In an article for the Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection, Jessica Montell highlights the importance of accurate information to any human rights advocacy. "Monitoring, reporting and fact-finding remain the backbone of B'Tselem's work – it is the necessary first step of any strategy to make change. Given the highly-charged context of our work, and the politicized efforts to discredit the work of groups like B'Tselem, our work would not be possible without the strong base of accurate, reliable information."
Use of firearms
Today, over 14 months since Lubna al-Hanash was killed on 23 Jan. 2013 by shots soldiers fired near al-‘Arrub RC, her father petitioned the HCJ with B’Tselem to oblige the MAG to decide whether to charge the perpetrators. Al-Hanash was shot in the head while strolling with a relative in the gardens of a college campus near Route 60. B’Tselem found that the two women posed no danger and that shooting at them was unjustified. The MAG’s prolonged delay violates the family’s rights by reducing the chances of an effective criminal procedure.
On 4 Apr. 2014 Muhammad Yassin, a B’Tselem’s camera volunteer, sustained severe internal injuries from live gunfire while filming clashes at Bitunya. Footage by David Reeb shows that Yassin was not at the center of the clashes, was carrying a camera and was clad in a vest indicating his photographer status. B’Tselem does not yet know what ammunition hit Yassin. The military, despite pledges to the contrary, often uses live 0.22-caliber bullets even when soldiers are not in mortal danger. B’Tselem demands that Yassin’s wounding be investigated.
Ahmad ‘Awad, whose son Samir was killed by soldiers near the Separation Barrier in Budrus, petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice together with B’Tselem to oblige the MAG to decide whether to prosecute the soldiers who killed his son. The petitioners said that every day that goes by without a decision reduces the chance that effective criminal procedures be taken, in an ever-increasing infringement of the petitioners ’ rights and with growing harm to the rule of law and public interest in bringing offenders to justice.
On 19 March 2014 soldiers killed 14-year-old Yusef a-Shawamreh as he and two friends crossed a breach in the Separation Barrier to gather plants on his family’s land. B’Tselem found that, contrary to the IDF Spokesperson’s statement, the youths did not vandalize the barrier nor was suspect arrest procedure carried out. Security forces are well-aware that Palestinians cross at this point for harvest purposes at this season. B’Tselem calls on the military to bring to justice the commanders who ordered the highly questionable armed ambush.
In light of the recent escalation in violence on the Gaza-Israel border, B’Tselem reiterates that directing rocket and missile fire at civilians is prohibited and constitutes a war crime.Attacks aimed at civilians are immoral and illegal. The Hamas government in Gaza must take all legal measures at its disposal to stop the rocket fire. B’Tselem demands that all sides involved in the hostilities take all possible steps to protect civilians from the consequences. The laws of war obligate all sides to do all that is in their power to prevent harm to civilians.
In the past 14 months 5 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed by soldiers in ambush. The latest fatality is Saji Darwish, killed in Beitin yesterday by a live bullet in what the military classified "an ambush to catch stone throwers”. The military did not say whether the soldiers had crowd control weapons or live ammunition only. The military must launch a criminal investigation of the incident and the directives the soldiers received, and also discontinue ambushes for unarmed stone-throwers in which soldiers carry only lethal weapons.
Despite the risks 15,000-30,000 Palestinians routinely enter Israel without work permits. B’Tselem made inquiries into four cases in which soldiers shot and wounded Palestinians trying to enter Israel. In all four cases, which occurred in Oct. and Nov. 2013, soldiers did not given any advance warning before shooting, and in some, shot at the victims’ torso. Security forces must not automatically consider civilians trying to enter Israel without permits as potential terrorists and nor can they use gunfire to apprehend these individuals.
B’Tselem recorded 5 fatalities and 55 injuries recently, all of Palestinian uninvolved in hostilities near the Gaza perimeter fence. Although the military refuses to publish the relevant open-fire regulations, statements by officials indicate the possibility that lethal fire might be permitted even in cases of civilians who pose no danger. As Gazans use the area near the fence for various civilian needs, it cannot be regarded exclusively as a combat zone. The military must institute open-fire regulations that take this reality into account.
On Fridays in recent months, youths have been frequenting an area east of Jabalya RC, a rare open space in the congested Gaza Strip. Some stroll or rest. Others come to demonstrate, burn tires or throw stones at the perimeter fence. Several times Molotov cocktails were lobbed at the fence and its patrol. Soldiers positioned on the Israeli side of the perimeter fence use various measures – from tear-gas to live ammunition – to get the youths to back away from the fence. B'Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah documented the scene.
On 7 Dec. 2013 a soldier outside the settlement of Beit El shot and killed Wajih a-Ramahi, 15. The military claims “the only shots fired were in the air", but the autopsy found that a-Ramahi was hit by a bullet to the back. B'Tselem's inquiries indicate that a-Ramahi was one of several youths throwing stones at soldiers from a distance of about 200 meters. Although they were not facing mortal danger, the soldiers responded with live ammunition, not crowd control weapons. The MAG Corps said that a military police investigation has been launched.
On 20 Dec. 2013 soldiers shot and killed ‘Odeh Hamad while he and his brother Radad were collecting scraps at the Beit Hanoun garbage dump. Radad, who reported hearing no warning beforehand, ran for help. While Hamad lay injured, soldiers just across the fence offered him no medical assistance, nor did they help the paramedics locate him. He was found after a half hour-long search and died shortly after reaching hospital. B’Tselem documented similar incidents at the same site, including four in the last 18 months in which civilians were injured.
Three times as many people were killed in the West Bank in 2013 as were in 2012. In contrast to the situation from 2003 to 2012 when most Palestinian fatalities occurred in the Gaza Strip, in 2013 the majority of Palestinian fatalities occurred in the West Bank. B’Tselem Director Jessica Montell said, “The sharp rise in fatalities in the West Bank only serves to intensify concern about lack of accountability. Admittedly, MPIU investigations are now launched almost automatically, yet the essence of the investigative mechanism remains unchanged. It is slow and cumbersome and decisions are made only years after an incident takes place. Such a mechanism, in which practically no one is held accountable for the killing of Palestinians, does not serve as a deterrent and indicates disregard for human life.”
B’Tselem's initial inquiries indicates toddler Hala Abu Sbeikhah was killed yesterday after an Israeli tank fired three shells at her home. Hala’s aunt and two young cousins sustained injuries. Deliberate firing at a home occupied by civilians, without warning the inhabitants and ensuring they have vacated the premises, as appears to be the case in this situation, is unlawful. The military must immediately investigate the incident. Israeli military additionally closed Kerem Shalom Crossing, barring agricultural export and necessary fuel imports in a measure which constitutes collective punishment.
On 5 Dec. 2013, the MAG Corps notified B’Tselem of its decision to close the investigation into the killing of Mustafa Tamimi by a tear-gas canister fired at him in Dec. 2011. The Corps claimed that the firing was done "according to the relevant rules and regulations and did not involve any illegality." The decision, two years after the incident, conveys the military’s indifference to the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, and sends Israeli soldiers and officers the message that they will not be held accountable for killing unarmed civilians. In the meantime, this type of firing continues, and it is only a matter of time before yet another unarmed Palestinian civilian is killed in this way. B’Tselem will demand to see all the investigation material.
On 27 Nov. B'Tselem volunteer videographer Abu Ahmad documented clashes between Palestinian youth and soldiers in Beit Ummar. An officer fired a canister that hit him in the chest, while he filmed. Abu Ahmad was bruised and required medical treatment. The firing of tear gas canisters directly at individuals is a routine practice by security forces and has already claimed the lives of two people and injured dozens. The military continues to deny the existence of the practice and avoids addressing it systematically. B'Tselem will send the footage to the Military Advocate and demand an investigation by the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) and held accountable.
On 31 October 2013, Ahmad Tazaz’ah, 20, was killed in a market near Qabatiya, in the northern West Bank. According to B’Tselem’s inquiry, Tazaz’ah was killed by live ammunition fired by Israeli soldiers, and not in intra-Palestinian violence. According to the investigation, Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli troops returning from an arrest operation in Qabatiya. The troops stopped near the market and responded with crowd control weapons and live fire. Tazaz’ah was hit by a live round in the chest. B’Tselem’s inquiry shows the soldiers were not in any real danger, raising a grave suspicion they breached open-fire regulations. B'Tselem conveyed its findings to the MAG Corps, which announced the opening of a "limited investigation," in light of the suspicions regarding the involvement of Israeli soldiers in the incident.
After Operation Pillar of Defense (Nov. 2012), an understanding was reached whereby Israel would ease restrictions on Palestinian access to farmland near the border. Previously, access to those areas–a third of Gaza Strip farmland–was strictly restricted, including by the use of live fire. B'Tselem has found that the military still limits access and does so with live fire. Israel must lift these restrictions, enabling farmers to work their land. As long as the restrictions remain, the military must refrain from using live fire to enforce them.
4 and 1/2 years after Bassem Abu Rahmeh, 30, was killed when struck in the chest by a tear-gas grenade fired directly at him from close range, the state announced it is closing the case for lack of evidence. The announcement was made further to a High Court petition by Bassem’s mother, demanding an investigation into the killing of her son in April 2009 during a demonstration against the Separation Barrier in Bil’in. Three video segments prove that Abu Rahmeh was east of the barrier, did not act violently, and did not endanger the soldiers.
According to B’Tselem’s initial investigation into the incident that took place this morning (26 August) in which three Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces’ fire in Qalandiya Refugee Camp, it appears that the stone-throwing was more massive today as the security forces remained in the camp until around 6:45 A.M., a busy hour on the street as the Palestinian school year started yesterday. Today’s harsh consequences cast doubt on their judgment in ordering the mission, and on the degree to which the force was prepared in advance. An investigation into the incident must be opened immediately to examine these issues.