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Grave suspicion of extrajudicial execution

On November 8, 2006 at around 2:00 am, Israeli soldiers shot and killed Salim Abu al-Heijah and Mahmoud Abu Hassan in the Yamun village, near Jenin.

The announcement released by the IDF Spokesperson stated that a joint operation of the military and the GSS shot and killed five terrorists. The circumstances of their death were not published, but the announcement stated that a search of the site by soldiers revealed weapons and ammunition.

However, B'Tselem's investigation reveals a completely different version of events regarding the death of two of the men: Salim Abu al- Heijah and Mahmoud Abu Hassan. Eye-witnesses from the Kabaleh family in Al- Yamun testified that around 1:30 am, two young men knocked on their door. They were wanted by Israeli forces and had been wounded. They were brought into the house, given first aid and covered with blankets.

Site of the incident. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem.
Site of the incident. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem.

After about 20 minutes, a military jeep came to the house. Soldiers threw a stun grenade and called through a loud speaker for the family to open the gate of the courtyard. The father of the family opened the gate and the soldiers from within the jeep ordered the family to come out of their rooms into the courtyard. All of the family sat in the courtyard facing the gate, according to the soldier's orders.

At this point, Abu al-Heijah lay in the doorway of a room next to the gate, with the upper half of his body inside and his lower half in the courtyard. He was wounded in the thigh. Abu Hassan lay facing him, in front of the gate, wounded in the stomach.

Three soldiers entered the house, stepped over Mahmoud Abu Hassan and went into the room where Abu al-Heijah lay. After a minute or two, the family heard one or two shots. It turned out that these shots hit Abu al-Heijah and killed him. Immediately afterward two family members, Bashar and Muhand Kabaleh, saw a soldier shoot Abu Hassan. Mohand saw the gun barrel protruding from the room and saw the bullet hit Abu Hassan; Bashar saw the spark as the gun was fired.

B'Tselem's investigation indicates that Salim Abu al-Heijah and Mahmoud Abu Hassan were executed by soldiers while they lay wounded, unarmed and posed no risk to the soldiers. The fact that the soldiers did not shoot the men immediately upon entering the house, did not search the bodies nor tie their hands, strengthens the indication that the soldiers did not perceive them to be a threat. As stated above, the soldiers stepped over Abu Hassan, went into the adjacent room and only about two minutes later did they shoot the two wounded men at close range.

Arrest of suspects to a crime, however severe the crime may be, is an act of law enforcement which is of a policing nature, even when carried out by soldiers. Opening fire in such circumstances is allowed both according to international law and Israeli law, only for self-defense or to prevent the suspect from fleeing. The killing of the two wanted men in Al- Yamun under the circumstances suggested by the investigation clearly contravenes these powers. Furthermore, even if the operation in Yamun was part of combat rather than law-enforcement activities, as Israel often claims, the killing of the two men constituted a grave breach of the laws of war in international humanitarian law. These laws categorically prohibit willful killing of combatants who can no longer defend themselves due to injury, and do not pose a danger to those who would arrest them. Such a killing is defined as a war crime.

This incident in Al- Yamun is not the first of its kind. In May 2005, B'Tselem released a report that examined four operations conducted in the previous year to arrest Palestinians wanted by Israeli forces. The report indicated that soldiers behaved in these operations as if they were conducting assassinations rather than arrest operations, in blatant violation of IHL. In two of the cases, Israeli forces had already "neutralized" a person defined as wanted, and subsequently shot him to death. In the first case, soldiers shot a man who had raised his arms in surrender. In the second case, soldiers killed a man who had been injured, and was lying unarmed on the ground.

In light of its findings, B'Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General demanding the immediate opening of a military police investigation into the incident in Al-Yamun.