Update: On 5 January 2014 the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the additional investigation had been completed and that it had received the case for review.
B’Tselem’s field researchers have begun investigating the incident that took place this morning (26 August) in which three Palestinians – Rubin Zayed, Yunes Jahjuh and Jihad Aslan – were killed by Israeli security forces’ fire in Qalandiya Refugee Camp, and almost twenty others were injured. According to B’Tselem’s initial investigation, as well as media reports, Israeli security forces comprising soldiers and Border Police entered the refugee camp at approximately 6:00 A.M. today with the intention of arresting a Palestinian recently released from Israeli prison. Residents of the camp responded by throwing stones and other objects at the force that was carrying out the arrest itself – some ten Border Police officers – following which soldiers arrived in four armored jeeps in order to escort the force out of the camp, and fired live ammunition.
Over the years, B’Tselem has documented various incidents in which Israeli military forces entering a Palestinian refugee camp were met with massive stone-throwing and responded with fatal fire. One of them occurred in Qalandiya Refugee Camp itself, some two years ago: On 1 August 2011, soldiers entered the camp in the middle of the night on an arrest mission and were met with stone-throwing by residents; at the end of the mission, the force opened fire, killing two residents – Mu'atasem 'Adwan and ‘Ali Khalifah – and injuring a third.
B’Tselem’s initial investigation indicates that several recent arrest operations in Qalandiya Refugee Camp have ended with stone-throwing by residents, to which the soldiers responded by using crowd control weapons, which did not lead to injury. At this early stage, 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.
Past experience shows that whenever Israeli security forces enter a densely-populated Palestinian residential area, they are exposed to stone-throwing and to a potential threat to their lives – a predictable situation that must surely be known to the command ranks. Indeed, Israeli daily Ha’aretz quoted a military official today as saying that “in recent months, not a single arrest has occurred without the residents responding – whether it’s youths coming out of their houses and throwing stones at the forces, or the use of live fire”.
Given that commanders are well aware of the danger inherent to these situations, such missions should not end with the killing of three civilians. 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. There is also room for grave suspicion that not all possible measures were taken to prevent this result, including the consideration of alternative modes of operation, and that the forces made excessive use of lethal weapons.
An investigation into the incident must be opened immediately in order to examine these issues, and particularly the command’s decision to carry out the arrest in this manner, and the question whether they forces prepared in advance for the mission in a way that could have prevented the use of lethal arms. B’Tselem has written to the Military Advocate for Operational Matters and to the SHAI [Judea and Samaria] District Police, which is in charge of investigating suspected breaches of shooting protocol by Border Police, demanding that an investigation be opened. Additionally, the military must take action to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, such as establishing clear procedures for arrest missions and for the entry of army forces into densely-populated residential areas.