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.
Use of firearms
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.
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.