Amneh Qdeih, 57, a resident of the town of Khuza'ah, was killed on Friday, 28 February 2014. She died of a gunshot wound to her abdomen fired at her when she approached Gaza's perimeter fence. Her relatives told B'Tselem field researcher Khaled al-'Azayzeh that Qdeih, who was mentally ill, had been at a family wedding in the town of Khuza'ah, not far from the perimeter fence in the southeastern Gaza Strip. She did not return home with the rest her family, and when they realized she was missing, they began searching for her. At around 10:00 PM, her family heard gunshots, saw the light flares in the sky and noticed an ICRC jeep near the fence. At around 6:00 AM, they found Qdeih's body close to the perimeter fence, directly across from an Israeli military watchtower. Qdeih had sustained a gunshot wound to her abdomen. It is not clear whether she was killed instantaneously or bled to death for hours. The IDF Spokesperson told Israeli daily Haaretz that an IDF force fired at a person who was approaching the perimeter fence in the southern Gaza Strip and did not heed their calls to halt. The unit reported it had a confirmed hit on the target. The IDF Spokesperson did not explain why Qdeih was not given medical treatment that might have saved her life.
This is the fifth incident in the last three months in which Gaza residents who were not taking part in hostilities were killed by Israeli security forces near the perimeter fence. The civilians were shot when they were near the perimeter fence, on its Palestinian side. From late January 2013 to mid-December 2013 only one Palestinian was killed near the fence. The man was attempting to enter Israel without a permit when he was shot.
Since mid-December 2013, the number of live-fire casualties near the fence has been on the rise. In the ten weeks from 20 December 2013 to date, B'Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah has documented the injury of 55 individuals near the fence: 43 were injured by live fire; 10 by rubber-coated metal bullets; and two were hit in the head by a teargas canister. Figures published by OCHA also indicate that since mid-December there has been a sharp increase in the number of incidents in which civilian were injured by live gunfire near the Gaza perimeter fence. In all recent cases of civilian Palestinian fatalities near the Gaza perimeter fence, military officials were quoted in the media as saying that shots were fired at the individuals for being inside the off-limits zone or for sabotaging the fence.
- On Friday, 20 December 2013, ‘Odeh Hamad, 27, was shot while scrap-collecting metal and plastic at the Beit Hanoun garbage dump. According to B'Tselem's inquiries, Hamad was struck in the head by a live bullet at around 3:20 PM, while he was cutting the barbed wire fence which parallels the perimeter fence. His brother, Radad Hamad, told B'Tselem that they had heard neither warnings nor shots fired in the air prior to the shooting. Additional gunshots were then fired from the military tower located about 400 meters away, and Radad Hamad suffered a gunshot wound to his arm. ‘Odeh Hamad was taken to the hospital in Beit Hanoun where he was pronounced dead. The IDF spokesperson said, "[O]n Friday, at midday, several suspects came 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".
- On Thursday, 2 January 2014, 'Adnan Abu Khater, 16, was walking with several other youths in an area close to perimeter fence, east of Jabalya. Abu Khater was shot in the abdomen by soldiers and died of his wounds the next day. According to military officials quoted in Israeli daily Haaretz, the youths had attempted to sabotage the perimeter fence, and therefore one of them was shot in the leg.
- On Friday, 24 January 2014, Bilal 'Aweidah, 19, of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, was shot and killed several meters away from the perimeter fence. The area where 'Aweidah was shot is considered basically trouble-free and many civilians use it recreationally. According to B'Tselem's inquiries, 'Aweidah was taking strolling there with some friends. They approached the fence and, with their cellular phones, photographed one another near it, (see photos: link 1, link 2, link 3). When the young men came near a surveillance camera mounted on the perimeter fence, a single shot was fired at them from the nearby military watchtower. The bullet struck 'Aweidah in the chest. He was taken to Kamal 'Adwan Hospital in Beith Lahiya, where he was pronounced dead. According to military officials quoted in the news section of Israeli website Ynet, "In the early afternoon, dozens of Palestinians congregated in the restricted access area near the perimeter fence in the northern Gaza Strip and sabotaged it. The military states that in the course of attempts to distance the crowd, two suspects were struck by IDF gunfire. The IDF will not allow any harm to the perimeter fence, to the security of the State of Israel or to its citizens".
- On Thursday, 13 February 2014, Ibrahim Mansur, 35, of Gaza City, was shot at a spot about 100 meters away from the perimeter fence, east of Gaza City. Mansur was collecting sand and gravel along with several other people at the time he was shot. According to B'Tselem's inquiries, at around 2:30 PM, several shots were fired at the group from a nearby military watchtower. Mansur was struck in the head, and another man suffered a minor leg injury. Both were taken to a-Shifaa Hospital, Gaza City. Mansur was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. According to a report in Israeli daily Haaretz, military officials said that the soldiers shot at Palestinians who had approached the perimeter fence in the northern Gaza Strip. The military claimed that the Palestinians tried to sabotage the fence and had entered the restricted access area.
The military refuses to publish the open-fire regulations issued to soldiers and as a result B'Tselem cannot know what regulations the soldiers follow. However, the official military responses in the media raise concerns that these regulations permit the use of live fire even in cases which pose no mortal danger to members of the security forces: in all of the above-cited cases, military officials said the soldiers resorted to gunfire because Palestinians had entered a restricted area and attempted to sabotage the fence.
Yet this explanation cannot constitute justification for the use of live fire. If there is a directive that permits live gunfire in these situations, it is unlawful. Clearly Israeli security forces have both the right and the duty to protect the border area and prevent actions directed against Israeli civilians, including unlawful attempts to cross the border into Israeli territory or plant explosives by the fence. Nonetheless, security forces may not achieve these goals by harming people who pose no threat to anyone.
Notwithstanding the military’s classification of the area near the perimeter fence as no-go zones, Gaza residents use the area for a variety of patently civilian needs: work-related, recreational walks and demonstrations. In recent months, mostly on Fridays, many young people have been frequenting the area east of Jabalya Refugee Camp. Some take walks. Others rest. Some sell drinks and snacks. Others throw stones at the perimeter fence or try to hang Palestinian flags on it or burn tires. In a number of cases, young men lobbed Molotov cocktails at the fence and at the soldiers patrolling it. View B'Tselem photoblog on the topic
Given this reality, the security establishment cannot regard this area exclusively as a combat zone nor can it consider any person found there a security threat. The military must institute open-fire regulations that take this reality into account. The military must also instruct the troops that the use of live fire is absolutely prohibited for the purpose of getting Palestinian civilians who pose no threat to anyone to back away from the areas near the perimeter fence. In addition, the military must provide the units stationed along the fence with the appropriate gear and means for dealing with demonstrations or gatherings that are civilian in nature. However, so long as the youths do not pose any danger and do not attempt to sabotage the fence, these measures must not be used against them. Where there are clear grounds to suspect that the fence has been compromised or sabotaged, soldiers may use less lethal means, only using live fire in a cases of imminent mortal danger.
B'Tselem has contacted the MAG Corps, demanding it launch criminal investigations into the deaths of the five civilians.