From October through December 2019, B’Tselem documented more than 10 cases in which soldiers fired live bullets and rubber-coated bullets at the legs of Palestinians trying to enter Israel for work through gaps in the Separation Barrier. In some cases, the soldiers were lying in wait. At least 17 workers were injured by live bullets, and another was injured in the torso by a “rubber” bullet. All the incidents took place north of Tulkarm.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank enter Israel every day for work. According to media estimates, about a third have no choice but to risk entering without a permit. They are caught between a rock and hard place: On one hand, Israel issues permits sparingly, based on arbitrarily chosen stringent criteria. On the other hand, it prevents the development of an independent Palestinian economy by restricting imports, exports, industrial development and movement, and by taking over land reserves and other Palestinian resources. This leaves Palestinians with no possibility to make a substantial living within the West Bank. This reality serves Israeli interests, as it guarantees cheap, disempowered labor, and the authorities turn a blind eye to the thousands of workers who enter Israel every day without a permit. Nonetheless, the military has recently decided to fire live and “rubber” bullets at Palestinian workers entering Israel via gaps in the Separation Barrier, where it consists of concertina wire, a fence, a security road and more concertina wire. According to media reports, the soldiers used “two-two” (0.22-inch caliber) bullets. In 2009, after considerable criticism was leveled at the use of this ammunition as a crowd control measure, the military officially admitted that “two-twos” do, in fact, constitute live ammunition that may only be used when lives are in danger. In practice, however, the military continues to use this ammunition recklessly, as though it were a means of crowd control rather than a lethal weapon.
The military has not even attempted to deny that soldiers have opened fire at workers who pose no danger. In response to media coverage, the IDF Spokesperson tried to justify the shooting on the grounds that it was a response to damage to the barrier: “The infiltrators tried to enter Israeli territory while damaging the fence. Army forces reacted in keeping with protocol in order to prevent damage to the fence and infiltration to Israel.” The spokesperson added the usual assurance that the military investigates each and every case individually, in order to preserve security and reduce harm to civilians.
It is not clear who decided to start shooting at laborers crossing the barrier, or why. What is clear is that shooting at the lower body of a person who poses no danger, with no prior warning, is unlawful - all the more so in this case, given that the shooting was premeditated and carried out from an ambush by soldiers who were waiting to inflict injury on the laborers. The military’s attempt to portray this as a response to unusual circumstances is a flagrant lie: the Israeli authorities are well aware that workers routinely cross through these openings and regularly turn a blind eye.
The IDF Spokesperson’s claim that the military investigates every incident – having made the outrageous decision to send soldiers to shoot laborers trying to make a living for their families – is meaningless. As usual, it is intended to whitewash the military’s actions and silence criticism by creating a false show of an investigation mechanism.
B’Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi collected testimonies from workers in the aera, some of whom were injured in these incidents.
On Tuesday morning, 10 December 2019, at around 6:00 A.M., some twenty Palestinian laborers gathered by a gap in the Separation Barrier located north of the agricultural gate at Nazlat ‘Isa, which lies opposite the town of Baq’ah al-Gharbiyah in Israel. After several laborers passed through the opening, soldiers in an ambush nearby fired live rounds at them, injuring three – two in the legs and one in the back of the head. One of the injured men was treated on site by an Israeli ambulance team, and all three were eventually taken to hospital in Tulkarm.
N.K., 26, a construction worker and a father of one who has worked in Baq’ah al-Gharbiyah for the last year, described what happened:
As we were waiting to cross through the gap in the fence, soldiers came out of an ambush on the other side and started shooting at us. I was just nearing the gap and was hit in the left leg. I fell over and the other workers ran away.
I felt incredible pain in my left. I was bleeding and screaming with pain. Some of the soldiers came over to me. They started to treat me and called for an Israeli ambulance, which arrived a few minutes later. The medics bandaged my leg and stopped the bleeding.
Then the soldiers transferred me to the Baq’ah al-Gharbiyah gate. A Palestinian ambulance took me to hospital in Tulkarm, where they operated on me and set my leg. The doctors said the bullet had shattered bones in my leg, and that they had removed some of the shrapnel but that I’d need more surgery to get the rest out. I’ve been crossing through that gap in the morning and coming back through it in the evening for several months now. I’ve never had any problems. I was surprised that the soldiers opened fire at us with no warning. They didn’t even call out to us, they just started shooting.
Four days later, on 14 December 2019, at around 7:00 A.M., about ten workers arrived at the same opening in the barrier. They waited for about half an hour to make sure there were no soldiers nearby and then started crossing. After one of them got through to the other side, just as another tried to follow, soldiers started shooting live and “rubber” bullets at them. A.K., 25, an area resident, related:
One of the workers made it through the gap and called out to the rest of us from the other side. I was waiting in line and just as I started to cross, soldiers suddenly fired. I was hit in the left foot and ran away with the other workers towards the houses of Nazlat ‘Isa.
The workers who were with me drove me and another guy who’d been injured to the village of ‘Atil, where an ambulance was waiting for us. I was taken to hospital in Tulkarm and the examinations and X-rays showed I had fractures in my big toe. The doctors bandaged the wound and put my foot in a cast, and I was released a few hours later.
I’ve been working in Israel with no problems for several years. I leave in the morning and come back at night. That gap in the fence has been there for several months, and workers cross through it easily. I don’t know why the soldiers suddenly decided to start shooting us.
D.K., 22, a car mechanic, also came to the opening in the barrier that day. In his testimony, he recalled:
I waited with about ten other workers a short way away, to cross through the gap. The first worker went through at 7:30 and said the coast was clear, and there were no soldiers.
We went up to the gap and suddenly, soldiers opened fire at us from an ambush. We ran towards the houses of Nazlat ‘Isa. I was hit by a rubber bullet under my left armpit. We hid among the houses. I saw a group of soldiers chasing us, after they crossed through the gap. In the meantime, I managed to get into a car with a guy who was hit in the leg. When we got to ‘Atil, we met a Red Crescent ambulance that was waiting for us and took us to hospital. I had bruises where the bullet hit me, under my armpit. At the hospital, they disinfected the area and bandaged it, and then sent me home.
I’ve been working in a garage in Israel for two years and have never run into trouble like this.
On Tuesday, 10 December 2019, Y.K, 20, an area resident who has worked for several years in construction in Baq’ah al-Gharbiyah, reached the opening in the barrier near Qaffin. In his testimony, he related:
At about 6:00 A.M., I was standing by the opening in the fence. There were about twenty other guys there. Some of them starting crossing through the gap, when suddenly we heard shooting. There was no prior warning and we hadn’t seen any soldiers. They must have been waiting for us and simply opened fire. A live bullet hit me in my right foot and broke my toe. I ran away with some other guys and was driven by car to the junction south of Ba’qah a-Sharqiyah, where a Palestinian ambulance was waiting. I was taken by ambulance to hospital in Tulkarm, where they took me to the ER, gave me X-rays and put my foot in a cast.
The next day, Wednesday, 11 December 2019, at around 7:00 A.M., B.B., a 49-year-old construction worker, and four of his sons –ages of 18 to 24 – tried to enter Israel through a gap in the barrier in the Qaffin area, as they had been doing for several weeks. When they got there, they found that the opening in the barrier had been closed with barbed wire. One of the sons, ‘A.. B., 24, went up to the barrier to try and reopen the gap. In his testimony, he related:
Two weeks ago, I started going with my dad and three of my brothers to work at a construction site in Baq’ah al-Gharbiyah. Because I’m young and unmarried, I can’t get a permit to enter Israel. Like a lot of other laborers, I work in Arab communities within Israel and get there through the many openings in the fence. My brothers and I cross through at seven, every morning, and go back through the gap every evening.
On Wednesday, 11 December 2019, we walked as usual from our village to the gap in the fence, which is south of the gate near Qaffin. When we got there, we were surprised to see it had been sealed with barbed wire. I went over to remove the barbed wire and heard shouting in Arabic: “Stop, stop”, immediately followed by gunfire. We ran back to our car, which we’d left about 300 meters away.
When I climbed into the car, I realized my left leg was hurting. I thought I’d been scratched by the thorns near the fence. I looked down and saw blood. The pain got worse and my dad drove me straight to hospital in Tulkarm, where they found that a bullet had gone through my leg without causing any fractures or severing tendons.
I still don’t understand why the soldiers shot us. Hundreds of workers pass through gaps in the fence every day. We just want to get to work. If I could find work in the West Bank, I wouldn’t take this risk along with my family.
On Thursday morning, 17 October 2019, at around 6:00 A.M., M. N., a 19-year-old carpenter, arrived at an opening in the barrier near the village of Zeita. Several laborers were waiting nearby to make sure there were no soldiers around. After M. N. crossed through the opening and reached the security road, he noticed several soldiers. They then opened fire at him. In his testimony, he recounted:
I saw the soldiers lying on the ground, camouflaged. Just then, they started shooting at me. Two bullets hit me, one in the right knee and the other in the left leg. The second broke the bone. The other workers ran away the moment the soldiers opened fire. After I was hit, I fell on the road and the soldiers came and stood around me. Both my legs were bleeding and I was in a lot of pain. The soldiers gave me first aid until an Israeli ambulance arrived with a medical team that treated me. Then they drove me to the Barta’a checkpoint, where a Palestinian ambulance was waiting and took me to hospital in Jenin. After several hours there, my father transferred me to a-Najah hospital in Nablus because I was badly injured. There, I had two operations to set the fractures and was released a week later. After two weeks, I had to go back to hospital for more surgery.
The Israeli soldiers shot me for no reason. They could have arrested me instead of opening fire and injuring both of my legs. In any case, if I could find work where I live, I wouldn’t risk going to Baka and Jit. But I need to work in order to make a living and build my future.
On Friday morning, 11 October 2019, at around 9:30, A..K , a 25-year-old laborer, arrived at a gap in an agricultural gate near the community of Dhaher al-‘Abed. Several other laborers were already waiting there to enter Israel. In his testimony, he related:
After I went through the gap in the fence, I walked several meters. I turned around to see how the other guys who had been waiting to cross were doing, and to tell them it was safe to continue. The second I turned around, I saw five soldiers lying on the ground. Just then, they started shooting live bullets and “rubber” bullets at me. I was hit by a live bullet in the right thigh and by a “rubber” bullet in the right foot. I tried to run away but fell down. There was another laborer there who had crossed right behind me, but he wasn’t injured. The soldiers let him go after about an hour. The other guys got away unharmed.
After I fell over, the soldiers came over to me and called for an Israeli ambulance. When it arrived, the medics gave me first aid. After about an hour, I was taken to the Barta’a checkpoint, where a Palestinian ambulance was waiting and took me to hospital in Jenin. There, they gave me first aid and stitched up my wounds. Since then I’ve been at home and haven’t worked.
I’ve worked in construction in the community of ‘Arabeh since 2012. I’ve been refused a permit to enter Israel on security grounds, because I was arrested in the past. Since there’s no work with normal pay in the West Bank, I have to work in Israel, where I can earn more money.