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From the field

Responsibility for killing 14-year-old Palestinian lies primarily with commanders who ordered armed ambush

Update: On 10 July 2014 the Military Advocate for Operational Matters notified B’Tselem that the Military Advocate General (MAG) had decided to close the investigation without serving any indictments. On 14 July 2014, B’Tselem wrote to the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) and requested a copy of the investigation file, in order to consider appealing the decision to close the case without filing charges. For more information click here.

Findings of B’Tselem inquiry: Soldiers fired live rounds at youths crossing Separation Barrier to pick wild food plants

Yusef a-Shawamreh next to the Separation Barrier. Photo: 'Abed Al-Hashlamoun, EPA.
Yusef a-Shawamreh next to the Separation Barrier. Photo: 'Abed Al-Hashlamoun, EPA. Click on photo to enlarge and see more photos.   

Today (26 March 2014) B’Tselem published its findings on the killing of Yusef a-Shawamreh on the morning of Wednesday 19 March 2014. At around 7:00 A.M. soldiers shot and killed the 14-year-old Palestinian boy – of the village of Deir al-‘Asal al-Foqa, southwest of Hebron – as he crossed the Separation Barrier. A-Shawamreh was shot when he and two friends, Z.S., 13, and al-Muntaser Beallah a-Dardun, 18, were going through a wide breach in the Separation Barrier. The two other teenagers were not hit, and soldiers took them in for questioning at the Kiryat Arba police station. They were released later that day.

B’Tselem’s investigation indicates that the three youths were crossing the barrier in order to pick gundelia [Arabic: ‘Akub], a thistle-like edible plant annually harvested at this time of year that serves as an important source of income for local residents. The section of the Separation Barrier in this area lies within the West Bank, some 200 meters east of the Green Line, not far from the village homes. The a-Shawamrehs own farmland that is now separated from them by the barrier, and that land is where the three youths were heading to gather plants.

Breach in barrier where yusef was shot: Itamar Barak, B'Tselem, 20 March 2014
Breach in barrier where Yusef was shot, Photo: Itamar Barak, B'Tselem, 20 March 2014

For the past two years there has been a wide breach in that section of the Separation Barrier. The youths went through it and crossed the patrol road on the other side. The two surviving youths told B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash that they heard three or four shots as they got off the road, fired with no advance warning. A-Shawamreh was hit and one of his companions helped him get back to the road. At that point, soldiers emerged from an ambush several dozen meters away.

The soldiers provided first aid to the wounded a-Shawamreh and apprehended his friends. A-Shawamreh was taken by military ambulance to an Israeli hospital, Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, where he was pronounced dead.A-Shawamreh’s body was then taken to ‘Aliyah Hospital in Hebron, where an external examination found a single bullet wound to his left thigh.

According to the IDF Spokesperson’s statement quoted in the media, troops of the Armored Corp’s 77th Battalion on a proactive mission who noticed three suspicious Palestinians vandalizing the Separation Barrier began carrying out suspect arrest procedure. As the Palestinians did not to heed the soldiers’ warnings, the soldiers fired and one Palestinian was hit. He was taken by Medical Corps troops took him to hospital, where he died of his wounds.

By justifying the use of lethal fire in broad daylight at youths who posed no danger to any other persons, the above statement conveys a cynical lack of concern for the life of a Palestinian teenager. Israel’s security forces in the area are well aware that, for the past two years, Palestinians have been crossing the Separation Barrier at the breach at that particular point at this very season to pick gundelia on their own farmland. In his testimony to B’Tselem, a-Dardun stated that police officers had detained him and three of his friends at the very same spot two days before this incident. He said that, before letting them go, the police officers beat all four of them and confiscated the plants they had picked.

The decision to mount an armed ambush at a point in the barrier known to be crossed by youths, who pose no danger whatsoever to anyone, for the purpose of harvesting plants is highly questionable. It also indicates, at the very least, extremely faulty discretion on the part of the commanders. Moreover B’Tselem’s findings are markedly different from the description given by the IDF Spokesperson: the youths made no attempt at vandalism; they were crossing through a long-existing breach, and the soldiers did not carry out suspect arrest procedure, shooing at a-Shawamreh  with no advance warning.

The military’s open-fire regulations around the Separation Barrier prohibit opening live fire at Palestinians crossing the Barrier, if they are identified as posing no risk to security forces. However, as revealed in a previous publication concerning shooting near the barrier, the regulations present the prohibition as an exception to the rule. This is compounded by public and media rhetoric considering every Palestinian who crosses the barrier as a potential terrorist. In reality, security forces are well aware of the fact that hundreds and even thousands of Palestinian workers regularly cross through breaches in the Separation Barrier to reach places of employment in Israel.

The Military Police Investigations’ Unit (MPIU) has launched an investigation of the incident. However, B’Tselem director Jessica Montell emphasized that the responsibility for a-Shawamreh’s death does not lie only with the soldiers who killed him: “The primary responsibility for the killing lies with the commanders who sent the soldiers out on armed ambush. The MPIU must examine whether the commanders bear personal criminal responsibility in this case and if they must be held accountable for the death of a youth.”