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From the field

Hundreds of “investigations” in a decade, whitewashing and absurd punishment


Hundreds of "investigations"

Dear friend,

On 30 May 2020, Israeli Border Police officers fatally shot 31-year-old Iyad al-Halaq, a Palestinian from Wadi al-Joz in East Jerusalem. The young man, who was on the autistic spectrum, was on his way to the Elwyn Al Quds Center for individuals with disabilities, which he frequented daily. Al-Halaq fled from the officers and entered a garbage room on the street. There, lying on the ground, he was shot to death. Warda Abu Hadid, his caregiver at Elwyn, screamed again and again at the officers, “He’s disabled! He’s disabled!” – trying to explain that Iyad didn't understand the situation and wasn't carrying a weapon, pleading with them not to shoot him.

Is there anything left unsaid about the killing of al-Halaq? The incident sparked unusual media and public outrage in Israel. Rarer still, the prime minister and alternate prime minister expressed their sorrow. The Department for the Investigation of Police swiftly launched an investigation, supposedly to examine the officers' conduct.

This killing may be special, but it is not exceptional. Since al-Halaq had special needs, he was not posthumously “convicted” of “terrorism”. This charge, which is automatically levelled at almost any Palestinian killed by Israeli security forces, is used to retroactively justify the shooting – even if the individual did not pose a threat that required deadly force.

A photo of al-Halaq looking aside with a plant in his hand has gone viral, making his killing impossible to ignore

Yet everything that came before that day and will surely continue – the wanton open-fire policy, the sweeping support from authorities, inflammatory statements by senior officials, decisions not to open investigations or to obfuscate ongoing ones, the punishments both rare and absurd – are the rule rather than the exception. It is this rule that ended in yet another egregious killing.

Israel’s occupation regime disregards the lives, dignity and very humanity of Palestinians. This messages trickles down from the government to the soldiers and the police officers on the ground. Every now and then, a particular incident holds up a mirror to all the proponents of this policy, forcing them into feeble expressions of sorrow. Yet they soon return to their routine of incitement and indifference towards the lives of Palestinians.

Eyal Sagiv, B’Tselem Data Coordinator

 מאות "חקירות" בעשור, טיוח מקיר לקיר וענישה מגוחכת

More of our work in the past two months:
  • Another name in the long list of victims is Zeid Qaysiyah (17), a resident of al-Fawar Refugee Camp. Qaysiyah was killed by sniper fire during a military incursion into the camp. After he heard the commotion, he went up to his roof to watch. When he approached the edge of the roof, Qaysiyah was hit in the face by a “two-two” (0.22 caliber) bullet fired by an Israeli sniper. He collapsed and was pronounced dead a short while later. The talented, creative boy who used to sing at every gathering he attended and dreamt of becoming a famous singer will never sing again. The IDF spokesperson was quick to announce that the MPIU had opened an investigation into the egregious killing. Yet as noted above, these investigations are part of Israel’s whitewashing mechanism – in this case, carried out by the MAG Corps. This policy enables the lethal, unlawful and immoral shooting of Palestinians to continue unchecked, as no one is held accountable – whether it is the soldiers, their commanders, those who formulate the directives or the officials who then cover up the acts.
  • Why did the soldiers suppressing the weekly protests in Kafr Qadum shoot holes in water tanks that residents put on their own roofs? The shooting, undoubtedly approved by the commanders on the ground, conveys the military’s deep disregard for vital Palestinian property (especially during a pandemic, which requires strict hygiene, including frequent handwashing). Since the beginning of April, we have documented 24 cases of soldiers shooting at water tanks. By doing so, they stripped residents already suffering water shortages due to Israeli policy of vital water reserves, and caused them significant financial damage. Every water tank costs about 500 NIS (~125 USD).
  • Such an “initiative” can only be dreamed up by an occupying force oppressing civilians and denying their rights for decades. The Israeli military holds monthly training exercises in a Palestinian neighborhood in initial stages of occupancy. Soldiers run around the neighborhood firing crowd control weapons (even though there are no crowds to “control”) and search inhabited or vacant apartments in order to “train”. They leave behind a trail of ammunition and filth, intimidate the few families living in the complex and damage private property. Hard to believe? Here's a glimpse of what is going on unchecked in the al-‘Ofoq neighborhood near Nablus.
  • Every day, thousands of Palestinian laborers enter Israel without a permit. Israel's policy leaves them little choice: on one hand, permits are almost impossible to obtain; on the other hand, Israel is preventing the development of an independent Palestinian economy, making jobs scarce. The Israeli authorities are perfectly aware of this bind, which primarily benefits the state by creating a cheap, disempowered workforce. Since the beginning of May 2020, we have documented four incidents in which soldiers lay in ambush by the Separation Barrier, waiting for Palestinians to try and cross, and shot them in the legs. In another case, soldiers severely beat a 15-year-old, breaking his arm and causing abdominal hemorrhaging. 
  • It happened again and again: on 2 May, 5 May, 19 May, 20 May, 1 June, 3 June, 9 June… While Israel is using the annexation plan as currency for political influence with the U.S., the routine of demolition and confiscation continues as usual in the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem and the South Hebron Hills. In June, Israel demolished 30 Palestinian homes throughout the West Bank (not counting East Jerusalem) – the same number demolished throughout the entire first five months of 2020. In May and June, we documented demolitions and confiscations of 18 homes, leaving 84 people, 43 of them minors, homeless. In East Jerusalem, the municipality demolished 17 structures in two months – 12 of them torn down by their owners after receiving a demolition order. This left 67 people, 40 of them minors, homeless. The wave of demolitions and confiscations that swept through these areas did not make headlines. One article on the demolitions was published in Haaretz
  • This month, we told the story of one Gazan factory – the Sharaf Gas-Pipe and Metalworks Factory. We joined its owner and interviewed two of the employees waiting for a phone call to summon them back to work, their monthly wage a distant memory. The Sharaf Factory is one of many Palestinian businesses that have collapsed due to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. This policy has robbed many Palestinians of their livelihood, driving them to full dependence on humanitarian aid organizations.
  • On May 2020, together with 14 other human rights organizations we expressed our solidarity with our colleague from Amnesty International, Laith Abu Zeyad. We jointly demanded that Israel lift the movement restrictions barring him from leaving the Occupied Territories. Israel is preventing Abu Zeyad from entering the country so as to make an example of him. This is indicative of Israel’s increased persecution of human rights organizations, which includes blacklisting and censorship. Imposing draconian restrictions and denying millions of Palestinians freedom of movement have been inherent to Israel’s occupation policy for 53 years. The harassment of Laith Abu Zeyad is an integral part of this story.