When killing an Old Man is “Returning Fire”

The IDF killed Amr Al Qawasme in his bed yesterday, but an Israeli news site claimed the soldiers “returned fire”

Early yesterday morning (Friday), IDF gunmen shot Amr Al Qawasme, aged 66 and residing in Hebron, to death, apparently while he was in bed. An early version of the IDF response, before the IDF was forced to “express its regrets” and admit that oops, we did it again, showed in the Nrg news site. It said (Hebrew) that the soldiers, while arresting a wanted man, “identified another Palestinian, who wasn’t supposed to be present in the building, and – according to them – behaved in a suspicious and threatening manner”. As a result, wrote Nrg, “The force was forced to return fire”.

Let’s dissect this short sentence. Everyone, the IDF Spokesman included, agrees that Al Qawasme wasn’t armed and certainly didn’t fire at anyone. Hence, “returning fire” is an impossibility. Returning fire is a process in which an armed force identifies shots fired in its direction, and fires back at the source. In this case, only one side fired: frightened gunmen – they are always frightened, dammit; who’s brilliant idea was it to arm these panic-prone young men? – shot a helpless old man, who was merely trying to climb out of bed. The “was forced” part of the sentence is also rather impressive: the gunmen didn’t really wanted to “return fire” towards an unarmed old man, they simply had no choice in the matter.

IDF soldiers advance in Al Ma'asara (Yossi Gurvitz)
Why are the gunmen in a permanent state of panic? (Yossi Gurvitz)

Most Israelis, naturally, don’t care. One less Palestinian. It’s a safe assumption that the gunmen and their commanders won’t pay any price for the incident. Just a Palestinian, after all. One can only imagine what would have happened if, during a search after a wanted Jew – say, Jack Teitel – one of the cops would suffer a panic attack and shoot to death his old and unarmed father. What riots we’d see, how the settler leadership would rise to its hindquarters, how a wave of shock would sweep the country.

But here, nu, just a Palestinian. And this time we can’t say he was a terrorist, planned on being a terrorist, or once considered being one. Just an old man, shot in his bed at dawn. A pointless killing. This embarrassment, this inability to say our hands did not spill this blood, is likely to have brought up the expression “returned fire”. We can’t say, after all, we shot an old man in his bed, even if all the signs point to that. Otherwise, how would we look ourselves in the mirror?