As AIPAC Pays Tribute to Slain U.S. Citizen, Where Is the Outcry Over Palestinian-American Teen Killed by Israeli Soldiers?

The lack of concern over the killing of 17-year-old Mahmoud Shaalan underscores the profound dehumanization of Palestinians.

Sixteen-year-old Mahmoud Shaalan was shot to death by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo

At the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, attendees and speakers gave emotional tribute to Taylor Force, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who was recently killed by a Palestinian in Jaffa.

Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each rebuked the alleged assailant in their speeches—to overwhelming applause. “Just a few weeks ago, a young American veteran and West Point graduate named Taylor Force was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist near the Jaffa Port,” said Clinton on Monday. “These attacks must end immediately.”

The message was clear: Palestinian “terror” poses a direct threat to U.S. citizens, and presidential hopefuls vow to keep Americans safe from this supposed danger.

Yet, another U.S. citizen—17-year-old Palestinian-American Mahmoud Shaalan, recently shot to death by Israeli soldiers—went unmentioned by these speakers. Why? Perhaps Palestinians are not deemed to be worthy victims and are ineligible for the most basic human rights protections.

Shaalan was killed by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near the Beit El settlement, which is located in the occupied West Bank. The Army alleged that Shaalan was carrying a knife, but this account has not been verified and no Israeli soldiers were injured.

What is well-documented is that Shaalan was shot multiple times, leaving his body “riddled with bullets,” as the Palestinian Health Ministry put it.

Gideon Levy and Alex Levac wrote in the Israeli paper Haaretz, “Eyewitnesses say the shooting continued even after he lay wounded on the road. Afterward, the witnesses say, the soldiers let him bleed and prevented a Palestinian ambulance from taking him to hospital. Shaalan lay on the road, his body stripped naked, uncovered, for two-and-a-half hours.”

The Miami-born teenager was living in his family village of Deir Dibwan and had hoped to eventually study medicine. But in most media reports, he was written off as a terrorist.

“The media often only report Israeli accounts of violent incidents--which is usually that a Palestinian killed was about to commit a crime," Lawrence Fleming, Olga Banaszkiewicz and Carly Campbell noted in a recent article. "This typical obfuscation of the entire story justifies ongoing human rights violations and discourages further investigation from taking place.”

Such outlets are abetted by the Obama administration, which is refusing to demand an investigation of Shaalan’s death, let alone publicly rebuke his killing. The following interaction between state department spokesperson John Kirby and an unnamed reporter is telling. This is from a February 29 press briefing:

QUESTION: Thanks, everybody. I have a quick question. On Friday, the Israeli army killed an American teenager, a 17-year-old, Muhammad Shaalan. They say that he was carrying a knife. But did you—are you discussing with the Israelis, are you conducting your own investigation and so on? Do you have any comment on that?

MR. KIRBY: Hang on a second here. Thought I had it here. I am aware of the incident. And what I can tell you is that we are in contact with Israeli authorities about it. But I don’t have a lot more detail than that right now.

QUESTION: So you will not just take the Israeli narrative; you will conduct your own investigation as to the circumstances of this shooting?

MR. KIRBY: I didn’t say that. What I—I found it now.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. KIRBY: We can confirm that U.S. citizen Mahmoud Muhammad Shaalan was killed in the West Bank. We of course stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. We have requested, as I said, further information from Israeli authorities regarding the circumstances of this incident. And I don’t have anything more to add right now.

QUESTION: So the Israelis have not responded to you?

MR. KIRBY: I would refer you to the Israelis.

QUESTION: No. I mean—he’s a U.S. citizen.

MR. KIRBY: What I’ve said is we have requested additional information.

QUESTION: Right. Okay, so—

MR. KIRBY: I’m not aware of—I’m not aware that we have received any of that additional information.

QUESTION: Okay. So what would be the next step? I mean, you request, you wait for them to respond, or you will press them to provide you as expeditiously as possible?

MR. KIRBY: We routinely talk to Israeli authorities about these kinds of matters and—

QUESTION: I mean, I’m talking to you. He’s a—he’s an American boy. He’s a U.S. citizen. Why would I ask the Israelis?

MR. KIRBY: We’ve asked the Israelis for more information, and it’s our expectation that we’ll get that. I don’t have a timeline for you. But we certainly are tracking this and watching it closely. And we will continue to stay in touch with Israeli authorities about it. Okay?

When compared with the AIPAC outpouring in support of Force, Mr. Kirby’s response underscores how profoundly Palestinians are dehumanized in U.S. and Israeli societies.

Of course, lives are not more or less valuable because they are American. At least 169 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since last October alone. Israel claims that 112 of these lives lost were assailants, but most media outlets are not demanding they prove such claims—nor are powerful countries like the United States. Writing in Mondoweiss this week, journalist Dan Cohen documented a pattern in which Israeli medics are “leaving wounded Palestinians to bleed to death.”

Raed Jarrar, government relations manager for the American Friends Service Committee, told AlterNet that Shaalan’s case is “not only about a U.S. citizen getting killed, but also about a U.S. citizen being killed with U.S. military aid to Israel. That has to be investigated regardless of who the victim was. There are existing U.S. regulations, including the Leahy law, that require the U.S. to investigate any human rights violations committed with its military aid.”

The killing of the teenager raises chilling questions perhaps best articulated by his uncle Salman in an interview with Levy and Levac. “How is it possible to justify the killing of a boy of 16, who could not have constituted a danger to armed and trained soldiers?” he asked. “Even if we assume that Mahmoud actually attacked them, why didn’t they arrest him? Why didn’t they shoot in the air? In the worst case, they could have shot him once and wounded him. But five bullets? Why?”

“This is a discriminatory country,” Salman continued. “It’s a country based on discrimination. The life of everyone who is not an Israeli is not considered to be worth anything.”

Shaalan's case shows that this dehumanization extends to the highest echelons of power in the United States.

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Environment
Food
Media
World