Use of 28 Feb. 2006: Suspicion that Israel has classified areas near Gaza perimeter fence as "killing zones"

27 Feb 2006

Since the disengagement from the Gaza Strip was completed, in September 2005, IDF soldiers have killed nine unarmed Palestinian civilians who were in the area of the Gaza perimeter fence. Five minors, including an eight-year old child, were among the nine persons killed.

According to B'Tselem's research, five of the nine victims were not even attempting to reach the perimeter fence, but were shot at a distance of 100 to 500 meters from the fence. The other four casualties were shot when trying to cross the fence and illegally enter Israel to work. The army itself stated that none of the nine victims was carrying weapons or explosives. B'Tselem also found that no attempt was made to warn the Palestinians that they must leave the area, or to give them a chance to surrender. Regarding these cases, the IDF only stated that the soldiers had opened fire after the soldiers suspected that the Palestinians intended to fire at them or place an explosive device near the fence.

With regard to the many previous cases in which soldiers killed unarmed civilians, including children, near settlements and the Gaza perimeter fence, media reports have suggested the existence of "killing zones." These reports speak of areas in which the soldiers are ordered to open fire at any person who enters, regardless of the circumstances. IDF officials, among them the Judge Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, categorically denied any such order had been given. However, the nine unarmed people killed in the past five months strengthen the suspicion that broad stretches of land near the Gaza perimeter fence have indeed been classified as "killing zones." It should be noted that, since the October 2000, the IDF has refused to disclose its open-fire regulations. Contrary to past practice, the rules of engagement are now provided to soldiers by their field commanders verbally, and not in writing.

Gaza Strip barrier near the Karni Crossing. Photo: Zero000, 25 July 2005.
Gaza Strip barrier near the Karni Crossing. Photo: Zero000, 25 July 2005.

A fundamental principle of international humanitarian law is that all parties must distinguish between combatants and civilians who are not taking part in the hostilities. According to this principle, attacks directed at civilians are prohibited, and where there is any doubt as to whether a person is a combatant or a civilian, the individual must be treated as a civilian. Automatically opening fire at every person who enters a certain area, regardless of the person's identity or reason for being in the area, as apparently was the case in the shooting of the nine Palestinians mentioned above, is "indiscriminate shooting," which is liable to be deemed a war crime.

B'Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General and demanded that a Military Police investigation be opened into each of these incidents.