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From the field

Israeli soldiers shoot and kill 16-year-old Palestinian in Gaza – the 24th protester to be killed near Gaza perimeter fence since Oct. 2015

Update: Jamal Musleh, whose eyewitness testimony of the killing of ‘Abd a-Rahman Abu Hamisah is cited below, was hit in the back by soldiers’ gunfire on 29 December 2017. He died of his wounds the next day.

On Friday, 28 July 2017, at approximately 2:30 P.M., the weekly demonstration was held near the perimeter fence between Gaza and Israel, east of al-Bureij Refugee Camp. That week, demonstrators marked recent events in East Jerusalem and at al-Aqsa Mosque, and included some 100 to 150 youths. The youths hurled stones, some using a slingshot, at Israeli soldiers who were positioned near or behind a dirt mound on the other side of a fence. The soldiers fired teargas at them. When the demonstrators drew close to the fence, the soldiers opened live fire towards their legs. During the demonstration, several military jeeps drove along the fence, between the protesters and the soldiers.

Palestinian protesters flee Israeli gunfire during demonstration by Gaza Strip perimeter fence, east of Gaza City. Photo by Mohammed Salem, Reuters, 20 November 2015
Palestinian protesters flee Israeli gunfire during demonstration by Gaza Strip perimeter fence, east of Gaza City. Photo by Mohammed Salem, Reuters, 20 November 2015

B’Tselem’s investigation found that at around 4:00 P.M., several youths from al-Bureij RC headed several dozen meters south along the fence, in order to get away from the soldiers. One of them, ‘Abd a-Rahman Abu Hamisah, 16, climbed a small hill on which lies the barbed wire fence that runs along the route of the Gaza perimeter fence, at a distance of 50 meters from it.

In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 30 July 2017, Jamal Musleh, 20, who was standing close to Abu Hamisah, described what happened next:

Jamal Mesleh. Photo by Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem, 30 July 2017‘Abd a-Rahman climbed up the hill because the ground wasn’t flat and we were in a low spot. Isma’il Jaber and Muamen al-Khaledi went with him. Suddenly, ‘Abd a-Rahman was hit by a live bullet that a soldier fired from the center of the dirt mound, about 50 meters away. He was hit in the right side and fell over. He started shouting to me, “Jamal, help me” and reciting the Shahada prayer. I was scared and yelled to him that I couldn’t reach him. At the same moment he was shot, Isma’il was shot too and fell over next to him. Muamen tried to drag ‘Abd a-Rahman back and then he was hit and fell down, too. That’s why I couldn’t get close to them.

After the soldiers stopped shooting, I climbed up the hill. I lifted Isma’il, who was wounded, up on my shoulders and carried him westwards, away from the fence. The other guys carried ‘Abd a-Rahman and Muamen. I put Isma’il in an ambulance and the guys followed me and put ‘Abd a-Rahman in it, too. He was already dead. He wasn’t breathing.

Muamen al-Khaledi, 23, gave his account of what happened to B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 30 July 2017:

I was standing with a few guys, and they said they could hear someone shouting from above. I climbed up a small hill and saw ‘Abd a-Rahman lying on the ground. He was crying out for help and repeating the Shahada. Nearby, closer to me, I saw Isma’il Jaber lying on the ground. I grabbed ‘Abd a-Rahman by the legs and started dragging him away when the soldiers fired a bullet that hit me in the right thigh. I let go of his legs, staggered a few meters and fell over. ‘Abd a-Rahman and Isma’il were lying next to me. Isma’il tried to get up and then the soldiers shot another bullet at him, and he fell back down.

I shouted to the other demonstrators, who were some distance away, that we needed help. A few of them came over and lifted ‘Abd a-Rahman, who had stopped breathing, and Isma’il. They carried them to an ambulance far away and then came back for me. I was bleeding from the wound and trying to crawl away from the fence.

Muamen al-Khaledi, 23, suffered a gunshot wound to the right thigh. Photo by Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem, 30 July 2017
Muamen al-Khaledi, 23, suffered a gunshot wound to the right thigh. Photo by Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem, 30 July 2017

When the guys reached me, they lifted me up and carried me about 250-300 meters. They couldn’t find a car so they drove me on a motorcycle. On the way we were met by an ambulance, which took me to Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital. At the hospital they bandaged my leg and took x-rays of it. They found a bullet entry and exit wound in my right thigh.

Abu Hamisah had died by the time he arrived at Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital. An examination of the body found a bullet entry wound in his right shoulder and an exit wound in the upper part of his back. Al-Khaledi sustained a bullet wound to his right thigh and Jaber sustained two gunshot injuries to his left leg. The two were released from hospital the next day.

Almost two years ago, on 10 October 2015, Abu Hamisah was arrested along with five other Palestinian youths, including two other minors, after crossing the fence into Israel following a demonstration. At the time of the arrest and over the following three days, soldiers abused the six detainees, holding them shackled outside for the duration, beating them repeatedly, depriving them of sleep and even burning the hands and feet of one of the minors with cigarettes. Abu Hamisah was found guilty of illegally entering Israel and sentenced to four months in prison. He was released on 26 January 2016.

In a testimony she gave to B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 30 July 2017, his mother, Hikmat Abu Hamisah, 52, told her son’s story:

Hikmat Abu Hamisah, 52, the mother of ‘Abd a-Rahman who was killed by soldiers’ gunfire near the Gaza perimeter fence. Photo by Olfat al-Kurd, B’Tselem, 30 July 2017‘Abd a-Rahman was in 9th grade when he was arrested. He missed four months of school and we weren’t allowed to visit him in prison that whole time. I took it very hard and was very depressed over his arrest.

I was so happy when he was released on 26 January 2016. I’ll never forget that day. I waited for him at Erez Crossing from nine o’clock in the morning, until he came out at four in the afternoon. I met him outside the checkpoint, hugged and kissed him, and took him home. ‘Abd a-Rahman went back to school and finished 9th grade. His mental condition was bad and he didn’t want to go on to 10th grade. He was on edge all the time, would start yelling sometimes, and didn’t want to talk to anyone.

Because of the state he was in, I enrolled him in UNRWA vocational training so he’d learn a trade that would help in life, and to make him feel better. The time in Israeli prison affected him very badly.

Last Friday, 28 July 2017, a neighbour came over and told my husband that ‘Abd a-Rahman had been injured. My daughters turned the TV on and saw a news report that my son had been killed. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I started reciting a verse from the Quran: “We belong to Allah, and to Him we shall return”. Then I fainted. My kids woke me up and I went to the hospital with my husband, our daughters and the neighbor.

When we got to Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital, I asked after my son. The doctors told me that he had died and was in the morgue. I didn’t believe them. I hoped that ‘Abd a-Rahman was still alive, but the doctors confirmed that he was dead. I dropped to the floor and screamed and cried over my dead son.

Then I went to the hospital morgue. A nurse pulled out a drawer and ‘Abd a-Rahman was lying inside. When I saw him lying in the refrigerator I started screaming and crying, and hugging him in the hope that he would wake up and come home with us. I was shocked that my darling son was dead, that I’d lost him and would never see him again. That was the moment I said goodbye to him. My heart tore in half with the pain of saying goodbye to my son. I took him in my arms and felt that I wanted to take him into my heart so he would never leave, but death came between us. After I said goodbye to him at the hospital I went home with a broken heart.

I miss ‘Abd a-Rahman. I miss his laugh and his love and his jokes. Despite the pain and loss I feel over being separated from him, I pray for him and hope he will be granted mercy.

‘Abd a-Rahman Abu Hamisah who was killed by soldiers’ gunfire near the Gaza perimeter fence on 28 July 2017. Photo by Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem, 2016B’Tselem’s investigation found that soldiers killed ‘Abd a-Rahman Hamisah and injured Isma’il Jaber and Muamen al-Khaledi by opening live fire at them from some 50 meters away, although the three posed no danger. In 2016, demonstrators Muhammad Abu Saed and ‘Abd a-Rahman a-Dabagh were killed nearby. Abu Hamisah was the 24th person – and third minor – to be killed by Israeli soldiers while demonstrating near the Gaza perimeter fence, since the protests in the area began in October 2015. None of the persons killed were endangering the soldiers’ lives

This series of lethal incidents along the Gaza fence makes it clear that the Israeli military has adopted an unlawful policy of shooting at non-dangerous Palestinian demonstrators. Far from deny it, the military describes this reality in media announcements as “firing at key inciters” and taking action “to prevent damage to the fence”.

For decades, B’Tselem referred such incidents to the military law enforcement system in order to promote real accountability for the killing of Palestinians – to no avail. In many cases, no investigation was opened; yet even when investigations were carried out, they invariably ended in some form of cover up. Consequently, B’Tselem decided to stop applying to the MAG Corps to demand that incidents in which Palestinians were harmed by soldiers be investigated. Nevertheless, B’Tselem continues to promote accountability in other ways, which is why we investigate incidents independently and publish our findings. That said, the responsibility for investigating and holding the persons responsible for these incidents accountable still lies with the military. However, as long as the MAG Corps upholds its whitewash policy, there is nothing to deter Israeli security forces from using lethal firepower against Palestinians who are not endangering them.

* On 27 March 2018, media reports stated that a decision had yet to be made as to whether an investigation of the incident would be launched.