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From the field

B'Tselem investigation: grave suspicion Ahmad Tazaz’ah was killed by Israeli soldiers using unlawful lethal force

Update: On 5 January 2014 the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the investigation had been reclassified from “limited investigation” to regular MPIU investigation. On 13 January 2015, the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem the case was still under MPIU investigation. On 15 July 2015 the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the case was under further investigation.

On the morning of 31 October 2013, at about 5:30 AM, Ahmad Tazaz’ah, 20, who worked in a vegetable market, was hit in the chest by live ammunition. The ammunition was allegedly fired by an Israeli military force present in the market near the Palestinian town of Qabatiya, south of Jenin. Tazaz’ah was rushed to the Jenin government hospital. He was dead on arrival.

The account published in the Israeli daily Haaretz quoted the military’s response to the incident: "An IDF force arrested four Palestinians in the town, south-west of Jenin, after some 50 Palestinians threw stones at them. Troops present on the scene responded with tear gas and stun grenades".

Inquiries by B'Tselem field researcher ‘Atef Abu a-Rub found that on 31 October 2013, at about 3:00 AM, at least seven military vehicles entered Qabatiya as part of an arrest operation. The military vehicles left the town at around 5:00 AM, traveling north-west on the main road, toward Road 60. At around 5:15 AM, the vehicles passed near the Qabatiya market, which borders the main road about 2 kilometers from the town. Some 15 Palestinian youths who were at the market at the time began throwing stones at the vehicles as they went by.

5 November 5 2013, Qabatiya market. The man in the right foreground is standing at the spot where Ahmad Tazaz’ah was hit. Across the road, further in the background, the man in the orange shirt is standing where the soldiers were stationed. Photo by ‘Atef Abu a-Rub.
5 November 5 2013, Qabatiya market. The man in the right foreground is standing at the spot where Ahmad Tazaz’ah was hit. Across the road, further in the background, the man in the orange shirt is standing where the soldiers were stationed. Photo by ‘Atef Abu a-Rub.

According to eyewitness accounts, it was at that point that a few of the military vehicles stopped on the road across from the market and several soldiers got out. The soldiers stationed themselves across from the market, on the other side of the road, about 35 meters north of the market entrance. The soldiers fired tear-gas grenades and lobbed stun grenades at the youths, who persisted in throwing stones. Witnesses also said that they heard a few solitary shots of live ammunition.

About ten minutes later, at 5:25 AM, Ahmad Tazaz’ah approached the site of the clashes near the entrance to the market, and peeked out at the soldiers from the market entrance, where the fence that separates the road from the market ends. According to the eyewitness accounts, Tazaz’ah was immediately hit by a bullet to the chest. After he was hit, he ran a short distance back into the market and collapsed. Medical reports indicate that a live bullet penetrated Tazaz’ah’s chest between the second and third ribs, exiting through his back. Shortly after, the soldiers got back into the vehicles and drove off. The B'Tselem field researcher who came to the site of the shooting about two hours after the incident found three empty shells near where the soldiers had stood. The shells were taken by Palestinian security authorities.

Security cameras in the area of the market caught parts of the incident on film. The video footage shows the military vehicles driving on the road near the market and the moment when Tazaz’ah was hit by the bullet. The footage also sheds light on the timing of the shooting.

Video: market interior, seconds after Tazaz’ah was hit (explicit images) Please note that the security camera clock was not yet changed to winter time.

Video: exterior of market, about ten minutes before Tazaz’ah was hit – the military vehicles are seen driving by in the background.

Video: exterior of market, at the time Tazaz’ah was hit.

Tazaz’ah was rushed in a private car to the hospital in Jenin. According to hospital records, Tazaz’ah arrived there at 5:45 AM. He was already dead.

Tazaz’ah was rushed in a private car to the hospital in Jenin. According to hospital records, Tazaz’ah arrived there at 5:45 AM. He was already dead.

Ahmad Tazaz’ah's uncle, Tamer Tazaz’ah, 26, works in a vegetable store at the entrance to the Qabatiya market. B'Tselem's field researcher took down his description of events from the time the military vehicles arrived at the market:

Ahmad and I were standing near the store at the entrance to the market when the soldiers stopped near the market. At first, the soldiers fired stun grenades and tear-gas grenades in the direction of the market. They were standing about 30 meters away from the market. The young men kept throwing stones. I tried to convince Ahmad to stay with me, but he told me he wanted to go to his store so he’d be on hand for a vegetable order. I insisted, and asked him to stay and sit with me, but within a minute, he was gone. I then saw him at the entrance to his store. At that moment, I saw a young man standing on the fence that separates the market from the road, looking at the soldiers on the road.

I heard a live bullet being fired in the air, a warning shot that he's not allowed to stand there. The young man stepped back immediately. Ahmad went to the same spot, and approached the entrance to the market, where the fence ends. He was about 10-15 meters away from where I was standing. As soon as he got to the edge of the fence, I heard a shot. I didn't know what kind of bullet it was. Ahmad ran back, a distance of about 10 meters, and then collapsed on the ground. I thought he’d just tripped. I didn't realize he’d been injured. At that moment, I heard someone say he’d been hit, and I quickly ran over to see him, but the people who were standing there tried to keep me away. It was about 5:25 AM.

A few other young men and I picked up Ahmad. We got him into a car that was there and drove to the hospital. In the meantime I also called for an ambulance (emergency tel: 101). My cell phone shows I made that call at 5:28 AM.

According to B'Tselem's inquiries, the soldiers were not in any real danger during the incident. This gives rise to a grave suspicion that there was no justification for the use of live ammunition, let alone of aiming directly at Tazaz’ah's chest. Stone-throwing during arrest operations is a predictable and recurring scenario. The military must be prepared to handle such situations with crowd control weapons and without resorting to lethal force. The Israeli military's claim that the soldiers responded to the stone-throwing with stun- and tear-gas grenades is incompatible with Tazaz’ah's fatal injury from a live bullet to the chest, or with testimonies and other evidence found at the scene.

B'Tselem contacted the MAG Corps, demanding a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the incident. Additionally, B'Tselem turned to the IDF Spokesman's office, whose response stated that:

The MAG Corps requested the response of relevant entities to questions raised about a possible connection between the military's actions and the death of Ahmad Tazaz'ah. The findings provided were examined along with the details sent by B'Tselem. Consequently, the MAG Corps decided upon opening a "limited investigation". The inquiry that B’Tselem conducted of the incident determines with a high degree of certainty that Tazaz’ah was hit by live ammunition fired by the military. B’Tselem is aware that the Israeli security forces gave press briefings in which they presented a version of events whereby Tazaz’ah was injured prior to the clashes between the military and the stone-throwers. The military also informed the media that Palestinian authorities stated that Tazaz’ah had been killed in the course of an intra-Palestinian criminal incident.

These claims are incompatible with the overall evidence collected during the B’Tselem inquiry and the additional information that reached B’Tselem. The eyewitness accounts the B’Tselem field researcher recorded, the medical records of the Jenin government hospital and of the Red Crescent, along with the video footage of security cameras on site, all indicate Israeli military involvement in the shooting. The B’Tselem field researcher also checked the records at another hospital in Jenin, which by the IDF Spokesperson’s account to the press, is where Tazaz’ah was taken. The B’Tselem inquiry found that Tazaz’ah never came to that hospital. Furthermore, Palestinian security personnel B’Tselem approached to discuss the incident utterly rejected the claim that Tazaz’ah was killed in a criminal confrontation among Palestinians.

It is clear that B’Tselem’s inquiry and the existing evidence are sufficient to suggest Israeli military involvement in the death of Tazaz’ah. Consequently, in accordance with the investigative policy of the MAG Corps, a military police investigation must be launched immediately. A "limited investigation" does not adhere to the obligation to investigate every killing of a Palestinian civilian by the security forces, which is reiterated in the Turkel Commission report. B'Tselem will continue to promote an official Military Police investigation.