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From the field

Unwarranted killings at Qalandia Checkpoint: Systemic legitimization of a trigger-happy approach continues to claim lives

Maram Abu Isma’il and Ibrahim Taha. Photo courtesty of the family.

Just before 11:00 A.M. on Wednesday, 27 April 2016, Maram Abu Isma’il, 23, a mother of two girls aged 4 and 5, and her brother Ibrahim Taha, 16, were shot dead at Qalandia Checkpoint. The police stated that a man and woman walked across lane intended for cars, with the woman holding a knife in her hand. After the two failed to respond to calls to halt, they were shot and killed. Various media reports quoted police sources as stating that the woman threw the knife in her hand toward the security personnel. According to Red Crescent records one of their teams was called to the checkpoint at 10:45 a.m. and arrived there in the space of five minutes. However, according to the team’s report, Israeli security forces prevented the paramedics from approaching the casualties and no one treated the two. At 12:10 P.M. their bodies were removed by members of the Israeli Zaka Rescue and Recovery organization.

According to media reports, the police has opened an investigation into the fatal shooting by the security guards at the checkpoint, on suspicion that it was carried out in breach of procedures. It was earlier reported that a preliminary investigation by the Department for the Investigation of the Police (DIP) had found that the fatal shooting was carried out by security guards at the checkpoint, while the police officers on the scene had merely shot up in the air in accordance with suspect apprehension procedure. To date, the police has refused to grant requests by the media and Members of Knesset to publish footage of the incident recorded on the security cameras installed at the checkpoint.

B’Tselem’s investigation shows that Abu Isma’il and Taha were killed without any justification, when they clearly no longer posed mortal danger and could be stopped without killing them. According to the investigation, Abu Isma’il entered the checkpoint on the lane intended solely for cars, carrying a handbag, despite being warned by people nearby not take this route. Her brother apparently attempted to prevent her from proceeding, but failed. Abu Isma’il continued to move forward along the lane intended for cars and took some object - probably a knife - from her bag. Security personnel at the checkpoint ordered the brother and sister to halt, including over the PA system at the checkpoint. When they failed to do so, they came under gunfire. Eyewitnesses reported that at first single shots were heard, and thereafter other guards joined in and there was heavy gunfire. Abu Isma’il and Taha were killed by the gunfire when they were some 15-20 meters from the security guards.

As noted, Red Crescent personnel were not permitted to treat the casualties. According to eyewitness accounts, an Israeli ambulance also arrived on the scene, but its team did not treat the injured.

As noted, Red Crescent personnel were not permitted to treat the casualties. According to eyewitness accounts, an Israeli ambulance also arrived on the scene, but its team did not treat the injured.

‘A.M., 50, witnessed the incident. On 5 May 2016, she recounted what she saw to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad:

I regularly panhandle at Qalandia Checkpoint. I always sit in the same place, close to the gate where the outgoing vehicles cross. On 27 April 2016, at about 10:30 in the morning, I saw a young woman, aged twenty something, with a teenage boy. I saw them talking by the gate for five or ten minutes, about 20 meters away from me. Suddenly the young woman began to walk further into the checkpoint. Her brother followed behind her, holding her hand. The woman had a handbag on her shoulder. As she passed by me, I told her, “Entering from here is prohibited. Now they’ll shoot you. This isn’t the way through”. But she kept on moving forward. I also heard some drivers calling out to her to stop and warning her.

I heard the security personnel shouting at her to turn back. I think one of them used a loudspeaker. At first I didn’t see that she was holding anything. Then I saw her hold something up in her hand, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Immediately gunfire began, aimed directly at her and her brother. I ran away from there and heard the shooting continue. I looked at them and saw that they had already been killed and had fallen to the ground.

Car lane the siblings entered at Qalandia Checkpoint. Eyewitness ‘A.M. is sitting by the fence on the right. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 5 May 2016
Car lane the siblings entered at Qalandia Checkpoint. Eyewitness ‘A.M. is sitting by the fence on the right. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 5 May 2016 

Another eyewitness, 16-year-old ‘A.R., also told what he saw that day to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, speaking to him on on 5 May 2016:

I sell cherries at Qalandia Checkpoint, close to the exit lane from the checkpoint. On 27 April 2016 I saw a young woman, aged about 25. There was a young guy with her. The woman moved forward toward the taxi drivers who were near me and spoke to them. After she walked away, one of the drivers said that she had asked him how to enter the checkpoint, and he directed her to the pedestrian gate, which is a few meters away from the gate for cars.

Maybe she didn’t understand, or maybe this is what she had planned to do, I don’t know, but we saw her enter the checkpoint through the gate for exiting cars, instead of the pedestrian gate. She walked forward toward the positions where the Israeli security personnel conduct searches.

I heard a call over a loudspeaker from the direction of the observation tower at the entrance to the checkpoint. I think it was a warning call. I couldn’t understand what they said, but I assumed that they were ordering them to stop moving ahead. The young woman and the youth kept on going forward, but the youth was pulling her by her right hand. They got as far as about 20 meters from the search posts staffed by security personnel, and the security personnel opened fire. I didn’t notice the color of their uniforms and in any case I can’t identify the uniforms of the different units. The young woman and the kid fell down as soon as they were shot. I guess they were killed instantaneously because I didn’t see any movement. Then the police and military closed the checkpoint, sent the passengers away, and kept everyone from coming near. They closed the gates and began firing stun grenades and tear-gas canisters to get people away from the area. I ran away too.

I stopped after I was already far from the scene and saw that an Israeli ambulance had arrived from the direction of Jerusalem. But they didn’t do anything to help the injured. They stopped there and waited, and only later, after at least an hour, they took the dead people away. I also saw that a Palestinian ambulance had arrived, but it wasn’t allowed to go in or evacuate the injured.

This incident follows dozens of cases since October 2915 in which Palestinians who have attacked, attempted to attack, or been suspected of attacking Israeli security personnel or civilians have been shot dead. This has happened even when the individuals in question could have been stopped without the use of lethal gunfire. Some of these instances are tantamount to executions, in that they took place when it was obvious that the individuals in question no long posed any danger. In addition to the excessive use of lethal force, in this instance - as in others - Israeli medical teams have refrained from providing medical treatment to the casualties, while Israeli security forces have prevented Palestinian teams from providing care. These grave actions are made possible, among other reasons, by the prevailing public atmosphere in Israel, which encourages the killing of Palestinians who attack or attempt to attack Israelis, even when they no longer pose any danger and could be restrained by other means. This dangerous message has been explicitly or implicitly supported by senior figures, including the prime minister, ministers, the attorney general and senior military officers.

* B’Tselem learned that on 16 May 2016, the case had been transferred from the DIP to the police. On 26 October 2016, media reports stated that the case had been closed for lack of evidence and absence of guilt, and that their family appealed the decision to the Attorney General.