The Gaza Strip is narrow, elongated, and densely populated. One of the main agricultural areas in the Gaza Strip runs along the eastern border with Israel, adjacent to the perimeter fence. In recent years, B'Tselem has gathered testimonies indicating that the Israeli security forces have defined broad swaths of these areas as no-go zones, where the open-fire regulations permit live fire at anyone who enters, even persons who pose no danger. The army states that these regulations result from the daily activity of armed Palestinians in these areas to collect intelligence, organize attacks against soldiers, and attempt to abduct soldiers and cross the border.
Filmed by Muhammad Sabah and Khaled 'Azayzeh, B'Tselem
In the past, official sources denied there were orders easing the open-fire regulations in areas defined as “special security zones.” Furthermore, during a hearing in the Israeli High Court of Justice regarding the killing of Iman al-Hams near the Girit army post on the Egyptian border in October 2004, prior to Israel's disengagement from Gaza, officials argued that the regulations are not absolute and require discretion in each case. It transpired, however, that the orders the soldiers had received were vague, and they had misunderstood them, thinking they were allowed to shoot to kill anyone present in the “special security zones”.
The open-fire regulations described above are now the official procedure, and in announcements made by the IDF Spokesperson, the area adjacent to the perimeter fence is categorized a “combat zone.” The Israeli army has even distributed leaflets throughout the Gaza Strip stating that anyone who comes within 300 meters of the fence endangers his life. The army thereby expanded the no-go zones, which had been defined as 150 meters from the fence prior to Operation Cast Lead. The leaflets stated that “any person who approaches places himself in danger,” and that measures would be taken against anyone entering the zone, “including by gunfire,” regardless of the person's identity or acts. Contrary to the Supreme Court's holding, in HCJ 741/05, that “special security zones” must be clearly marked, the no-go zones in the Gaza Strip are not marked in any way.
B'Tselem wrote to the IDF Spokesperson requesting clarifications on the borders of the no-go areas, the open-fire regulations applying there, and the measures taken by the army to prevent injury to innocent persons. In reply, the IDF Spokesperson's Office confined itself to a general, inadequate statement that the policy results from “fear of terrorist actions.”
Since the beginning of 2010, residents have demonstrated in the area against the army's policy. In several cases demonstrators have thrown stones at army positions, but none of the demonstrators have carried or used firearms.
Testimonies given to B'Tselem indicate that in several cases recently, the army has fired at demonstrators who approached the perimeter fence, even though they did not endanger the soldiers' lives or try to cross the fence. On 24 April, demonstrators tried to place Palestinian flags about 50 meters from the fence. The army opened fire, wounding three demonstrators. Video footage from 28 April shows a group of demonstrators standing some 100 meters from the fence, throwing stones at soldiers at an army post on the other side of the fence. The soldiers fired live ammunition at the demonstrators, killing one of them, Ahmad Suleiman Sallem Dib, 19.
Testimonies given to B'Tselem also indicate that, in at least four cases, soldiers have fired at civilians who were more than 300 meters from the perimeter fence, although the civilians were not endangering their lives. ‘Ali Muhammad Suleiman ‘Obeid, 20, from the Shaja'iya neighborhood in Gaza City, told B'Tselem's researcher that he was shot in the hand while gathering stones to make gravel, together with his two cousins. They were on the family's land some 500 meters from the fence, southeast of Shaja'iya. According to his testimony, the soldiers called out to him in Hebrew, and the three cousins, assuming they had been requested to leave the area, began to move away. As they did so, the soldiers opened fire at them, in breach of the army's declared orders. B'Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General's Office, demanding an investigation and requesting clarifications of the open-fire regulations that apply along the perimeter fence.
Closing a considerable portion of the cultivated farmland in the Gaza Strip to Palestinian movement severely impairs the livelihood and daily routine of the farmers and their dependants - tens of thousands of persons. The open-fire policy imposed in these areas endangers the farmers and residents of the nearby areas; applying the policy to an area greater than that stated in the leaflets increases the danger due to the vagueness it creates.
The sweeping declaration of farmland as an area in which soldiers are permitted to shoot any person, even those who pose no danger, cannot be considered lawful. Indiscriminate shooting at persons who pose no danger to security forces or to Israeli civilians breaches the main principle that underlies international humanitarian law: the distinction between combatants and civilians. It is Israel's obligation to protect the border area and prevent actions against it, but the solution it has chosen disproportionately harms the civilian population. Israel must cancel it immediately.