Videos from a March 16 raid in Jenin show increasingly deadly tactics by Israeli officers
See the Washington Post article for videos and a 3D reconstruction of the March 16 Israeli raid in central Jenin in the West Bank. (Telegram/The Washington Post)
Imogen Piper, Meg Kelly and Louisa Loveluck, Washington Post, May 26, 2023
The traffic was barely moving on March 16 in central Jenin, an unusually busy Thursday afternoon in the West Bank. With the holy month of Ramadan just days away, restaurants were full and shoppers wove between cars as they hustled from store to store.
A father pushed a stroller past a silver sedan. Inside the car, Israeli undercover agents were in place, waiting to carry out an operation against two Palestinian militants who were walking nearby. Omar Awadin, age 14, pedaled by on his bicycle, having just completed his last errand of the day.
Moments later, four plainclothes security forces burst from a second silver sedan nearby in pursuit of the militants and opened fire.
Such scenes are increasingly common in the West Bank, where more than 3 million Palestinians live under Israeli military occupation and a new generation of militants has risen to prominence. Israel says raids like this one are vital to disrupting terrorist networks and protecting its citizens from attack; Palestinian officials say they are war crimes that should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Israeli military operations have long been a fixture of life here, but they once happened mostly at night, and usually ended in apprehensions. This year, under the most right-wing government in Israeli history, a growing number of incursions have been carried out during the day, in densely packed urban areas such as Jenin. As of May 15, 108 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including militants and civilians, had been killed by Israeli forces, according to the United Nations, more than double last year’s toll from the same period. At least 19 were children — including Omar, who was fatally shot during the raid in Jenin.
The Washington Post synchronized 15 videos and reviewed dozens more from March 16, including CCTV footage from surrounding businesses, some of which took nearly a month to surface. The Post also spoke to nine witnesses and obtained testimonies from four others to produce a 3D reconstruction of the raid.
The analysis yielded three key findings:
- Israeli forces killed Omar. Israeli authorities have not publicly commented on his death.
- Omar was among at least 16 civilians in the area as the officers charged down the street with AR-style rifles and a handgun, firing more than 20 shots and killing the two militants, neither of whom was visibly armed. Israeli authorities referred to the militants as “armed suspects” in an initial statement but provided no evidence to support their claim.
- One of the militants was shot multiple times by Israeli forces after he was incapacitated — an apparent extrajudicial execution that experts said could violate Israeli law.
The raid additionally appeared to violate an international ban on extrajudicial killings, experts consulted by The Post said, arguing that the illegality was magnified by the fact that the militants appeared to pose no imminent threat, coupled with the presence of so many civilians.
The raid was conducted by Yamam, the elite unit of Israel’s border police that focuses on counterterrorism operations, including raids in civilian areas.
Dean Elsdunne, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said that security forces were in the area to “apprehend terrorists responsible for shooting attacks on IDF soldiers, some production of bombs and other terrorist activities.”
In response to initial questions about Omar, Israeli police said in an email to The Post that “the subject of your inquiry took an active part in the violent riot while endangering the lives of the troops.” It’s unclear what riot they were referring to, but the visual evidence reviewed by The Post showed no such riot before the shootings took place.
The police declined to review The Post’s evidence or to respond to follow-up questions.
Previously unreported files from the trove of classified U.S. documents recently leaked online through the Discord messaging platform highlight mounting American concerns that Israeli incursions in the West Bank — including a Feb. 22 raid in Nablus where Israeli troops fired into a group of civilians — would jeopardize international efforts to de-escalate violence in the region.
One secret assessment of a March 7 raid in Jenin warned that it “will almost certainly prompt Palestinian militants to retaliate.”
Omar spent the day of March 16 delivering packages for his father’s medical supply shop. At about 3:10 p.m., he dropped off his last package at a nearby pharmacy, CCTV footage obtained by The Post shows.
The eldest of the family’s three children and the only boy, Omar was exceptionally kind, his mother recalled, always trying to include other children who did not have the same advantages. He loved to joke around and would go swimming or hiking on his days off.
After leaving the shop, he cycled past his father, who was driving in the opposite direction. “We met by chance,” his father, Mohammad Awadin, said. “He asked for 10 shekels to buy some clothes, but there was a police officer behind me so I couldn’t stop.”
As Omar made his way back to his father’s shop, the raid began.
Just a few feet away from him, two Palestinian militants — Nidal Khazem, 28, and Yousef Shreim, 29 — walked side by side along the street. Khazem and Shreim passed the second silver sedan, now stopped in traffic, where Yamam agents were waiting.
Then at least three gunshots were fired from behind the two men. Khazem was hit and fell to the ground.
Four members of the Israeli security forces in street clothes appeared in quick succession. Two later shot Khazem’s prone body, according to video reviewed by The Post.
The Post identified at least 16 civilians in the immediate vicinity, including Omar, as officers opened fire.
A CCTV camera captured Shreim running, tripping and tumbling toward the pavement into a group of three civilians at that same moment, according to multiple videos synchronized by The Post. (The CCTV’s time stamp is incorrect.)
A third CCTV camera shows the moment just before Omar was shot and fell off his bike.
After at least two of the Israeli officers pointed their weapons in Shreim’s direction, a single bullet struck Omar in the back. It’s not clear which Israeli officer fired the fatal shot.
Shreim found his balance and continued to run, video shows. As he turned a corner, another barrage of gunfire followed. Israeli forces fired at least five times after he was first hit, video shows. His body visibly convulsed with the additional fire.
The officers then retreated back toward their vehicle. Two — one holding a handgun, the other a rifle — crouched down next to Khazem’s body and shot him in the head at point-blank range.
The Post blurred sections of the video because of its graphic nature.
Roughly 25 yards away, Omar lay on his side and rolled to his stomach.
“I went to Omar and asked him what is wrong,” said Abdallah Abahrah, owner of the cosmetics shop on the block. “He said, ‘I fell.’ I asked him if he was hit; he said ‘no.’ We had a conversation.”
There was no blood around Omar, Abahrah recalled. But then his face began to turn yellow and the area around his eyes took on a bluish hue. “I was holding his hands and they started to feel as cold as ice,” Abahrah said.
Abahrah and another man turned him over and saw he had been shot in his back. As they tried to help him, one of the cars carrying Israeli forces drove by.
Israeli officers leave the scene, passing Omar Awadin
No ambulance could reach the scene because of the traffic and the chaos that followed the raid, Abahrah said, so the men loaded Omar into a car and rushed him to the hospital. He was dead when he arrived, according to the hospital report.
‘Profoundly unlawful’ killings
The Post shared its findings with five experts in international law, all of whom said the deadly raid appeared to violate the prohibition on extrajudicial killings.
“One can say with a degree of confidence that these are extrajudicial executions,” said Philip Alston, who was the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions between 2004 and 2010, after reviewing the evidence provided by The Post.
These particular killings were “profoundly unlawful” under international standards, according to Michael Lynk, who served as the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories until last year. He added that the unlawfulness was “heightened by the apparent choice to conduct these targeted killings in a busy civilian market.”
Israeli law provides much more latitude to its forces during anti-terrorism operations — even when, as in this instance, the apparent targets were not visibly armed and there was no exchange of gunfire.
Michael Sfard, a human rights lawyer who has challenged the legality of targeted killings at Israel’s Supreme Court, described the Jenin raid as “extremely typical of how Israel conducts its lethal-force operations.”
The basic principle, said Roni Pelli, an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “is that you open fire only if you are at risk.” But the question of what constitutes risk is murky under Israeli law — intentionally so, rights groups contend.
A 2006 ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court set a broad definition for when alleged militants can be targeted, legalizing hits on individuals whom security forces believe to have links to militant groups, even if they do not pose a direct threat at the time of the operation.
Khazem was a member of the Islamic Jihad militant group, while Shreim belonged to the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, making them legitimate targets under Israeli law.
But Israeli and international law are in accord on a key point: Once a person is no longer a threat, they cannot be targeted with lethal force. The shooting of Khazem in the head while he was immobilized was thus likely to be illegal, experts in Israeli law said — reminiscent of a 2017 case when an Israeli court sentenced a military medic to 18 months in jail for fatally shooting a wounded and disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron.
Elor Azaria, the medic, had acted as “both judge and executioner,” the judge ruled. Azaria’s sentence was reduced to 14 months on appeal and he was released after nine, hailed as a hero by far-right politicians.
Among those who championed his cause was Itamar Ben Gvir, a radical settler leader and anti-Arab activist. Now Israel’s national minister of national security, Ben Gvir oversees the border police, including Yamam.
Elsdunne, the spokesman for the Israeli police, declined to say whether there was an investigation into the actions of Israeli security forces during the raid generally, or into Khazem’s shooting specifically. Security forces “were working under life-threatening conditions to apprehend terrorists,” he told The Post.
But neither man targeted in the raid “appeared to present any threat, let alone an imminent threat, and [both] could have been arrested,” Lynk noted. The “failure” to arrest the men, Alston said, “was then compounded by the firing of additional lethal shots even after the two individuals were rendered harmless.”
In that volley of bullets, Omar was killed. He had video-called his mother around 11 a.m. that morning, she recalled: “He was just sitting behind his father’s desk, so proud to show me how responsible he was.”
Four hours later, he was gone.
Osama Hassan in Jenin and Cate Brown in Washington contributed to this report.