The bodies of 55 Palestinians, including 11 minors, killed in the recent wave of violence have yet to be returned to their families. This measure does not punish the dead but their families, who were neither involved in nor responsible for the actions of their relatives. The non-return of bodies is an official policy justified by the Israeli government on the grounds of deterrence. Yet “deterrence” cannot justify all actions, and certainly not a policy that gravely injury human dignity. Not only is this policy patently immoral, it is yet another instance of Israeli authorities’ disregard for the lives of Palestinians – even after their death.
Use of firearms
Since Oct. 2015 dozens of assaults by Palestinians have left 16 civilians and 3 members of Israel’s security forces dead. Up to 11 Dec. 2015, 71 assailants were shot dead by security forces or civilians. This wave of violent assaults is appalling, and clearly Israel’s security forces must protect the public. The law is also clear: shooting to kill is permissible only in cases of mortal danger. Yet analysis of 12 cases widely covered in the media and examined by B’Tselem paints an alarming picture of excessive and unwarranted use of lethal gunfire, which in some cases was tantamount to summary execution of assailants or suspected assailants.
Today is International Human Rights Day, marking the UN’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that states all people deserve life, security, liberty, equality and dignity. On the other side of the Green Line, a line essentially invisible to Israelis, millions of people – Palestinian residents of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip - are being deprived of their rights, a deprivation particularly blatant in Hebron. To mark the day, we made a clip on the background to current events in Hebron, and the daily oppression in a city that has become a flashpoint for violent flare-ups.
B’Tselem sent a letter to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, demanding a cessation of the use of lethal force against people who either harmed, tried to harm, or were suspected of trying to harm others, once they no longer posed any danger. The letter demanded an end to the horrific string of summary street executions.
In past two days, Palestinian girls attacked Israelis and were shot to death by security forces when lying motionless on the ground, posing no danger. Since early Oct., 48 knife attacks on Israelis have ended with Palestinian assailants/suspects shot to death. The recent surge of knife attacks is horrifying and security forces must protect the public and apprehend suspects, but they cannot act as judge or executioner. Top officials encourage the public to shoot anyone suspected of attacking Israelis, regardless of whether they pose danger, raising concern that these acts will go uninvestigated and the killers will continue to be role models.
On 13 Nov. 2015, after a demonstration against the Separation Barrier in Budrus, several Palestinians approached the barrier. Soldiers emerged from an ambush and grabbed Lafy ‘Awad. They beat him as he tried to break free and his friends threw stones at the soldiers. He began to flee and a soldier shot him in the back, killing him. Three years ago soldiers killed Samir ‘Awad in almost identical circumstances; only recently was a decision made to try them on minor offenses. The policy of allowing armed ambushes against stone-throwers continues to take lives, permitting unjustified use of lethal force and needless death.
Since 9 Oct. 2015 solidarity protests with West Bank Palestinians have been held in Gaza. B’Tselem found that 14 people have been killed and 379 wounded, mostly by live fire. Israeli soldiers stationed across the fence, dozens of meters away from protesters generally faced no mortal danger that would require use of live fire; they could have used crowd control measures instead. The large number of casualties indicates excessive use of live fire and raises concerns of unjustified, disproportionate and unlawful gunfire.
After lengthy foot-dragging, the HCJ ruled on 8 Nov. 2015 that the State Attorney’s Office must file indictments against the two soldiers involved in killing Samir ‘Awad, 16, by the end of 2015 – almost 3 years after his death. This follows the announcement by the State Attorney’s Office’s it would indict the two for committing a “reckless and negligent act using a firearm”. The disparity between the grave action and the minor offense is outrageous, sending a message to security forces: even if you kill an unarmed Palestinian who poses no threat, we will cover it up.
Since early Oct. the number of Palestinians shot by Israeli security forces at protests has risen sharply: five Palestinians were killed and hundreds injured in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem). A particularly high proportion of casualties in the Ramallah area were hit by live gunfire. In addition, military orders restricting gunfire to the lower extremities notwithstanding, many individual were hit in the upper body by rubber-coated metal bullets. All this suggests that security forces are responding with excessive force to protests and clashes.
On 27 Oct. B’Tselem’s Hebron researcher Manal al-Ja'bri was injured documenting a protest. A rubber-coated metal bullet fired by Israeli security forces fractured a finger in her left hand. She was filming clashes between security forces and Palestinian youth near the Bab a-Zawiya Checkpoint, Hebron. Al-Ja'bri, in a blue B’Tselem vest, was standing with a group of journalists across the street and at a distance from the Palestinian stone throwers. There was no apparent reason for security forces to fire at her or at other journalists there.
On 11 Oct. 2015, the military bombed the Hassan family home in Gaza, destroying it and killing mother Nur, 25, who was at an advanced stage of pregnancy, and daughter Rahaf, 3. Muhammad, 5, and father Yihya, 25, were lightly injured. B’Tselem’s investigation refuted claims that the bombing targeted “weapon production sites” or that the house collapsed due to a strike on a nearby training camp. The case exemplifies the illegality of Israel’s policy of airstrikes in Gaza, which has killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians in recent years.
In 13 incidents over the past two weeks, Palestinians were shot to death for stabbing or attempting to stab Israelis , or when suspected of doing so. In two of these cases, video footage published by the media raises grave concern that the security forces shot to kill even when it was clear that the Palestinians no longer posed a threat and could be apprehended in other ways. The wave of stabbing attacks against Israelis is shocking, and security forces must protect the public by apprehending Palestinians suspected of such actions. Security forces have the authority to use the minimal amount of force necessary to achieve that end, according to the circumstances, but law enforcement officers cannot act as both judges and executioners.
Since the beginning of the current wave of violence, there has been a worrying trend to use firearms to kill Palestinians who have attacked Israelis or are suspected of such attacks. Politicians and senior police officers have not only failed to act to calm the public climate of incitement, but on the contrary have openly called for the extrajudicial killing of suspects. No-one disputes the serious nature of the events, nor the need to protect the public. However, it seems that too often, instead of acting in a manner consistent with the nature of each incident, police officers and soldiers are quick to shoot to kill. The political and public support for such actions endorses the killing Palestinians in the Territories and in Israel.
The Occupation is now in its 49th year. Recent weeks have seen dozens of horrific attacks on Israelis by Palestinians. Israeli government officials have been calling explicitly to “shoot to kill”; hundreds of Palestinians have been injured and several killed in demonstrations. B’Tselem reiterates its condemnation of attacks against civilians. The government sees the current violence as an eruption of hatred that occurred in a vacuum, while rejecting any responsibility of its own for the situation. Yet recent events cannot be viewed in isolation from the ongoing oppression of 4 million people.
Following the Israeli military’s probe into the killing of ‘Abd a-Rahman ‘Obeid Allah, 13, in ‘Aydah R.C. by a 0.22 bullet, B’Tselem calls on Israel’s security forces to immediately cease use of this ammunition as a means of crowd control and to refrain from using live ammunition in non-life-threatening circumstances. Since January, 4 Palestinians have been killed and dozens injured by 0.22 bullets. B’Tselem has found ever increasing use of this weapon and that contrary to official statements it is neither regulated nor restricted. It is lethal and the plan to use it in East Jerusalem will have lethal consequences.
On Tues. Sep. 22, soldiers shot and fatally wounded Hadil al-Hashlamun, 18, at a Hebron checkpoint. B’Tselem’s investigation indicates she had concealed a knife in her cloths and did not obey the soldiers’ orders, but that she did not try to stab them. After she was shot in both legs, there was no justification to aim at her torso. The military’s knee-jerk defense of the soldiers sends a message that there are few limits on the use of force against Palestinians, including lethal force.
Israeli PM is reportedly seeking clearance to use live fire against stone-throwers in East Jerusalem after an incident in which a Jerusalem resident was killed following suspected stone-throwing. The move would allow police to use potentially lethal Two-Two bullets. A police plan to use assault dogs and collective punishment against East Jerusalem residents was reportedly approved. The authorities must keep the peace and protect residents, but their approach unlawfully and immorally ignores deep-seated discrimination and human rights abuses in East Jerusalem, while using increasingly violent measures against residents there.
More than two and a half years ago, soldiers killed sixteen-year-old Samir ‘Awad. A year and two months later, his father petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) together with B'Tselem, demanding the Military Advocate General (MAG) reach a decision whether to take action against the soldiers involved or close the case. The State Attorney’s Office continues the foot-dragging in this case, repeatedly ignoring interim court decisions.
On 21 May 2015, Yihya al-‘Amudi, 10, lost his eye after being hit by a black sponge round fired at him by an Israeli Border Police officer. This ammunition, used by the police since last year, does not cause severe injury if used according to regulations. However, ACRI has documented numerous instances in which sponge rounds were fired contrary to regulations, resulting in injuries to individuals not involved in clashes and killing one 15-year-old. Lack of accountability for wrongful firing makes the next lethal incident only a matter of time.
Seven years ago, a military officer fired a rubber-coated metal bullet at Eran Cohen’s leg at a demonstration against the Separation Barrier in Bil’in. Three and a half years ago, the MAG decided to close the investigation. B’Tselem appealed the decision two years ago, arguing there is sufficient evidence to indict the officer. In March 2015, the MAG Corps notified B’Tselem that the investigation had been reopened to try and glean new evidence from the video footage in the case file. B’Tselem had sent in the footage shortly after the incident.