On 16 August 2016, at around 5:00 P.M., a military sniper shot and killed 19-year-old Palestinian Muhammad Yusef Saber Abu Hashhash during a raid on al-Fawwar Refugee Camp, which lies southwest of Hebron. According to media reports, Abu Hashhash was shot from behind. A live bullet penetrated his back and exited through his chest, above the heart.
The raid on the refugee camp began at around 3:00 A.M., when three battalions entered it. According to the IDF Spokesperson, the purpose of the raid was “to arrest suspects, to search for illegal weapons, and to summon individuals for questioning”. The spokesperson also said that the soldiers were met with stone throwing, Molotov cocktail throwing, and improvised explosives, and responded with crowd control measures and firing “Ruger” (also known as Two-Two or 0.22-inch) bullets. Three Palestinians who were wanted for questioning were apprehended and the troops found two guns, stun grenades, and military equipment including bulletproof vests, helmets and canteens. The troops left the camp in the evening.
B’Tselem’s field research found that some 32 Palestinians were wounded in the raid. The soldiers searched 150 to 200 homes, and in scores of them took up positions on rooftops. During most of the intrusions into homes, the soldiers closed all family members off in a single room or section of the house for several hours. Soldiers broke windows, doors and walls and damaged property in 28 of the homes they invaded.
Residents of the camp began throwing stones at the soldiers in the early morning hours. At around 10:00 A.M., Abu Hashhash and other youths climbed up to a rooftop in the camp and threw stones at soldiers who had taken up positions on nearby rooftops. The youths went up to the roof and back down again several times throughout the day.
At around noon, about ten soldiers entered the home of Bajes al-Hamuz in the center of the camp. According to al-Hamuz, the soldiers kept the family closed in the bedroom. During the raid on his home, al-Hamuz noticed the soldiers had removed the glass panes from the kitchen windows. When they left at around 8:00 P.M., he discovered they had opened a hole some 20 centimeters wide in the guest room wall, which faces east. It was later discovered that a sniper had been positioned there.
Shortly before 5:00 P.M., Muhammad Abu Hashhash climbed down again from the roof and went into his home, which lies some 30 to 40 meters away from the al-Hamuz home. Hasan Ali Yusef al-Hamuz, a high-school student, was standing on the street with other youths near Abu Hashhash’s home, where, it turned out later, a sniper had been positioned.
The hole made by soldiers in the wall of Bajes al-Hamuz’ home. Seen below are women standing at the spot where the sniper killed Muhammad Abu Hashhash, at the entrance to his home. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B’Tselem, 16 Aug. 2016
In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem’s Hebron field researcher, Musa Abu Hashhash on 17 August 2016, Al-Hamuz described what happened:
While I was standing on the street with a group of youths, I saw part of a sniper’s rifle peeking out from the opening. The others saw it, too. They warned each other not to go out onto the road. I heard some youths who were hiding behind the wall of Saber Abu Hashhash’s home shout out to Muhammad to close the windows. Not one of the youths tried to cross the street for fear of this sniper.
Yet shortly after returning home, Muhammad Abu Hashhash went out of the house again and turned toward the group of youths who were hiding from the sniper in the alley. The moment he stepped outside, he was shot and fell. First aid teams that were in the camp carried him to an ambulance that was waiting on the main road, and from there he was taken to ‘Aliyah Government Hospital in Hebron, where he was pronounced dead.
Muhammad’s neighbor, ‘Ayad al-Hamuz, who was standing at his own doorway at the time, a few meters away from the youths who were hiding from the sniper, described these moments to B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 16 August 2016:
At one point, the neighbor Saber Abu Hashhash’s door opened, and I saw Muhammad come out quickly. He turned quickly, apparently to join the group of youths who were standing near me. At that moment, I saw him fall to the ground, face down. I heard something that sounded like a shot fired through a silencer, so I assumed he had been hit.
I ran over to him. He tried to get up but fell immediately. I tried to help him, to resuscitate him. It looked like he was badly hurt because he stopped moving and wasn’t breathing. Some first aid volunteers who were in the area put him on a stretcher and carried him to the main road. A few minutes later, I found out he had died.
I don’t know what made the sniper shoot the guy. It was quiet when he was hit, and for ten minutes before that. While I was standing in my doorway, I didn’t see any of the guys near me throw stones at Bajes al-Hamuz’ house, where the soldiers were. None of them even tried to cross the street because of the sniper.
B’Tselem’s investigation found that Abu Hashhash was killed by 0.22-inch bullets (also known as Two-Two or Ruger bullets) when stepping out of his home, despite the fact that he posed no danger to the soldiers in the camp. These bullets are a type of live ammunition that is less powerful than ordinary live bullets, but can still be lethal or cause severe injury.
Officially, the open fire regulations for Two-Two bullets are restrictive and limit soldiers’ use of this ammunition to cases of mortal danger, like with live fire. However, over the last two years, soldiers have repeatedly used these bullets as a crowd control measure, even when their lives were in no danger whatsoever. Five Palestinians have been killed and hundreds wounded since March 2015 as a result of this policy.
In this ongoing state of affairs, it seems that the official regulations are chiefly meant to create a show of legality rather than to prevent harm to individuals who do not pose mortal danger. Even when these regulations are openly violated, with lethal results, the military law enforcement system takes no measures against those responsible for the illegal use of fire and the policy continues unabated. Those responsible are command level officers, as well as senior legal officers, who sanction this reality through their inaction.