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From the field

Soldiers in civilian clothing shot at Palestinians who, thinking they were being robbed, sought to defend their property; one Palestinian killed

Update: An MPIU investigation was launched on 24 April 2012. On 5 January 2014, the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the case was still under investigation. On 13 January 2015, the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the case had been sent to a military prosecutor for review. On 15 July 2015 the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the case was still under review.

Rashad Shukhah with his wife taghrid and their daughterOn 27 March 2012 in the middle of the night, security forces in civilian clothing as well as uniformed soldiers entered Kafr Ramun, northeast of Ramallah, and shot three brothers from the Shawakhah family: Akram, age 36, Anwar, age 38, and Rashad, age 28. All three were wounded, each shot multiple times, and were taken by the soldiers to Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem where they were admitted to Intensive Care. On 2 April 2012, Rashad Shawakhah died of his wounds in the hospital.

The three brothers and their families live on the northeastern outskirts of Kafr Ramun. The brothers explained that in the wake of recent thefts in the village, they take turns guarding at night. Based on the testimony given to B’Tselem, at about 1:30 am on 27 March 2012, Akram Shawakhah woke up to do his guard duty. Through his window, he saw two people in civilian clothing about fifty meters from the house. Akram called his brothers Anwar and Rashad to wake them up, and the three of them, suspecting it was robbers, went out to the street and called out to the strangers to stop. Akram Shawakhah was holding a club, and Rashad and Anwar were each holding a knife.

When the brothers had came within a few meters of the strangers and demanded that they identify themselves, one of the strangers pulled out a gun, and shot Anwar Shawakhah in the neck. According to the testimonies given to B’Tselem, the other man then pulled a gun. The brothers responded by trying to attack the two men, who then fired several shots and wounded both Akram and Rashad in the abdomen.

Insofar as is known to B’Tselem, at this stage uniformed Israeli soldiers arrived from the southeast. Rashad and Anwar Shawakhah were already lying on the ground, and Akram, who was still standing despite his injury, described what happened next:

Akram Shukhah. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem“Just then I saw a bunch of soldiers coming from below - from the direction of Abu Yusef’s house, and they were shouting: ‘Stop, stop.’ I felt somewhat relieved because I thought that the army would deter the armed men and detain them, whoever they were. The soldiers approached and one of them told me to stop and pointed his rifle at me. Of course I did not move and I already had my hands up to show that I was not violent. Then I began to tell him: ‘The thieves shot us, I am wounded in the abdomen, I am wounded.’ I tried to lower my hands to lift up my shirt so that he could see the wounds, and then the soldier shot in my direction and hit me with the third bullet on the right side of my abdomen and then I fell to the ground.’

Akram told B’Tselem that the same soldier approached him, cursed at him, kicked him in the leg and trod on his head. Akram also testified that another soldier fired several shots at his brother Rashad while Rashad was lying on the ground. When the shooting stopped, the brothers were given first aid by the army medic and taken in military vehicles to ambulances that took them to the Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem.

On 2 April 2012, Rashad Shawakhah died of his wounds at the hospital. The medical reports indicate that he was found to have four abdominal gunshot wounds, causing several tears in the intestine and piercing his spleen, along with another gunshot wound in his left arm. Rashad was operated on several times, but his condition deteriorated and he died.

According to the medical documentation, Anwar Shawakhah was injured by a bullet that penetrated his neck and exited on the left side of his back. He was treated in the surgical ward at the hospital and released on 8 April 2012. His brother Akram was diagnosed with four gunshot wounds to the abdomen and was released on 6 April 2012 after hospitalization in the surgical ward.

B’Tselem’s investigation raises grave concerns regarding the conduct of the soldiers and the army in this incident. The testimonies taken by B’Tselem indicate that the brothers did not understand that they were dealing with soldiers in civilian clothing and suspected that the men were thieves, and hence they went outside armed with a club and with knives. The investigation also found that the two men in civilian clothing ignored the brothers’ request to identify themselves, meanwhile taking out their firearms. Even if the soldiers were at risk once they were discovered by the brothers, the soldiers could still have identified themselves as such and issued a warning before opening fire. In addition, the testimony and medical reports indicate that the two undercover soldiers did not aim at the lower part of the three brothers’ bodies, but rather at their midsection and upper bodies.

Moreover, the results of the inquiry strongly suggest that the soldiers in uniform who arrived on the scene after the initial shootings, also fired at Akram and Rashad Shawakhah, even though both men were already wounded and Rashad was lying on the ground. There was no justification for this shooting and clearly if the brothers had represented any danger at that point, the danger could have been removed using other means.

The IDF Spokesperson has not yet addressed the details of the incident. Media reports have merely announced that an operational inquiry is underway and that its results will be conveyed to the Military Advocate General Corps. An initial media report on the incident on Army Radio on 27 March 2012 stated that terrorists had attacked an IDF soldier and stabbed him during a military operation. This version was disproved when the two Shawakhah brothers were released from the Israeli hospital without having been charged for an attack or any other crime. Subsequent media reports stated that the two people in civilian clothing were soldiers from the undercover Duvdevan unit, who had entered the village as part of a training exercise. According to one article, the soldier who beat one of the wounded men following the shooting was relieved of his position.

B’Tselem has warned in the past that the operational behavior of the undercover units, and particularly their open-fire regulations, are illegal. Soldiers from these units enter areas with hostile civilian populations disguised as civilians themselves, armed solely with guns. This carries a high risk of injury to civilians because if the undercover soldiers are discovered and endangered, they will have no non-lethal means of protecting themselves. Given the risk of a possibly fatal confrontation, sending soldiers to a civilian locality to train as undercover operatives is particularly serious – if in fact that is why the soldiers were in the village in this incident. Because a training operation serves a general purpose of improving the army’s operational abilities and no military necessity is attributable to such an action, it is unlawful. This mode of operating demonstrates a deep disdain on the army’s part for the lives of Palestinian civilians.

In the wake of this incident, B’Tselem contacted the office of the Military Advocate General (MAG) Corps and demanded that it immediately order a Military Police investigation into the circumstances. This process must include an examination of the behavior of the command echelon, which ordered the unit’s entry into the village. The most recent policy on military investigations, presented by the State Prosecutor to the High Court of Justice in April 2011, said that “Every incident in which a civilian is killed… as a result of an IDF operation in Judea or Samaria, will precipitate an immediate Military Police investigation,” except when a civilian is killed in an action “in the nature of a real combat operation.” Since that announcement, the MAG Corps has immediately ordered an investigation in each case in which a soldier killed a Palestinian in the West Bank. Today, 24 April 2012, B’Tselem was informed that the MAG corps has ordered the opening of an investigation into this case - about a month after the incident occurred.