Jerusalem24 – The Israeli army has admitted that a Palestinian father-of-four they shot and killed in front of his son at a checkpoint near Silwad in the occupied West Bank on 15 January was “not a terrorist” and that “the incident was not supposed to end with a fatality.”
New Israeli chief of staff, Herzi Levy, was reportedly involved in launching an army probe into the killing, the findings of which were leaked on Sunday to Israeli state channel Kan.
A military police investigation will now be opened, with the findings transferred to the Military Advocate General.
The army did not, however, address the multiple, shifting claims it issued to the media and in official statements concerning the circumstances surrounding Kahleh’s killing as eyewitness testimony and video evidence came to light.
Blinded by pepper spray
45-year-old Ahmad Kahleh was on his way to work with his 18-year-old son Qusai when they passed a flying military checkpoint erected near the town of Silwad north of Ramallah.
According to eyewitness testimony collected by Jerusalem24, frustrated commuters began honking in the traffic line that had formed at the checkpoint, where the soldiers had been detaining each car for up to half an hour before allowing it through.
In response to the honking, a soldier fired a stun grenade in proximity to Kahleh’s car. Kahleh then either opened his car door or window and began berating the soldiers, who sprayed both Kahleh and his son with pepper spray, temporarily blinding Qusai.
Soldiers then dragged the teenager out of the car and his father attempted to follow, and entered into a physical scuffle with up to three Israeli soldiers, one of which shot Kahleh with live ammunition in the neck. Kahleh lost important amounts of blood and probably died almost immediately.
Another eyewitness who spoke to Israeli state channel Kan on 17 January said Kahleh had also been blinded by the spray, and was probably unable to see the soldiers during the altercation.
The army appears to corroborate all of the Palestinian eyewitnesses’ statements – and contradicts multiple, shifting claims issued by the Israeli army both in the immediate aftermath of the killing, and after the release of mobile phone footage capturing the moment Kahleh was shot.
Israeli army narrative changes as evidence comes to light
News of Kahleh’s death began circulating in Palestinian news outlets around 9 AM on Sunday 15 January. Shortly before 9:30 AM, reports started appearing in Israeli news outlets saying a Palestinian was killed “during an attempted stabbing”.
The Israeli reports quoted “IDF [Israel Defense Forces] sources” and “IDF reports” which alternatively said Kahleh had “run towards soldiers with knife”, or “stopped his car to throw stones at a military post, then run towards soldiers with a knife”.
Later in the morning, following the release of the mobile phone footage which showed Kahleh engaged in a physical altercation with three soldiers, one of whom it appears as though he may be trying to snatch a weapon from, the Israeli reports issued amended versions of their articles, updated to reflect new Israeli army claims that Kahleh had attempted to “snatch a weapon” and was then shot.
The full army statement claimed it had identified a “suspicious vehicle” which didn’t respond to orders to stop; that they used “riot dispersal means in order to detain one of the suspects in the vehicle”; that a “violent confrontation” then erupted, during which Kahleh attempted to “snatch a weapon”, and that the soldiers then “used live fire toward the suspect” and was hit.
The army probe has now debunked all initial claims submitted both to Israeli media and in official army statements, by acknowledging “a confrontation developed due to a traffic jam”, and that when Kahleh objected to being pulled out from his vehicle, the altercation ensued. The probe admits that a soldier was trying to hit Kahleh with his weapon when Kahleh may have attempted to grab it.
The probe also found the pepper spray used on Kahleh “was not army-issued”.
Kahleh was the thirteenth Palestinian to be shot and killed by the Israeli military in the first two weeks of the new year. He is survived by his wife Zahaya, his 18-year-old son Qusai, his 17-year-old daughter Doha, 13-year-old Jana, and 7-year-old Hassan.