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.
Use of firearms
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.
B'Tselem's findings indicate that Muhammad 'Ali-Kosba threw a stone at the windshield of Binyamin Brig. Commander Shomer, shattering it, and then fled with other teens. Col. Shomer and another soldier pursued them on foot. Shomer shot 'Ali-Kosba from a distance of some ten meters, hitting him in the face and in the back. B'Tselem's investigation indicates 'Ali-Kosba posed no mortal threat to the soldiers at the time of the shooting. Sweeping support for Shomer's action conveys this message to troops: shooting a Palestinian stone thrower is acceptable, even desirable, even if the person is fleeing and no longer a threat.
On 25 Feb. 2015, the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem of the closing of the investigation into the killing of Palestinian teens Muhammad and Usayed Qadus in the West Bank village of ‘Iraq Burin in March 2010. The investigation had taken five years and its findings, as reported by the MAG Corps, are absurd: on the one hand, the investigation found that only rubber-coated metal bullets had been fired during the incident; on the other hand it corroborated that the two teens were killed by live ammunition, and there is no dispute that they were killed by the military. On the basis of these unreasonable findings, the MAG Corps decided to file no charges.
The bombings of the Gaza Strip began a year ago today. For hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, last summer’s nightmare has become an ongoing reality. There are now some 100,000 displaced persons in Gaza living with relatives or in rented homes, in tents, or in the ruins of their old homes. Nearly 20,000 houses were partly or completely destroyed last summer, and hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza still live in 150,000 damaged residences. After the fighting ended, B'Tselem continued to publicize the stories of Gazans who are still dealing with its consequences.
The UN report on the 2014 Gaza conflict rejects Israeli government and military officials’ view of what is permissible in combat in densely populated areas. The UN commission’s premise differs from that of these officials, seeing Gaza as the home of over 1.5 million civilians where combat took place, not as a battlefield on which civilians live. The report states that the immense harm to civilians during the fighting cannot be justified nor can IHL be interpreted so as to legalize it, even considering the modus operandi of Hamas and other armed groups. The commission also found that the responsibility for violating IHL rests with the senior political and military officials who drew up the policy and did not change it even when its lethal consequences became clear.
B’Tselem has recently documented dozens of cases near Ramallah in which Israeli security forces injured Palestinians, some of them severely, with live gunfire. Most injuries are apparently the result of.22 inch bullets, whose impact is less than that of “ordinary” bullets but can still cause grave, even fatal injuries. The regular use of live fire against demonstrators in breach of regulations indicates that it is part of a policy, an unlawful policy. B’Tselem calls on security forces to stop firing live ammunition at unarmed civilians, except in extreme cases of immediate mortal danger.
The UN commission of inquiry into last summer’s fighting in Gaza recommended an international criminal investigation against Israel and Hamas. This is aimed primarily at the leaders on both sides, rather than at the ground forces. Despite the horrifying and predictable results, top military and government officials in Israel ordered that the lethal policy of massive bombings in Gaza be continued. Denial and passing the buck cannot be the only response to such serious findings. A healthy society should face the criticism and thoroughly investigate the allegations of serious human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law.