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Palestinian workers run through gap in Separation Barrier, southern West Bank. Photo: ‘Ammar ‘Awad, Reuters, 6 July 2013. Click on photo to enlarge
From the field

Oct.-Nov. 2013: Soldiers shoot and wound Palestinians trying to enter Israel without work permits

An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 Palestinians routinely work in Israel without a permit. Theirs is a particularly insecure position. For one, entering Israel and remaining there without a permit places them in danger. Second, they are exposed to violence on the part of security forces and are vulnerable to arrest and incarceration. Finally, they are also at risk of other abuses by their employers, such as withholding payment and hazardous working conditions.

B’Tselem made inquiries into four incidents that occurred in October and November 2013, in which four Palestinians without work permits suffered gunshot wounds when they attempted to enter Israel. Two of the incidents took place in Qalqiliyah District and the other two near the village of a-Ramadin, Hebron District.

R.H. wounded near ‘Azzun 'Atmah, Qalqiliyah District, 8 October 2013

On 8 October 2013, at around 11:00 AM, a group of young men heading to work in Israel, tried to cross the Separation Barrier near the village of ‘Azzun 'Atmah. According to B’Tselem’s inquiries, shortly after the young men crossed the barrier, a soldier fired a live bullet that struck one of them, R.H., in the abdomen. Soldiers administered first aid to R.H., under 18 at the time. He was then taken to Beilinson Hospital, inside Israel, where he underwent surgery and was hospitalized. R.H.’s brother, M.H., who was with him during the incident, was arrested by the soldiers and released two days later. To B’Tselem’s knowledge, no verbal warnings were given nor were warning shots fired in the air prior to the shooting.

In his testimony to B’Tselem field researcher 'Abd al-Karim Sa'adi, R.H. recounted the incident:

On Tuesday, 8 October 2013, my brother and I and some other young men crossed the Separation Barrier through a gap in the area of ‘Azzun 'Atmah. After we managed to get across the barrier and had gone about 100 meters, I suddenly heard a shot. I was hit in the stomach and shortly after, I fell to the ground. The bullet hit me on the right-hand side of my stomach.

I turned around to find the source of the gunfire, and then I saw three or four soldiers standing about 30 meters away. My brother tried to help me up, but when he realized I couldn’t do it and that I needed help, he called out to the soldiers. The first military jeep arrived within minutes. The soldiers called for other forces who gave me first aid. My stomach was bleeding seriously, and 15 minutes after I was wounded, a military ambulance took me to Beilinson Hospital. At the hospital, they took me into surgery right away. The operation lasted six hours. When I woke up, I saw there were two soldiers in my room and my hand was cuffed to the bed with a plastic cable tie. My hand was kept tied to the bed for three days and then the director of the hospital made the soldiers take it off and leave my room. While I was in the hospital I got all the treatment and medicine I needed, and I was treated well. I was discharged on 25 October 2013.

My brothers and I have been working in Israel for about two years. We can’t get proper permits to work in Israel because we’re young bachelors, so we have no choice but to go in without a permit. We have no other way to make a living. There are hardly any jobs in Qalqiliyah.

B.'A. wounded near Ras 'Atiya, Qalqiliyah District, 10 November 2013

At around 3:00 PM on 10 November 2013 two Palestinians, B.'A., 22, and H.'A., 18, attempted to enter Israel by crossing the Separation Barrier west of Ras 'Atiya, Qalqiliyah District. B’Tselem inquiries indicate that soldiers were apparently waiting on the other side of the barrier, and once the two crossed it into Israel, the soldiers fired live rounds at them. According to testimonies given to B’Tselem, prior to the live gunfire, there were neither verbal warnings nor warning shots fired in the air. B.'A. was hit in the chest, abdomen and thigh. He was taken to hospital in Qalqiliyah by a passer-by. Following B’Tselem’s communication to the MAG Corps, the MPIU launched an investigation of the incident.

S.H. wounded near village of a-Ramadin and settlement of Sansana, Hebron District, 6 October 2013

On 6 October 2013, S.H. tried to enter Israel. S.H., a 23-year-old university agriculture student who lives in the village of a-Samu', met other laborers at the Separation Barrier near a-Ramadin, where many Palestinians without permits cross into Israel. He waited with the other men for Israeli soldiers to leave the area. At around 10:00 AM, S.H., approached the barrier and discovered that the gap in the fence through which he had planned to cross had been blocked. He had begun dismantling the wire of the barrier when four soldiers came into view about 100 meters away. One of the soldiers called out to him –in Hebrew – to stop, but at the same time, a shot was fired at and S.H. was struck in the knee. He was evacuated by the soldiers and taken to an ambulance that brought him to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, Israel. He was discharged from the hospital after nearly three months, after which he still required further outpatient treatment.

In a testimony given to B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 26 January 2014, S.H. recounted:

I was at Soroka Hospital for 88 days. I was released on 1 January 2014. The doctors told me I would need to continue treatment for a whole year, and made appointments for me at the hospital. I’m now housebound and can’t walk because of my injury. My studies and my whole life have been put on hold. I didn’t deserve what happened. The soldier shouted at me to stop and shot me at the same time. I had the bad luck to be seriously injured.

M.M. wounded village of a-Ramadin and settlement of Sansana, Hebron District, 19 October 19

On 19 October 2013 M.M., 23, of the village a-Shuyukh, Hebron District, attempted to enter Israel along with several dozen other workers. When they arrived to the area near a-Ramadin, soldiers waiting nearby fired teargas at them. M.M. remained in the area with some other workers. When he thought the soldiers had left, he crossed the barrier and started walking toward a car that was waiting for him on the other side. When he was about ten meters away from the car, he was shot by a soldier he had not noticed before. The soldier was standing a few meters away from him. The gunshot, which was not preceded by verbal warnings or warning shots in the air, struck M.M. in the foot. Despite his injury, he tried to run back toward the Separation Barrier and was then hit in the other foot, apparently shot by the same soldier. He managed to get back to the other side of the barrier and to the car in which he had arrived. The driver took him to Princess ‘Alia Hospital in Hebron for medical treatment.

In January 2013, ‘Udai Darawish was killed by gunfire in the same area, while attempting to enter Israel. In a departure from the norm, the soldier who shot Darawish was tried and convicted of negligent homicide. In its verdict, the military court addressed the open-fire regulations applicable in such cases. According to regulations, soldiers may employ the “suspect apprehension procedure” when a Palestinian attempts to cross the Separation Barrier without a permit. As part of this procedure, soldiers may shoot at a suspect’s legs, but only as a last resort, after verbally warning the suspect and firing warning shots in the air. According to the testimonies collected by B’Tselem, the soldiers acted in contravention of regulations in all the incidents described above, shooting at the Palestinians without observing all the incremental stages set out in the procedure. In some of the cases, the soldiers did not even restrict themselves to firing only at the legs.

In the above-mentioned verdict, the military court quoted a document entitled Open-Fire Regulation Booklet, which is circulated to officers serving as company commanders and deputy company commanders, as well as those serving in more senior positions. The Open-Fire Regulation Booklet states that, as a rule, any Palestinian attempting to cross the Separation Barrier without a permit is considered a “suspect in a dangerous crime”, and may be the target of a “suspect apprehension procedure”, so long as the person remains near the Separation Barrier. Nevertheless, the booklet stipulates an exception to this rule, according to which no shots whatsoever may be fired at a person who has been “identified as a harmless individual, posing no threat to our forces”. .

This choice of words contributes to the soldiers’ unlawful conduct: In all the incidents B’Tselem reviewed, it should have been clear to the soldiers that the individuals concerned posed no threat to them and therefore, according to the stipulated exception, there was no justification for the use of the suspect apprehension procedure.

The fact that the prohibition on shooting is articulated as an exception is at odds with Israeli authorities’ clear knowledge that hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians cross into Israel without a permit through breaches in the barrier every day. The authorities choose to turn a blind eye to this widespread phenomenon and do not offer a systemic solution. Even the police do not consider these Palestinians dangerous, nor see them as posing a security threat. According to the relevant police procedure, a Palestinians arrested for the first time solely on suspicion of illegal presence in Israel is to be cautioned and sent back to the West Bank without any further penalties or measures.

In light of the above, the regulations must present the prohibition on shooting at Palestinians solely for having crossed the Separation Barrier in abundantly clear terms. The prohibition must be given front stage, not framed as an exception to the rule that gives soldiers broad discretion to determine whether or not a person is dangerous.

This policy is unlawful and all responsible parties, including commanding officers in the field, must provide soldiers and police officers with regulations suitable for the policing work with which they are tasked. Most importantly, it should be made clear that civilians must not be automatically considered potential terrorists. Gunfire, and particularly live ammunition, must not be used to apprehend individuals suspected of offenses. Law enforcement agencies must investigate any case which raises concern that security forces disobeyed regulations, and must examine what regulations the forces followed. If their conduct is found to have been contrary to rules and regulations, measures must be taken against all the individuals involved.