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From the field

Fatal gunfire near Gaza perimeter fence garbage dump: Soldiers shoot ‘Odeh Hamad who was scrap-collecting; 4 scrap-collecting civilians injured in last 18 months

Beit Hanoun garbage dump and barbed wire fence ‘Odeh Hamad was cutting when shot. Photo by Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 15 January 2014
Beit Hanoun garbage dump and barbed wire fence ‘Odeh Hamad was cutting when shot. Photo by Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 15 January 2014

On Friday, 20 December 2013, soldiers shot and killed ‘Odeh Hamad while he was collecting junk and scraps at Beit Hanoun garbage dump, which is adjacent to the Gaza perimeter fence. B’Tselem’s inquiries indicate that ‘Odeh Hamad and his brother and Radad arrived at the Beit Hanoun garbage dump around midday to collect plastic and metal scraps that they sell to make a living. At approximately 3:20 P.M., as ‘Odeh Hamad was cutting part of the barbed wire near the perimeter fence, he was struck in the head by a live bullet. His brother, Radad, told B’Tselem that they had heard neither warnings nor shots fired in the air prior to the shooting. Shots were then fired from the military tower located approx. 400 meters away, and Radad Hamad suffered a gunshot wound to his arm.

Having no phone on his person, Radad ran to get help. Subsequent to coordinating the matter with the military, a Red Crescent ambulance drove up to the spot permitted by the military permitted. The paramedics then got out and, on foot, began searching for ‘Odeh Hamad. Only half an hour later did they find him. He was lying critically wounded a few meters away from the fence. Throughout the search, two Israeli military jeeps were parked on the other side of the perimeter fence. ‘Odeh Hamad was taken to hospital in Beit Hanoun and died shortly after arrival.

Radad Hamad, 23, related the incident to B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah:

Radad Hamad. Photo by Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 14 Jan. 2014For the past two months, my brother ‘Odeh and I have been collecting scraps at the garbage dump northeast of Beit Hanoun, near the perimeter fence in the northern Gaza Strip. We collect plastic and metal scraps: pipes, packaging, lids, boxes, cans and poles. We have no other job and we have to provide for our families.

It’s exhausting work and we hate the smell, but there’s no choice. We go to the dump every day around noon, after the municipality workers dump the garbage. We collect the stuff and sell it to plastic and metal traders. We usually make about 20-30 shekels [approx. 6-9 USD] a day.

On Friday, 20 December 2013, at around 12:00 noon, my brother and I bicycled to the garbage dump. We started gathering scraps a few meters away from the fence, across from the military towers. Suddenly, at around 3:20, I heard gunfire, and then heard my brother shout and fall down. I ran over and found him lying on his back. His head was bleeding. Then a few more shots were fired in our direction, and I got hit in the arm. I didn’t have a phone on me, so I ran to get help. About an hour later, my brother was taken to hospital. He died about ten minutes after getting there.

‘Odeh Hamad had turned 27 on the day he was killed. He was married to Iman, 20, and the couple had no children. Iman, ‘Odeh Hamad’s wife, told B’Tselem’s field researcher about the day her husband was killed:

On the afternoon of Friday, 20 December 2013, I got the worst news of my life – that my husband was dead. I was in total shock. I never thought anything like this would happen to us. It was like my soul had been torn from my body. I had nothing left to live for. The future I’d always dreamed about, with my husband and a baby, was lost.

I got the message that my husband was killed while I was busy preparing for his birthday celebration. I was decorating the house so it would be ready when he got home in the afternoon. He thought he’d make enough money that day to buy groceries for the celebration: a cake, candles and soda. But the birthday became a day of death, our happiness turned into grief and the party turned into a gathering of mourners. Just like that, I became a widow. Since then I’ve been in shock, sad, frustrated and hopeless.

'Odeh's mother, ‘Aishah, told B’Tselem researcher Muhammad Sabah about her son:

‘Aishah Hamad, ‘Odeh and Radad Hamad’s mother. Photo by Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 28 Jan. 2014‘Odeh worked at the garbage dump and also collected gravel. He worked in all kinds of things to make a bit of money every day and earn a living. He worked three or four days a week at the garbage dump, collecting metal and plastic that he sold to traders. When I learned that he and his brother Radad were working there, I asked them not to, because I was afraid of gunfire by Israeli soldiers around there. I was also worried about them because resistance operatives suspect people who go close to the fence of spying on them and then giving this information to Israel. ‘Odeh worked in a tough environment of dirt and garbage to support his wife and himself, and to pay for fertility treatments, because they hadn’t managed to have children since they got married, four and a half years ago. He was getting treatment and having tests done all the time and spent a lot of money on it. Every test cost him more than 500 shekels [approx. 140 USD].

In response to an article about the incident published in Israeli daily Ha’aretz on 25 December 2013, the Military Spokesperson said that “on Friday, at midday, several suspects came to close to the perimeter fence, within the area to which entry is prohibited, and sabotaged the fence barrier several times. The troops on site repeatedly tried to distance them, but as the sabotage continued, the force carried out suspect arrest procedure, during which one of the suspects was injured. The MAG Corps is looking into the circumstances of the incident and a decision whether to launch an MPIU investigation will be made accordingly.”

B’Tselem’s inquiries indicate that ‘Odeh Hamad did, indeed, cut some of the barbed wire close to the military perimeter fence, apparently in order to sell the metal. However, B’Tselem’s inquiries have found that, contrary to the Military Spokesperson’s claim, a ‘suspect arrest procedure’ was not carried out. The fact that Hamad was hit in the head rather than in his legs indicates that the shooting did not follow this procedure, which prohibits shooting at the head at any stage. Moreover, according to Radad Hamad’s testimony, no attempt was made prior to the shooting to warn the brothers or to get them to move away from the fence.

‘Odeh Hamad was shot in the head despite posing no danger to anyone. While he was lying wounded, close to the soldiers on the other side of the fence, Red Crescent paramedics wasted precious time trying to find him. The soldiers offered Hamad no medical assistance, nor did they help the paramedics locate him. B’Tselem has written to the MAG Corps demanding that a criminal investigation be launched to examine the circumstances of the shooting, including the fact that the injured Hamad was not given any medical assistance. Although the incident took place over a month ago, the MAG Corps has yet to notify B’Tselem of its decision.

B’Tselem has documented previous cases in which soldiers shot at scrap collectors at the Beit Hanoun garbage dump, yet in most cases there were no injuries. B’Tselem knows of four other cases in the past year and a half in which civilians – including Odeh and Radad Hamad’s brother Khaled and an employee of Beit Hanoun Municipality – were injured under similar circumstances by military gunfire in the garbage dump.

The harsh economic situation and the scarcity of jobs in Gaza leads young men to risk their lives collecting scraps close to Israel’s military perimeter fence. The head of the Beit Hanoun Municipality told B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah that the municipality is trying to prevent scrap collectors from entering the garbage dump, even fining those it finds there. Two other young men injured in similar incidents told Sabah of the circumstances that made them risk their lives in such a fashion, and of how they were injured.

Khaled Hamad, 18, was shot in the leg at the Beit Hanoun garbage dump on 14 July 2013. In his testimony, given on 21 July 2013, he related what happened:

I’m a laborer. Sometimes I work tearing down walls and get 40 shekels [approx. 10 USD] for a day’s work; at other times, I drive carts and transport goods. Some months I have a job for only two days or a week, so then I collect plastic and metal and sell them to traders. You get one shekel for three kilos of plastic.

A few days ago, I heard that some guys were collecting scraps at the garbage dump northeast of Beit Hanoun, about 200 meters from the perimeter fence. I decided to join them. On Thursday, 11 July 2013, my brother Saleh (19) and I went there with them and collected scraps. The two of us together made 40 shekels. We went back again on Friday and Saturday and made another 90 shekels [approx. 26 USD] together. The next day, we went again, and that then I was shot in the left leg by soldiers driving along the fence in a jeep.

Ahmad Hasanein at a-Shifaa Hospital in Gaza. Photo by Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 10 April 2012Ahmad Hasanein, 25, was shot in the leg on 9 April 2012 at the Juhor a-Dik garbage dump, southeast of Gaza City. Following is his account of the incident as told to B’Tselem:

After my father died, I became our family’s sole provider. I work collecting junk even though it’s hard, dangerous and unpleasant to go through garbage. I have to do it because I have no other job. I make about 30 to 50 shekels [approx. 8 to 14 USD] for a day’s work. It’s not enough for a living, but it’s my only option. Now I don’t even have that, because of my injury. That gunfire was my punishment for trying to make a living out of digging through rubbish.

B’Tselem has documented Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian access to areas close to the perimeter fence and the illegal policy of firing at farmers and scrap collectors who get close to the fence. According to OHCHR figures for June to December 2013, 29 civilians were shot by soldiers in areas near the perimeter fence. After Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012), the media reported the restrictions on access would be somewhat eased. Yet, three months later, the Military Spokesperson informed Israeli human rights organization Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement that Palestinians may not come nearer than 300 meters from the fence – the same as the previously authorized distance. 17% of the Gaza Strip and 35% of its agricultural land are located within these restricted areas. At the time B’Tselem demanded that these restrictions be lifted. Moreover, if there must be an off-limits buffer zone between Israel and Gaza, the military must establish it in Israeli territory.

Until it does so, the military must make it absolutely clear to residents of Gaza which areas are off-limits, and must not use live ammunition to keep civilians out of these areas. It is Israel’s right and duty to protect its borders and to prevent hostile activity. Yet it must do so within the parameters of the law, and at all times avoid injury to people who do not pose a security risk and not harm these individuals’ livelihood. The grave incident in which ‘Odeh Hamad was killed demonstrates yet again the ongoing, illegal policy of using lethal firearms against civilians without justification, and of rules of engagement that permit inflicting injuries, even fatal injuries, in non-life-threatening situations.