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From the field

Oct.-Nov. 2015: Israeli military used live ammunition against protesters in Gaza Strip without justification



Soldiers take cover behind dirt mound during clashes with protesters across the perimeter fence, in the Gaza Strip. Photo by Amir Cohen, Reuters, 16 October 2015
Soldiers take cover behind dirt mound during clashes with protesters across the perimeter fence, in the Gaza Strip. Photo by Amir Cohen, Reuters, 16 October 2015

Every weekend since Friday, 9 October 2015, demonstrations of solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank have been held in Gaza. Protests took place in four major sites in the Gaza Strip, most of them in proximity to the perimeter fence separating Israel from Gaza: in the southern Gaza Strip - at the eastern edge of the Khan Yunis District; in the center – east of al-Bureij R.C.; and in the north – near Nahal Oz Crossing and near Erez Crossing. In the al-Bureij R.C. area, protests were also held on weekdays. Dozens to hundreds of individuals attended each of the protests, which usually began in the early afternoon of Friday and Saturday and went on until the early evening. Protesters burned tires and attempted to place Palestinian flags on the fence, damage the fence or cross it. Some threw stones at soldiers stationed on the Israeli side of the perimeter fence. During most of the demonstrations, there were dozens of Israeli soldiers on the Israeli side of the fence, taking cover behind concrete cubes or dirt mounds, at a great distance from the demonstrators. The soldiers fired live rounds, rubber coated bullets and tear gas canisters at the demonstrators. In the demonstrations that took place at Erez Crossing, soldiers fired at protesters from a military tower or from openings in the fence gate.

Research by B’Tselem field researchers in the Gaza Strip has found that up to 14 November 2015, 14 people were killed in these demonstrations, including two who were wounded and later succumbed to their wounds. Thirteen of the people killed were hit by live bullets and one by a tear gas canister that penetrated his chest. One fatality was a ten-year old boy who was struck in the back by a live bullet. 379 people were wounded in these demonstrations: 247 by live ammunition, 110 by rubber coated metal bullets and 22 were struck directly by tear gas canisters. Dozens more protesters suffered light injuries and were treated at the scene, or went to hospitals after inhaling tear gas.

Video: Soldiers fire live rounds without justification at a young man trying to hang a flag on the perimeter fence

On 6 November 2015, soldiers fired live rounds at Muhammad ‘Awad al-Bhisi, 22, as he ran toward the perimeter fence to place a flag he was carrying on the fence. Al-Bhisi was unarmed and posed no danger whatsoever to the soldiers, who – according to testimony collected by B’Tselem – were taking cover behind dirt mounds on the other side of the perimeter fence. Al-Bhisi was struck in the thigh and shin and was taken in serious condition to a Gaza hospital. He was later transferred for treatment in Israel, where he underwent surgery. Al-Bhisi’s shooting, as captured on video by Al-Kuds al-Akhbariyeh Network, illustrates the unlawful use of live rounds against protesters who pose no danger to anyone.

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Nine of the fourteen dead were killed in demonstrations on the weekend of 9-10 October. These demonstrations - which were the largest, with hundreds to one thousand protesters – saw a particularly large number of casualties, mostly struck by live rounds. B’Tselem’s research indicates that the protesters at the various sites threw stones at soldiers who were on the other side of the perimeter fence, set tires on fire and, in some locations, sabotaged the gates in the perimeter fence, even going through them in some instances. During the largest demonstration, with about a thousand protesters, soldiers positioned themselves about 100 meters away from the perimeter fence. Protesters managed to cross the perimeter fence, going as far as ten to 20 twenty meters into Israeli territory, 80 to 90 meters away from the soldiers. Protesters threw stones at the soldiers, who were firing live rounds. In demonstrations held that weekend, some 83 protesters were wounded, 68 of them by live rounds, 11 by rubber coated metal bullets and four were hit by tear-gas canisters.

In demonstrations held on the following weekend, 16 October 2015, three more Palestinians were killed by Israeli military gunfire in northern Gaza. Inquiries by B’Tselem field researchers reveal that some 159 were wounded this weekend, 75 by live rounds, 73 by rubber-coated metal bullets and 11 were hit by tear-gas canisters. During the demonstration held that day at al-Bureij R.C. in the central Gaza Strip, demonstrators crossed the perimeter fence and threw stones at military vehicles driving on the patrol road adjacent to the fence. The soldiers responded with live fire.

Testimonies collected by B’Tselem indicate that, as a rule, the soldiers faced no real, mortal danger during these demonstrations to the extent requiring them to use live fire. Soldiers were dozens of meters away from demonstrators in all the incidents. They were on the other side of the perimeter fence and could have used crowd control measures such as tear gas and stun grenades. The military’s statements to various media outlets that soldiers fired because Palestinians had entered no-go zones and tried to sabotage or cross the perimeter fence fail to justify use of live ammunition. In these situations, soldiers should have used crowd control measures, and even then, in a controlled manner, while refraining from using such measures when none of the protesters imperiled the soldiers or was trying to sabotage or cross the fence. The large number of casualties in the demonstrations points to excessive use of live fire and raises concerns regarding disproportionate, unlawful use of fire in circumstances that cannot justify this use.


Protesters evacuate wounded man in Gaza. Photo by Suhaib Salem, Reuters, 16 October 2015
Protesters evacuate wounded man in Gaza. Photo by Suhaib Salem, Reuters, 16 October 2015

Eyewitness descriptions of some of the demonstrations, given to B’Tselem field researchers in the Gaza Strip:

9 October 2015, demonstration east of ‘Abasan al-Kabirah: 3 dead, 14 wounded

Testimony by H.A., 23, from Bani Suheila, Khan Yunis district, given to B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sa’id

On Friday, 9 October 2015, after seeing on YouTube that Israeli police officers shot live fire at a young Palestinian woman in [the Israeli city of] Afula, I felt frustrated and depressed. I walked over to the perimeter fence, east of ‘Abasan al-Kabirah. When I got there, there were a lot of young people there, some of them were a few meters away from the fence. They were throwing stones at the soldiers and burning tires.

On the other side of the fence, I saw about eight soldiers hiding behind a dirt mound and two military jeeps. The soldiers fired live rounds once in a while. I came closer to the fence with three other guys. One of them was holding a Palestinian flag and was trying to hang it on the fence. As soon as he started climbing the fence, I heard shots and I saw him fall, bleeding from the shoulder. A group of young men came up to him and took him away from the fence to give him first aid. One of the young guys took the flag and tried to hang it on the fence, but the soldiers shot him too and he fell to the ground. A third man tried to hang the flag and was also shot. He was hit in the arm. The soldiers were about 150 meters away from us. I backed away from the perimeter fence, and half an hour later, while I was burning tires with some other protesters, I heard shots, and felt I’d been hit in the pelvis. I started running, getting further away from the perimeter fence. I ran for about 15 meters and then I tripped on a hole in the ground and couldn’t go on. Some young men gathered around me, picked me up and ran to an ambulance that took me to the European hospital, south of Khan Yunis. It turned out I’d been hit by a bullet in the pelvis, and that the bullet traveled through my body and exited. I found out that other guys who were near me during the demonstration were killed by the soldiers’ fire.

9 October 2015, demonstration near Nahal Oz Checkpoint: 4 dead, 45 wounded

Testimony by M.A., 19, a student in the Media Dept. at al-Azhar University, given to B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh. M.A.’s brother was killed during the demonstration

On Friday, 9 October 2015, I went with my brother Shadi to a demonstration near the Israeli border in a-Shuja’iyeh. There were about a thousand people there. I knew about the demonstration a few days in advance, from news websites. We got there at about 1:20 P.M. As we got closer to the border area, we could already hear live fire, but despite the shooting and even though a few young men had been wounded, we continued protesting near the fence. The Israeli military used only live fire. The shots came from a group of about six soldiers I saw lying behind a heap of sand. They were a few meters away from the perimeter fence and from a military tower located about 60 meters south of where we were.

At about 2:00 P.M., a classmate of mine, Ahamd al-Herbawi was wounded by a live bullet to the back, when he was near the fence. Shadi asked me to go get a stretcher. I went with a few other guys toward the ambulances, which were about 300 meters away from us. The other guys took the stretcher and ran over to where the wounded man was. He had already been picked up by other young guys, and carried on their shoulders, towards the ambulances. I stood next to the ambulances and a few minutes later, I saw some other young guys carrying another wounded person. When they came closer, I saw it was my brother Shadi. He’d been hit in the abdomen. I helped the guys get Shadi into the ambulance and I stayed behind, because there were already two other wounded inside, apart from my brother, and there was no room for me.

When I got to a-Shifaa Hospital, the doctor told me a bullet had entered Shadi’s abdomen and come out through his back and that he had lost a lot of blood and had died even before he made it to the operating room.

Shadi worked with my father as an electrician. He was going to get married and had started building an apartment on top of the family home for it. Now it’s just me and my sister. My brother and I were very close. He wasn’t just my brother. He was a good friend. We were always together. We always talked to each other and asked each other for advice.

Soldiers watch protesters on other side of perimeter fence separating Israel and the Gaza Strip. Photo taken by demonstrators.
Soldiers watch protesters on other side of perimeter fence separating Israel and the Gaza Strip. Photo taken by demonstrators.

11 October 2015, demonstration east of al-Bureij R.C.: one dead (from a direct hit by a tear-gas canister) and seven wounded

Testimony by A.D., 17, high school student from al-Maghazi R.C., given to B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh

On Sunday 11 October 2015, at 4:00 P.M., I walked with some friends from the refugee camp toward the border area, east of al-Bureij R.C. to go to a demonstration we’d heard about on the Nusrat al-Aqsa radio station. When we got there, I saw about 150 people – all young guys, 17 to 20 years old. They were throwing stones at the soldiers. I saw four Israeli military jeeps about 100 meters away from the border fence. A few soldiers were lying behind some sand bags on the other side of the fence. The young men set a few tires on fire and some guys crossed the border. Others were standing by the fence. I was standing near a gate in the fence, and the soldiers were about 100 meters away from me. They are alternating shooting live rounds and tear-gas canisters. Two young guys were hurt from inhaling gas.

The clashes went on until the evening. At some point in the afternoon, when I was still near the gate in the fence, a few guys set a tire on fire and rolled it toward the soldiers, who were behind the sand bags. The soldiers fired live rounds. I turned around to run away, and suddenly felt like I’d been hurt in the back and legs. I fell to the ground. My legs hurt like an electric shock was going through them, and the pain was horrible. A few guys picked me up and took me to an ambulance. In the ambulance, I was semi-conscious. They took me to Shuhadaa al-Aqsa Hospital, where I completely lost consciousness. When I woke up, I found I’d been transferred to a-Shifaa Hospital in Gaza, but I didn’t get any treatment there at all. They only gave me something for the pain when I screamed. This went on until Wednesday, 14 October 2015, when I got a referral to St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem. I went there. They operated on me and set four vertebrae in my spine.

I couldn’t feel or move my legs. I was hospitalized there for about 12 days, and then I went back to a-Shifaa hospital in Gaza for one night. Then I was referred for physiotherapy. Now I’m home. My legs are partially paralyzed and I’m in a lot of pain. I can’t sleep at night. Whenever I want to turn over to the other side, I scream from the pain, and my father or brothers come and help me turn over. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to walk again, especially because the medical treatment here isn’t very advanced. My father contacted a few agencies in the hopes they’ll help me get treatment abroad. I keep thinking about my condition, how I’m going to live my whole life in a wheelchair, and never walk again. I’ll be a burden to my father and my brothers.

October 16 2015, demonstration near Nahal Oz Checkpoint: 2 dead, 19 wounded

Testimony by M.J., 25, from the neighborhood of a-Shuja’iyeh in Gaza, given to B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sa’id

On 16 October 2015, I walked with my two brothers over to the border, about two kilometers from our house. When we got to the fence, at about 2:30 P.M., I saw hundreds of young men demonstrating, directly opposite Nahal Oz Checkpoint. Some of them had crossed the fence and were going up to the checkpoint. There were some burning tires there and the guys threw stones at the soldiers from about 20 meters away.

There were about sixty soldiers there in groups of three or four. They positioned themselves behind dirt mounds, on the other side of the border fence. There were also six or seven military jeeps. One of them had a launcher that fired an ongoing barrage of tear-gas canisters.

I saw six or seven guys getting hit by live bullets – most of them in the legs or abdomen. Some were hit in the head by tear-gas canisters. A lot of people were hurt from tear gas inhalation. I didn’t see anyone hit by a rubber bullet. Sometime between 3:30 P.M. and 4:00 P.M., when we were really close to the fence, I told my brother Mahmoud: “let’s go to the back”. He said: “No, let’s stay here. It’s better”. At that point, the tear-gas canisters were mainly aimed at demonstrators standing behind us, so Mahmoud preferred to stay closer to the fence. A few minutes later a relative phones us and asked us to come to the back, where he was standing.

Later, I lost Mahmoud and when I asked people if they’d seen him, they told me he’d gone further toward the fence. I started looking for him, and suddenly this guy came running up to me and told me Mahmoud took a bullet in the neck and had fallen. I ran toward the fence and I saw a few guys picking Mahmoud up and crying “Allah Akbar”. I couldn’t believe he was dead. I started crying: “Mahmoud! Mahmoud!” and I ran at them. I knocked him down and fell to the ground with him. I was in such a shock I didn’t understand what was going on around me anymore. A few guys picked up Mahmoud and took him to an ambulance that was about 200 meters away. I was in such shock that I just stood there, I couldn’t move.

A few minutes later, I got a hold of myself and with the help of some friends, I went to a-Shifaa Hospital in Gaza. The doctors there told me Mahmoud was dead.

Mahmoud didn’t belong to any organization and had no connection to the armed resistance. He was single and worked as a taxi driver in a-Shuja’iyeh and did all kinds of other odd jobs. He and my father were planning to build him an apartment where he could live after he got married.

6 November 2015, demonstration east of ‘Abasan al-Kabirah: 1 dead, 3 wounded

Testimony by S.A., 24, from Bani Suheila, metal scrap collector, given to B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sa’id

On Friday, 6 November 2015, at around 2:30 P.M., I arrived at the al-Farahin area, east of ‘Abasan al-Kabirah. I went up to a distance of 50 meters from the perimeter fence and saw about forty young men there. There were burning tires near the fence. I saw a few soldiers who were stationed behind a dirt mound on the other side of the fence, getting ready to shoot. There was a military jeep near the dirt mound. A few minutes later, soldiers fired tear-gas canisters at the demonstrators.

At around 3:00 P.M., I saw my cousin, Salameh Musa Abu Jame’. He was right in front of me, about 50 meters away from the perimeter fence. He held a sling shot and was slinging stones at the soldiers. A few minutes later, I heard two shots. I immediately lay flat on the ground. Then I heard one of the young guys shouting out to Salameh. I got up and ran toward Salameh. I saw him lying on his side on the ground. His chest was bleeding. Two young men who got there before me tried to stop the bleeding. They picked him up and took him to an ambulance.

I rode with him in the ambulance. The paramedics tried to resuscitate him. I heard them say he stopped breathing. They tried again until we got to the European hospital, south of Khan Yunis.

At the hospital, the doctors said Salameh was dead. They said he was hit in the chest by a live bullet.