On Friday, 14 September 2018, as part of the Return Protests Palestinians have been holding in the Gaza Strip since Land Day on 30 March 2018, a demonstration was held near the Gaza perimeter fence, in an area east of al-Bureij Refugee Camp in central Gaza. During the demonstration, which was attended by thousands, some of the protesters caused damage to concertina wire that the Israeli military had placed by the fence, torched tires and threw stones at Israeli security forces stationed on the other side of the fence. At about 5:00 P.M., three residents of al-Maghazi Refugee Camp, which lies north of the town of Deir al-Balah, joined the demonstration: Muhammad Shaqurah (20), his brother Haytham (15), and their friend Muhammad Rakha (18). The three approached the fence. Haytham Shaqurah went up to the northern part of the fence. Muhammad Shaqurah and Muhammad Rakha went over to its southern section and torched tires there while some protesters threw stones at the fence.
At about 6:00 P.M., the three met up again and headed north, to an area near the fence that was opposite the protest tents. B’Tselem’s investigation found that Muhammad Shaqurah went over to the fence, tied a bit of wire to it, tugged at the wire, then dropped it and backed away. Then, immediately after moving away, he was shot, while standing by other demonstrators, at a spot about twenty meters from the fence. He took several steps and fell down. The shooting was captured on video, part of which appears in a compilation posted on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.* Under In fact, however, under international human rights law (IHLR) it is illegal under to use live gunfire as a means of crowd control when aimed at unarmed demonstrators, even if they have caused damage to the fence between Gaza and Israel, as Shaqurah did. Lethal fire is only permitted in response to real and imminent danger, if no other option is available to avert the threat. Similarly, international humanitarian law (IHL) prohibits intentional fire at unarmed civilians who are not taking part in hostilities. Damaging the fence does not, in itself, constitute hostilities.
Since the protests by the fence began, at least 170 Palestinians have been killed, including 31 minors. Most of the persons killed posed no threat to the Israeli security forces, who were stationed on the other side of the fence. In addition, more than 5,300 Palestinian demonstrators have been injured by live gunfire.
These fatalities and injuries are a direct outcome of the open-fire policy that Israel has implemented since the protests began. The lethal results of this policy are well known, and further evidence the indifference shown by the Israeli authorities toward the killing and injuring of Palestinians. Were this not the case, Israel would long ago have amended its open-fire policy and stopped firing at unarmed demonstrators who are endangering no one, and are on the other side of the fence. This unconscionable policy is proven time and again, as the military continues to implement it without change and is even backed up by the military’s whitewashing systems, which ensure in almost every case that no one is held accountable for the killing of Palestinians.
In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 16 September 2018, Muhammad Rakha described what happened by the fence:
Muhammad rolled a big tire, maybe a truck tire, through a hole that some other guys had cut in the concertina wire fence. He rolled it over to the main fence and torched the tire. Then he tied a bit of barbed wire to the main fence. The guys called him to come back so they could put four or five metal barrels there, so they could shelter behind them – because there was nothing else to hide behind near the border fence.
At that point, around 6:30 P.M., I was with Muhammad near the other protesters, about fifteen meters from the border fence. There were lots of protesters in front of us. I heard live fire and saw Muhammad take about three steps forward and fall to the ground, face down. I thought he’d taken a bullet to the shoulder. I went over to him and some guys who were gathered around him were saying: “Martyr, martyr.”
I picked him together with some other guys. We took a few steps and then some paramedics came and put Muhammad on a stretcher. He was unconscious and bleeding from the chest. I was in shock. I got reaally upset, because I realized he was seriously injured.
In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 16 September 2018, Haytham Shaqurah described what he saw of the circumstances surrounding his brother’s death:
We were standing by the concertina wire fence. There were some other protesters there, both men and women. About fifty meters from the concertina wire there were about 100 demonstrators. Across from us, on the other side of the fence, were tents with soldiers on high dirt mounds.
Muhammad went all the way up to the main fence. I stayed back. He tied a piece of wire to it so that the guys could pull on it. I started heading towards the main fence. Muhammad came back to the group of demonstrators who were standing about twenty meters from the fence. He called out to one of his friends and looked left, towards the soldiers. The other demonstrators were to his right.
Suddenly I heard gunfire. Muhammad walked a few meters and fell down. I was by the fence and I immediately dropped down and stretched out flat on the ground. I looked over to the demonstrators and saw a few guys picking up Muhammad up and shouting: “Martyr, martyr.”
I got up and ran over to them. When I caught up with them, they were running with him on a stretcher towards a Red Crescent ambulance that was parked on Jakar Road. They put him inside and I went in with him. On the way to the hospital, the paramedics tried to resuscitate Muhammad, but he was unconscious. He was bleeding from a wound on the left side of his chest. At Shuhadaa al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah the doctors examined him, but there was nothing for them to do except pronounce him dead.
On the way to the hospital, the sight of my brother bleeding and unconscious was terrible. I was in a state. I called my mother and said: “Your son Muhammad has fallen as a martyr.” She started screaming.
Muhammad used to take part in the Return Protests every Friday, and sometimes in the middle of the week, too. He graduated from the UNRWA technological school three years ago as a certified electrician, but he couldn’t find a job. He wanted to work, save up and build himself an apartment above my parent’s house, so he could get married and start a family. But he just couldn’t find work.
Shaqurah, who was shot in the chest, was taken to Shuhadaa al-Aqsa Hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.
* Footage of the entire incident was posted on a Facebook page that has since been deleted, but B'Tselem retains a copy.