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.
Use of firearms
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.
In March 2014, soldiers killed Yusef a-Shawamreh, 14, as he crossed the Separation Barrier to pick edible plants for his family. He was shot although he posed no danger, in broad daylight. In July 2014, the MAG Corps declared the investigation closed with no charges. Examination of the military file revealed a sloppy investigation and corroborated B’Tselem’s suspicion of unlawful conduct in the incident. The MAG Corps effectively sanctioned this conduct by accepting a flawed investigation and releasing the commanders from accountability.
On 13 May 2011, Milad ‘Ayash, 17, was hit by a live bullet fired at him from the Beit Yehonatan settlement in Silwan, East Jerusalem. ‘Ayash died of his wounds the next day. Both the DIP and the Israel Police investigated the shooting; both closed their case files citing “perpetrator unknown.” B'Tselem appealed to the State Attorney’s Office against the decision to close the investigations, noting grave investigative failings. The negligence with which the investigations were conducted and the closing of the files evince disregard by Israeli authorities for Palestinian lives.
Today Israel’s State Attorney’s Office notified the High Court of Justice that in the case of Palestinian youth Samir ‘Awad it had decided to file an indictment for the minor offense of committing “a reckless and negligent act using a firearm”. This is a new low in Israeli authorities’ disregard for the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and a clear message to the security forces in the Occupied Territories: if you kill an unarmed Palestinian who poses no threat, we will do everything to cover it up and ensure impunity. Killing a wounded, fleeing youth who posed no threat by shooting him in the back is not a “reckless and negligent act”. The disparity between the grave action and the minor offense is incomprehensible and outrageous.
The mother of Bassem Abu Rahmeh, a resident of the West Bank village of Bil’in killed when a soldier fired a tear-gas canister at him, petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice yesterday demanding that the Court compel the Military Advocate General (MAG) and the Attorney General to reach a decision concerning the appeal over the closing of the investigation file, and to indict the soldier who fired the canister along with any others bearing military command responsibility for the killing of her son. In the petition, filed jointly with Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din, Subhiya Abu Rahmeh demanded that the Court put an end to the foot-dragging and the avoidance of conducting even the most basic investigative acts that could shed light on the identity of the persons responsible for killing her son.
Palestinian women from Beit Hanoun found shelter with their families at an UNRWA school. They tell of the rough living conditions after losing their homes and speak of their hopes for the future. According to UN figures for Beit Hanoun, 90 homes were destroyed and 24 others damaged during Operation Protective Edge.
On 25 March 2015 Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) reiterated its ruling that by mid-April 2015 the State Attorney’s Office must announce its decision in the case of the killing of Samir ‘Awad. The HCJ made this announcement in response to the State’s request for yet another extension. B’Tselem criticizes the State’s disregard of a previous HCJ ruling and foot-dragging in the case. Samir ‘Awad, 16, was killed on 15 January 2013 by gunshots fired by soldiers near the Separation Barrier in the West Bank village of Budrus, although he posed no danger. Despite the more than two years that have passed since the incident, no decision has been made in the case.
Safiyeh a-Najar from Khuza'a describes life after Operation Protective Edge. The town of Khuza'a lies in south Gaza, about 500 meters from the Israeli border. The town council listed some 15,000 residents before the operation, in about 2,000 homes. Residents told B’Tselem that on 22 July 2014, 2 days after ground forces entered Gaza, the town was heavily attacked and many fled to schools in nearby Khan Yunis. The UN listed 556 homes damaged, 336 of them destroyed. Many residents still live in UN schools, trailers, or with relatives. Some, like a-Najar's family, are living in rough conditions among ruins.
Today (Wednesday, 28 January 2015) B’Tselem published its report on the policy of attacking residential buildings in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. The report addresses one of the appalling hallmarks of the fighting in Gaza this summer: bombings in which hundreds of people were killed – constituting more than a quarter of all of the Palestinians killed in the fighting. Time and again Palestinian families suffered much grievous loss of life. In a single instant, so many families were ruined, with the wreckage of their lives mirroring the devastation of their homes. Hamas made explicit its intention to harm civilians. In contrast, the Israeli government claimed that it acted to prevent harm to civilians in Gaza. Is that the case?
Recent months have seen a dramatic rise in Israeli security forces’ use of live 0.22 inch caliber bullets in clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank. The firing of this ammunition is an almost weekly occurrence in the West Bank in sites of protests and clashes. Most of those injured have been young Palestinians, including minors. Yet, in the last two months, one Palestinian woman, at least three photographers, and a foreign national who was taking part in a demonstration were also hit by these bullets. The military commander in the West Bank, Brig. Gen. Tamir Yadai, confirmed that the military had adopted a policy of firing live ammunition at stone-throwers.
Shuruq's home is one of 100,000 houses in Gaza that were ruined or damaged in Operation Protective Edge. The families who lived in them now live in rough, crowded conditions in the cold. She related: "For the first 7 years of our married life, we lived with my husband’s parents. We kept dreaming of building a home of our house so things would be calmer and easier for us. In 2012 we own to build a house on our plot... I felt I couldn’t go and look at what’s left of the house. I couldn’t bear to see how years of work went down the drain in a single moment."
On 11 Nov. 2014, a soldier shot and killed Muhammad Jawabreh at home in al-‘Arrub RC. The soldier was on a rooftop overlooking a spot where clashes were taking place, some distance from Jawabreh’s home. The circumstances raise grave suspicion of unlawful use of live fire. Jawabreh is the 44th Palestinian killed in the West Bank by Israeli security forces this year, yet soldiers and commanders are rarely held accountable. Policy makers in the government and military are responsible for allowing this ongoing disregard for Palestinian lives.