A Stone’s Throw

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During the Islamic month of Ramadan, which is about to end, Muslims are to engage in introspection, fasting and spiritual improvement.  Which, according to some, includes doing whatever they can to kill innocent people.

ISIS, for instance, exhorted Muslims to use Ramadan as a time for violence, and, earlier in the Islamic holy month, in apparent response, Islamists launched attacks on three continents.  A deliveryman ISIS supporter crashed his truck into an American-owned chemical plant in France, in an attempt to blow it up, and then allegedly decapitated his boss at the scene and placed the murdered man’s head on on the plant’s gate. Mere hours later, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a Kuwait City mosque, killing 27 worshippers and injuring more than two hundred.  A mere hour later came an attack on a Tunisian beach, where an Islamist gunman – may we call him a terrorist? – gunned down 39 people without warning.

It wasn’t just ISIS either.  A Hamas-affiliated website, for instance, published an article titled “Resistance During Ramadan – A New Beginning And A Different Flavor,” which explained that “Ever since the first intifada, martyrdom operations, stabbing and shooting attacks have had a special character during the month of Ramadan…” and that “During Ramadan, the Palestinians welcome resistance to the occupation and carry it out with a different flavor…”  Make ours vanilla, please.

Which was a likely contributor, of course, to the fact that Israel has also been a target of Ramadan violence, with rockets fired from Gaza landing in her territory, and six acts of terrorism in the month’s first 10 days, killing and maiming Israelis.  Some were shootings; one, a stabbing of a female IDF soldier in the neck; and several incidents of rock-throwing.

Later in the month, after Israeli forces shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian, Muhammad Hani al-Kasba, after  he had thrown rocks at their vehicle and ignored orders to stop, dozens of youths clashed with the soldiers near Yerushalayim.

Stone-throwing by Palestinians has been described by some as an essentially benign activity, a “rite of passage” or, as Thomas Friedman once infamously characterized it, as a form of “massive nonlethal civil disobedience.”  When Israeli police or soldiers shoot stone-throwers, the shootings are often presented by the Arab media as terrible overreactions; Western media tend to imply the same thing.

The headline over the recent story in the International Business Times read “Palestinian protester shot dead in West Bank,” as if the young man had been carrying a placard, not a rock.  The Boston Globe sought its readers’ eyeballs with “Palestinian teen killed by Israeli forces in West Bank.”  What the deceased was doing would seem to be more germane than his age.

Let’s move, though, now from the “West Bank” – or, better, Yehudah V’Shomron –  to the West Coast – of the United States.  Specifically to Pasco, Washington, a small city in the shadow of the Cascade Mountain range.  There, a 35-year-old man, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, was shot and killed in a hail of police bullets earlier this year, leading to an investigation into the circumstances of the killing.

Documents recently released by the Franklin County prosecutor’s office presented a detailed timeline of the happening, diagrams and the testimony of officers, all of whom said they had felt that their safety or the safety of others was in jeopardy.

Mr. Zambrano-Montes had been throwing rocks at cars before the police arrived, according to witnesses quoted.  A lawyer for the man’s family said that the central question of the case was whether the threat posed by his clients’ relative was genuine, or could reasonably be perceived as genuine.

The officers who fired at Mr. Zambrano-Montes maintain that their actions were justifiable.  One, Ryan Flanagan, said he had considered nonlethal options but did not see a way to safely get close enough to the stone thrower.

“Had he dropped the rock, then we would have been able to holster our firearms,” Officer Flanagan said in the report.  “He didn’t,” the officer continued, “give us that option, though.

An investigator then pressed further for an answer to the question of why lethal force was necessary, when there were three officers, one suspect and only one rock.”

His answer was brief and to the point – and something reporters and editorialists the world over might take time to think about. “Well,” Officer Flanagan, responded, “one rock can kill you.”

© 2015 Hamodia