anyone get close because of the fear that he might be booby-trapped.”
An ambulance service at the nearby Palestinian municipality of Bethany said it tried to assist Ahmad, but that Israeli forces “prevented” vehicles from reaching the checkpoint. The Israeli Army said at no point did it prevent Ahmad Erekat from getting aid.
Acts of violence in the West Bank are not uncommon. Recent years have seen car-ramming attacks, stabbings and shootings carried out against Israeli soldiers and civilians there and in Jerusalem. Israel itself has been accused by human rights groups and others of often using lethal force when its soldiers are not in danger. Palestinians say that living under Israeli occupation means violence is a feature of everyday life.
That’s one reason the international community has invested so much energy over the decades in trying to bring peace to the region – and why there is so much concern about possible escalation if Israel moves ahead with plans to annex part of the territory.
One outsider involved in the politics of the region for many years is Alistair Burt, a former UK minister with responsibility for the Middle East. He too tweeted about the incident on the day it happened, calling Erekat’s death needless. After the video came out, he revisited his comments in a thoughtful thread, which he made clear would be unlikely to find favor with “those who only see one sided answers to everything.”
“The trajectory of the car is obvious. If it was an attempt to kill, similar to recent car-ramming, then it is wrong. We do not know, and never will,” he wrote on Twitter. “And, if after being shot he posed no further threat, questions will be asked why he was not treated, and why he died.”
He continued: “There will be no consensus on this, just as there rarely is in the deaths of many. I have spoken for many years about the agony of young Israelis and Palestinians, who instead of growing up together confront each other across barbed wire and wall. This is no future for them.”