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From the field

Grave suspicion of extra-judicial execution in Bethlehem killings

B'Tselem wrote to Israel's Attorney General and the military's Judge Advocate General demanding that they order criminal investigations into the killing of four Palestinians, Muhammad Shehadeh, Ahmad Bilbul, ‘Imad a-Kamal, and Issa Marzuq Zawahreh in Bethlehem on March 12, 2008. The four were defined “wanted persons” by Israel's security forces. The media reported that the senior command echelon took part in planning the action and authorizing it. Accordingly, B'Tselem's demand includes an investigation into the personal command responsibility of the Judea and Samaria Division commander, the OC Central Command and the chief of staff.

Israel's High Court of Justice has ruled that the state is prohibited to intentionally kill Palestinians taking part in hostilities if less harmful means can be employed, such as arresting and trying them. B'Tselem's investigation of the incident raises the suspicion that in violation of the High Court's ruling, no attempt was made to arrest the suspects, and that the security forces operated as though on an assassination mission, shooting the suspects from behind with massive automatic gunfire although the latter did not try to escape or use their weapons. 

The investigation also raises a grave suspicion that the forces “confirmed the killing” of the suspects. Testimonies indicate that after three suspects, who were sitting in a parked car, were shot, a member of the security forces went over to the car and fired a single shot at each of them, from extremely close range. The same person also shot ‘Imad al-Kamal, the driver, who was lying wounded and unarmed on the road beside the car.

In its letter, B'Tselem also notes that testimonies given by the wife and children of Muhammad Shehadeh indicate that several days before his death, security forces demolished his house under circumstances that strongly suggest the motive was punitive, and severely abused members of the family. B'Tselem demanded that this incident also be investigated.