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Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström: Israel Must Not Commit “Extrajudicial Executions”

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (Photo: Torsten Hallberg/norden.org)

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (Photo: Torsten Hallberg/norden.org)

Sweden’s foreign minister has outraged Israel by accusing its forces of “extrajudicial executions” of Palestinians, and the Swedish prime minister further infuriated Israeli officials by saying Palestinian knife attacks against Israelis are “not terror.”

Responding to foreign policy questions during a parliamentary meeting in Stockholm on Friday, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström accused Israeli forces of executing Palestinians who are resisting nearly half a century of occupation deemed illegal under international law. While condemning knife attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, many of them innocent civilians, Wallström called Israel’s response “disproportionate.”

“I condemn the knife-attacks,” the foreign minister said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “I think that it is awful and that it should not happen and Israel always has the right to defend itself and ensure its safety. And in the same way the response cannot be, and I say this in other situations as well, where the response becomes so that there are extrajudicial executions, or that it becomes disproportionate so the numbers of dead on the other side is greater than the original death toll by several factors.”

Escalating violence since October has left at least 22 Israelis and 118 Palestinians dead. The current wave of killing began when Palestinians reacted violently to increasing visits by Jews to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound—one of the holiest sites in Islam and Judaism, where it is known as the Temple Mount. Among the Jewish victims of the ongoing violence is an American, 18-year-old Yeshiva student Ezra Schwartz.

Haaretz reports Wallström’s remarks were met with an angry response from Isaac Bachman, Israel’s ambassador to Sweden.

“Israel’s moral standards when it comes to fighting terrorism are at least at par with other Western nations coping with the same threat,” Bachman said. “Israeli practices are even more successful in avoiding civilian casualties than in other Western nations’ cases, according to verified military statistics.”

“The emphasis on how the victims of terror defend themselves is diverting the attention away from the true horrors of terrorism,” Bachman continued. “Instead one should condemn and act to stop the perpetrators, the financers and the inciters of terrorism. If we focus on condemning and preventing terrorism there will be no need for self-defense.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also had harsh words for Wallström during an address to his cabinet following the remarks.

“I condemn the statements, the scandalous statements, made by the foreign minister of Sweden,” Netanyahu said, according to Reuters. “It seems she expects Israel’s citizens to bare their throats to those trying to stab them. This will not happen, and we will continue to protect the lives of Israel’s citizens.”

Erik Wirkensjö, Wallström’s press secretary, later said that the foreign minister’s comments had been misunderstood, noting that “the foreign minister did not say that Israel conducts ‘extrajudicial executions.’”

“The foreign minister made a general statement about international law and the right to self-defense and the importance of proportionality and distinction. What she stated applies to all parties,” said Wirkensjö.

Critics of Israel’s policies and actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, including numerous Israeli non-governmental organizations, have long accused Israeli forces of carrying out extrajudicial killings of Palestinians who resist the occupation. Israeli leaders have called upon security forces to shoot suspected attackers on sight. Israeli Security Minister Gilad Erdan has said suspected assailants should be killed so that others thinking of violently resisting the occupation will “know that they will not survive the attack that they were going to carry out.”

According to a poll from the Israeli Democracy Institute, 53 percent of Jewish Israelis agree that “any Palestinian who has perpetrated a terror attack against Jews should be killed on the spot” without charge or trial.

The issue of Israeli extrajudicial executions made global headlines last month after two dozen Israeli Shin Bet agents disguised as Palestinians invaded al-Ahli hospital in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. The Israelis, some of whom were disguised as disabled and pregnant women, stormed into a room where 20-year-old patient Azzam Izzat Shaban al-Shalalda was being treated for wounds allegedly suffered during a stabbing attack. When Abdallah Azzam Shaban al-Shalalda, the patient’s 28-year-old cousin, emerged from a bathroom after washing in preparation for morning prayers, the Israeli agents shot him in the head, chest and arm and then prevented anyone from giving him medial aid as he lay dying on the floor.

Palestinian Health Minister Jawad Awad accused Israeli security forces of “executing” Abdallah al-Shalalda.

“The international community must intervene to protect our people from the Israeli killing machine,” Awad said, according to Reuters. Shin Bet responded to the incident by saying it “will not permit terror operatives to hide in any places of refuge.”

Leading international human rights group Amnesty International has condemned both Palestinian stabbing attacks against Israelis, which it said showed “a clear contempt for human life,” as well as Israel’s “extrajudicial executions.”

Israelis who have attempted to reveal details of such alleged unlawful killings have paid a heavy price for their actions. In 2009, journalist Anat Kamm was arrested for allegedly copying secret Israeli military documents during her compulsory military service that detailed how assassination squads planned the murders of Palestinian political leaders and resistance fighters, and subsequent cover-up of these killings as “mishaps” during “failed arrest attempts.” Israel issued a gag order barring journalists and whistleblowers from revealing details of its extrajudicial killing policy, but Kamm and another journalist, Uri Blau, who published a damning report based on Kamm’s leaked documents, were found guilty of violating the gag order. Kamm, who was indicted for espionage, wassentenced to 4.5 years in prison in 2011 and released in 2014.

Haaretz reports Sweden has further stoked Israeli ire after Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told a reporter on Sunday that Palestinian knife attacks against Israelis do not meet the internationally accepted definition of terrorism.

“There is an international classification regarding what constitutes or does not constitute [terrorism],” said Löfven. “As far as I know, the [knife attacks in Israel] are not defined as terror.”

Once again, there was a claim of “misunderstanding” as the prime minister sought to clarify his statement.

“I meant that it was unclear if the knife attacks are organized by a group classified as a terrorist organizations. Nonetheless, the attacks themselves do constitute terror,” Löfven said.

Relations between Israel and Sweden were already strained following the Nordic nation’s move to officially recognize Palestinian statehood last October, making it the most important European Union member to do so. Wallström said Sweden’s recognition “is an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”

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