Update: On 14 October 2012, B'Tselem was notified by telephone that a Military Police Investigation Unit inquiry has been opened to clarify the allegations in one of the incidents.
Over the past year, B'Tselem has documented eleven cases in which soldiers fired at and wounded Palestinian civilians working in areas near the perimeter fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel. In these eleven cases, the gunfire struck civilians who, because of the lack of jobs in the Strip, were compelled to earn a living by collecting building materials for recycling. The lack of jobs has grown since Operation Cast Lead and following the continuing siege on the Strip.
In none of the cases was an attempt made to arrest the workers, so it is unreasonable to think they were suspected of engaging in actions aimed at harming security forces or Israeli citizens; rather, the gunfire was intended, apparently, to remove the workers from areas the army considers no-go zones. In addition to the eleven documented cases, B'Tselem and other human rights organizations know of dozens of other cases.
These cases join a series of instances documented by B'Tselem over recent years in which soldiers have fired at farmers and demonstrators in the vicinity of the perimeter fence, even when they did not present any danger. On 28 April 2010, Ahmad Dib, a young Palestinian, died of his wounds after being shot by the Israeli security forces on the border of the Gaza Strip while he was participating in a demonstration close to the perimeter fence.
Collecting gravel and other building materials is carried out primarily among the ruins of the Erez industrial zone near Erez Crossing. Following the disengagement, in 2005, the army classified the approximately 150-meter strip running from the perimeter fence along the border, which is situated inside the Strip, a no-go zone. After Operation Cast Lead, the army distributed leaflets stating the no-go zone had been increased to 300 meters from the fence. The leaflets state that, “Anybody who approaches endangers his life,” and that measures will be taken against persons who enter, “including by gunfire,” regardless of the person's identity or actions. Contrary to the High Court of Justice's ruling, in HCJ 741/05, that “special security areas” must be clearly marked, the no-go zones in the Gaza Strip are not marked in any way. B'Tselem's investigation has revealed that some of the workers in the area have never seen such a leaflet; in any case, some of them are illiterate.
The sweeping declaration of extensive areas as no-go zones in which the army may open fire at any person found there, even if the person poses no threat, is unlawful. Indiscriminate firing at persons who pose no danger to security forces or to Israeli civilians breaches the central principle of international humanitarian law, the distinction between combatants and civilians.
Furthermore, more than half of the Palestinians injured in the eleven cases were shot when they were more than 300 meters from the fence, and therefore in an area outside the army's declared no-go zone. In practice, any person working in areas along the perimeter fence, even if outside the no-go zone, risks his life.
Due to the secrecy surrounding the rules of engagement, B'Tselem does not know the orders given to soldiers operating along the perimeter fence. However, even if the orders forbid firing at the workers, many Palestinian civilians have in fact been injured by gunfire.
Israel has the obligation to safeguard the border area and prevent actions against the state, but its use of live fire to remove from the border area civilians who pose no danger is indiscriminate and disproportionately harms the civilian population. Israel must, therefore, stop this practice immediately.
B'Tselem has written to the judge advocate general and to the commander of the Gaza division, demanding that they examine the legality of the rules of engagement in the area of the perimeter fence, and that they immediately cease use of lethal means to distance civilians from the fence. In addition, B'Tselem has demanded that a Military Police investigation be opened in the matter of the eleven cases it documented, in which Palestinians working in areas near the perimeter fence were injured by soldiers' gunfire in the past year.