Two years after Israel’s 2014 operation in Gaza, and following a meticulous investigation, B’Tselem is publishing the casualty figures. These indicate that almost two thirds (63%) Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces in the operation, 1,394 out of 2,202, did not take part in the hostilities and 526 of them were children under 18. The Israeli government almost totally shirked its responsibility for the massive harm to civilians in the operation, casting all blame upon Hamas. However, the fact that one side violated the law of war does not permit its opponent to do the same. Additionally, the lethal results of the open-fire policy chosen were clear even on its first few days. Israeli decision-makers chose to ignore this fact and continue the same policy line, and the moral and legal responsibility for this massive harm to civilians lies with them.
Use of firearms
On 15 Feb. 2015, the military prosecution informed B’Tselem it had denied the appeal against closing the investigation into the killing of Mustafa Tamimi, who was shot with a tear-gas canister while throwing stones at a military jeep in Dec. 2011. The prosecutor proposed a variety of scenarios, no matter how implausible, to absolve the shooter and his commanders of criminal liability. Yet again, this decision sends soldiers a message that they may act with nearly universal impunity in the Occupied Territories, and highlights the limitations of the law enforcement system which does not examine overarching issues and policy or the responsibility of senior officers.
On 1 July 2016, a Border Police officer shot and killed Sarah Hajuj, a 27-year-old Palestinian woman from Bani Nai’m, at a checkpoint at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The Israel Police said the woman had tried to stab a policewoman. B’Tselem’s investigation and video footage indicate that the shooting was unjustified, as Hajuj - whose face had been pepper-sprayed - was alone in a room with armed policemen at the door. The shooting is part of a broadly-backed policy that permits lethal fire not only as a last resort, and grants the shooters immunity.
On Tues. night, June 21, soldiers shot and killed Mahmoud Badran, 15, from Beit Ur a-Tahta and wounded four of his friends. B’Tselem research shows that, contrary to the military’s version, the soldiers used massive fire at the car without justification. The shooting is in line with military policy which enables, despite an official prohibition, to use deadly fire even without threat to life and even when soldiers have non-lethal means available. The policy is backed by the senior ranking military and government officials who do nothing to change it, despite the lethal results.
Testimonies to B’Tselem indicate that during the Mar. 24 incident in which a soldier executed ‘Abd al-Fatah a-Sharif, an action for which he is now standing trial, Ramzi al-Qasrawi was also executed. The two men had stabbed a soldier, who was lightly injured. Since the recent wave of violence began in Oct., a good number of cases were captured on video showing executions of Palestinians who stabbed or were suspected of stabbing Israeli security personnel or civilians. The trial currently underway is an exception to the rule, as law enforcement agencies usually willfully turn a blind eye to this reality.
Today, B’Tselem announced it would no longer refer complaints to the military’s law enforcement system. We explain this unusual decision in our new report, The Occupation's Fig Leaf: Israel's Military Law Enforcement System as a Whitewash Mechanism, which is based on hundreds of complaints B’Tselem has filed, dozens of military investigations and many meetings with officials. We will continue reporting violations but will no longer help a whitewash mechanism that also, in advance, absolves senior military and government officials of responsibility for the policy they set out.
On 27 April 2016 a brother and sister were shot dead as they approached Qalandiya Checkpoint. The sister was apparently carrying a knife. B’Tselem’s investigation indicates they were killed without justification and could have been arrested, and that they received no medical aid. This incident is one of dozens of unjustified killings since Oct. 2015, some tantamount to executions. Such incidents are possible due to a public atmosphere in Israel that encourages the killing of Palestinian assailants. Senior political and military figures, including the prime minister, minister and the attorney general, have implicitly or explicitly supported this approach.
The MAG announced his decision to close the case against OC Binyamin Regional Brigade Col. Shomer. The officer had shot and killed ‘Ali-Kosba, 17, with three bullets to the upper body, after the latter threw a stone at his vehicle. B’Tselem says this decision is inherent to the whitewash mechanism which is Israel’s military investigative system. The MAG’s determination that the firing was lawful because Shomer claimed he had aimed at ‘Ali-Kosba’s legs but missed indicates the system’s willingness to ignore the law and regulations in the interest of absolving members of the security forces who unlawfully killed Palestinians.
On the night of 12 March 2016, there was an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF Spokesperson said the attack targeted a Hamas training camp, in response to a rocket fired at Israel. No one was injured on the base. The spokesperson failed to mention that a nearby family home was also hit, killing two children. This attack is part of a longstanding unlawful and immoral policy of air strikes on Gaza. Whoever planned the attack ought to have known there were civilians nearby and ensured their safety. Having failed to do so, the military and political decision makers are liable for the children’s death.
According to the media, two Palestinians were shot dead this morning after stabbing a soldier in Hebron. The soldier sustained medium-level injuries. Video footage shows one of the attackers lying on the road injured, with none of the soldiers or medics present attending to him. A soldier is then seen shooting him dead from close range. Extrajudicial killings are the direct result of inflammatory remarks by politicians and a public atmosphere of dehumanization. The message is clear: attempting to injure an Israeli means a death sentence.
In at least four cases, the lethal gunfire was entirely unwarranted: In Dec. 2015-Jan. 2016 five Palestinians were shot dead by the military near the Gaza perimeter fence, when protests were underway there. B’Tselem documented 14 similar cases in Oct. and Nov. 2015. B’Tselem found that in 4 of the killings the use of live fire was unjustified, excessive and unlawful. B’Tselem’s examination of the military’s conduct during demonstrations near the perimeter fence repeatedly indicates that though the military prepares in advance and the soldiers face no real danger, they resort to lethal fire without any justification, and no one is held accountable for these actions.
On 30 Dec. the two soldiers who shot and killed Samir ‘Awad near the Separation Barrier in Jan. 2013 were indicted. The facts described in the indictment are very similar to those found by B’Tselem’s inquiries, clearly indicating the shooting was unjustified and an outright breach of the open-fire regulations. The disparity between the soldiers’ egregious conduct and the minor charges being brought against them beggars belief, and sends security personnel in the OPT a clear message that the system will allow them to continue to operate with impunity, even if they kill Palestinians who pose no danger and even if they breach regulations.
On 9 Dec. 2015 soldiers at a flying checkpoint near Silwad fired at a car shuttling school boys as it drove off after inspection. A bullet shattered the back window and lodged in the windshield. The four boys, aged 8-16, suffered anxiety attacks. The military said one of the boys had thrown a screwdriver at the soldiers, a claim unbacked by evidence and contradicted by the accounts given by the driver and children. Even if the claim were true, the shooting was unwarranted and violated open-fire regulations. Fortunately, no one was hurt by the bullet that penetrated the car.
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.
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.