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From the field

The whitewash continues: The response of the security establishment to the killing of two Palestinians and the injuring of another in October 2016

Update: Fares Ziad ‘Ata Bayed died of his wounds on 23 December 2016. He had remained in a coma in a Ramallah hospital ever since he was injured on 15 October 2016.

On 25 October 2016 media reports stated that an MPIU had launched an investigation of the circumstances surrounding Khaled Bahar's death. 

On 25 October 2016, the Hebrew press reported that an internal military inquiry found that “IDF and Border Police forces could have acted differently in recent incidents involving the shooting of Palestinians – and in some cases could [have] even avoided opening fire” (the English version of this report, is less detailed). The inquiry related to four shooting incidents, two of which caused fatalities while a third seriously injured a Palestinian youth. In the fourth incident examined in the inquiry, Border Police officers fired at a car in a-Ram to the north of Jerusalem, but fortunately no-one was injured.

B'Tselem’s investigation concerning the first three incidents shows that the security forces acted without any justification and did not face lethal danger.

Fares Bayed. Photo courtesy of the family1) The injuring of Fares Bayed

On 15 October 2016, at about 5:15 p.m., a soldier fired a rubber-coated metal bullet (hereinafter: “rubber bullet”) at the head of Fares Ziad ‘Ata Bayed, 15, close to the entrance to al-Jalazun Refugee Camp. Bayed was seriously injured. According to B'Tselem’s investigation, at about 5:00 p.m. a group of 40-60 youths set out to demonstrate opposite the settlement of Beit El, which is close to the refugee camp. The demonstrators positioned themselves behind the boys’ school, which is situated several hundred meters from the military guard tower at the edge of the settlement. They shouted slogans at the soldiers and hurled rocks at the tower using slingshots.

After some 15 minutes, a group of 8-10 soldiers set out to disperse the demonstrators. The soldiers threw a stun grenade and fired “rubber bullets” and live ammunition at the demonstrators. A boy aged 14 who was about to throw a Molotov cocktail was injured by two “rubber bullets” that struck his head and waist. The youths retreated toward the Ramallah-Nablus road, repositioning themselves on an adjacent hill. They continued to throw stones by hand and using slingshots at the soldiers, who were positioned some 40-50 meters away. During the clashes, a young man aged 23 was injured in the back by “Two-Two” bullet shrapnel. Another youth aged 14 was injured in the back and hand by “rubber bullets.” The three injured demonstrators were taken to hospital and released home.

A few minutes later, around six of the soldiers went up to the hill where the demonstrators were standing. Some of the demonstrators ran away and relocated elsewhere. Around six of them climbed down to the base of the hill, where they hid at a distance of 20-30 meters from the soldiers above them, who fired at them. While Bayed was preparing to throw a Molotov cocktail at the soldiers, and before it had been ignited, the soldiers fired three or four “rubber bullets” and live ammunition toward him. One of the “rubber bullets” struck Bayed in the head. S.’A., 17, a resident of a-Jalazun R.C., described the shooting to B'Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad:

While I was hiding next to Fares Bayed, they shot a rubber bullet directly down at us. He was struck in the upper front of his head. The bullet tore open a hole with a diameter of two or three centimeters. He began to bleed heavily and fell on his back, totally unconscious and immobile. His eyes flipped over.

Several youths at the scene dragged Bayed a few meters while attempting to hide from the soldiers. A Palestinian driver who arrived on the scene took Bayed to an ambulance parked some 300 meters away. The ambulance evacuated him to hospital in Ramallah, where he underwent surgery. The “rubber bullet” was removed from his head, but he has not yet regained consciousness and he is still connected to a resuscitation device in the intensive care unit.

According to the internal military inquiry, as reported in the media, “the soldiers involved were justified in opening fire, although their professional conduct was deemed deficient and led the soldiers to position themselves in an inferior position”. The response of the IDF Spokesperson to the publication of the inquiry ignored the shooting at Bayed and focused solely on the early stages of the demonstration. The IDF Spokesperson claimed that the “commander was subsequently summoned for a hearing on the matter with the battalion commander”.

B'Tselem’s investigation found that the shooting that injured Bayed was unlawful. Bayed was shot when he was about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the soldiers. The device had not been ignited, and from Bayed’s position at the bottom of the hill he did not pose lethal danger. As the military’s internal inquiry found, the soldiers’ conduct was deficient and led to a situation where a soldier fired “rubber bullets” at a youth aged 15 from a distance at which such shooting is unlawful according to military orders and is potentially lethal. The military’s response that the defect in the force’s conduct was solely of a professional character is inconsistent with the grave consequences of the shooting.

Rahiq Yusef. Photo courtesy of the family2) The killing of Rahiq Yusef

On 19 October 2016, at about 1:00 p.m., Border Police officers shot and killed Rahiq Shaji’ Muhammad Yusef, 19, at Za’tara (Tapuah) intersection. According to the internal military inquiry, Yusef pulled out a knife and one of the officers followed the suspect-apprehension procedure, shot at her legs, but missed. At this stage, and as a video clip published in the media shows, four Border Police officers fired around 30 bullets at Yusef while she was several meters away from them, killing her. According to media reports, bullets also hit a vehicle driven by a resident of Ariel, who was not injured.

Despite this, the response of the Border Police to the publication of the inquiry by was that “the incident is still under internal investigation” and that once Yusef “was incapacitated, the officers stopped their fire ”.

The massive shooting at Yusef, when she was already lying on the ground and could no longer endanger the Border Police officers, is unjustified and unlawful. This incident joins a list of dozens of cases of extrajudicial executions since October 2015. This policy receives support from both military and government officials, who instruct security forces that terrorists should die. As Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan declared: “Every terrorist must know that he will not survive the attack he is about to commit.”

Khaled Bahar. Photo courtesy of the family3) The killing of Khaled Bahar

On 20 October 2016, at about 5:00 p.m., a soldier shot and killed Khaled Bahar Ahmad Bahar, 15, at the entrance to a grove situated to the west of Route 60 in Beit Ummar. According to B'Tselem’s investigation, shortly after 5:00 p.m. a military jeep pulled up near the grove, after the military claimed that a few minutes earlier stones were thrown at Route 60 from nearby, and a solider had been slightly wounded. When the jeep entered the grove, Khaled ran away. Three soldiers got out of the jeep and one of them fired at Bahar from a distance of about 20 meters, striking him in the back and killing him. Iyad al-Akhdar , 55, a resident of Hebron who was working at the time in an adjacent grove he owns, described what he saw to B'Tselem field research Musa Abu Hashhash:

I saw three soldiers get out of the jeep at the entrance to the grove. One of the soldiers aimed his rifle at the adjacent grove, I guess at the boy who’d run off. I shouted out to the soldier not to shoot, but immediately afterwards I heard shooting. The soldier who had fired ran toward the grove and quickly came back to an officer standing by the jeep and told him in Hebrew that Bahar was dead. I asked the officer why the soldier had shot and killed Bahar. The officer replied that he had thrown stones and been hit in the leg.

After about 10 minutes, a Palestinian ambulance arrived on the scene, followed by a military ambulance and an Israeli ambulance , in which Bahar’s body was placed. On 27 October 2016, an autopsy was performed on Bahar’s body. The results indicate Bahar was shot in the back from behind. The security forces are still holding the body and delaying its return to Bahar’s family.

According to the internal military inquiry, as reported in the media, the soldiers reported that after stones were thrown at cars on Route 60, they began to chase after the stone throwers. They stated that they began the suspect-apprehension procedure, shooting at Bahar as he bent over to throw a stone at them. The military inquiry determined the soldiers were not in lethal danger at the time of the shooting. The IDF Spokesperson stated only that “the incident is being investigated by the Military Police Investigation Unit, and after its conclusion the findings will be forwarded to the MAG Corps for examination.”

B'Tselem’s investigation shows that the shooting of Bahar was entirely unjustified, and that the soldier shot him in the back while he was running away from the soldiers and was not endangering them in any way.

In the three incidents described above, security forces killed two Palestinians, one of them a youth aged 15, and seriously injured another Palestinian youth aged 15. In all three cases, the forces did not face lethal danger and the shooting was unjustified. The security establishment has chosen to respond to these incidents in different ways – opening a military police investigation, holding an internal inquiry the content of which is not accessible to the public, or “refreshing the procedures”. In terms of their practical outcome, all these means are identical. They will not lead to any substantive change in soldiers’ conduct on the ground. They will not lead to any action whatsoever against those responsible for the shootings. They will not prevent the recurrence of similar incidents in the future.

These grave incidents, and the feeble response of the security establishment, raise questions regarding what function is served by the open fire regulations issued to soldiers. The establishment claims these regulations are intended to prevent lethal or fatal injury to persons not posing lethal danger. In the cases described above, however, and in many other cases B'Tselem has investigated in the past, the soldiers were in breach of these regulations. Despite this, no action was taken against them; in some instances, they were not even questioned; and the regulations remained unchanged.

The security establishment repeatedly refrains from amending its open fire policy or its handling of incidents where Palestinians are killed by its forces without justification and contrary to its own orders. Even when an investigation is opened, the military enforcement system does not make any genuine attempt to get at the truth and ensure accountability. Instead, it works to whitewash the investigations and to create a façade of law enforcement and justice. This ongoing policy of refraining from any action against security forces personnel who breach the open-fire regulations, together with the ongoing whitewashing of the few investigations that are opened mean only one thing – more fatalities and an intolerable disregard for human life.