TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel’s Justice Ministry said Thursday it was closing an investigation into two police officers who shot dead a Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground, accepting the officers’ assertion that they acted in self-defense.
A Palestinian attacker on Saturday stabbed and wounded an ultra-Orthodox Jew outside Jerusalem's Old City. He then tried to stab the officers before being shot and falling to the ground. Video footage showed a paramilitary Border Police officer shooting the attacker when he was already lying on the ground.
The shooting prompted calls for an investigation and drew comparisons to a 2016 incident in which an Israeli soldier was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground.
The Justice Ministry said it made its decision to close the case following the questioning of the two officers, who said they acted in self-defense.
“It was an incident that took place over mere seconds, in circumstances in which there was a real and concrete threat to the lives of the fighters and the civilians in the area,” it said in a statement. “It was found to be legally justified to use a weapon.”
The incident came amid an uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. On Wednesday, an Israeli woman was stabbed and lightly wounded in a tense neighborhood in east Jerusalem. The suspect, a Palestinian female minor, fled the scene and was later arrested inside a nearby school, police said.
Last month, a Hamas militant opened fire in Jerusalem’s Old City, killing one Israeli and wounding four others before being fatally shot by police.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 war along with the West Bank and Gaza. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, to include the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinians and Israeli rights groups say Israeli security forces sometimes use excessive force in response to attacks, killing suspected assailants who could have been arrested or who posed no immediate threat to security forces.
Rights groups also say Israel rarely holds members of its security forces accountable for the deadly shootings of Palestinians. Investigations often end with no charges or lenient sentences, and in many cases witnesses are not summoned for questioning.
Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses.
In the widely publicized 2016 case, Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground. Azaria later served two-thirds of a 14-month sentence after being convicted of reckless manslaughter.
His case sharply divided Israelis. The military pushed for his prosecution, saying he violated its code of ethics, while many Israelis, particularly on the nationalist right, defended his actions.