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Gaza: Documenting Wilful Killings and Injuries during the Great Return March

Wednesday, 11 April 2018 08:47 - [30 March – 3 April]
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Since Friday 30 March 2018, thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have protested across the Gaza Strip in commemoration of Land Day, demanding an end to the 11-year long closure, and reaffirming their right of return. In response, the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) deployed additional forces and equipment in the area, including snipers, drones, bulldozers, and attack dogs, and issued explicit orders to use live fire against Palestinian protestors.

Hundreds of fully armed IOF members, including tens of snipers and military vehicles, spread behind the border area in these locations. The IOF resorted to excessive and lethal force, by shooting live ammunition, rubber bullets, heavy tear gas fired by drones and military vehicles, targeting Palestinian protestors. Since Friday 30 March, 32 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, 25 during the protests, and thousands have been injured, hundreds with live ammunition. In this report, Al-Haq reveals some of its documentation for incidents between 30 March and 3 April 2018.

The killing of Bader Fayeq Al-Sabbagh

On 30 March at approximately 10:30 am, Muhammad Fayeq Al-Sabbagh, 29, arrived at the border area, east of Jabaliya Refugee Camp to participate in the Great Return March. Thousands of young men, elderly people, families, and children had gathered around the setup tents, named after the villages of origin of refugees, and located about 700 meters away from the border fence. Protesters performed the Friday prayers, ate lunch there, and carried Palestinian flags.

Muhammad recalls seeing dozens of young men and children in the open area, at a distance of 20-300 metres away from the first border fence. The second fence is about 150 metres away from the first one. From where he was standing, at Jakar Street, about 300 metres away from the border, Muhammad could also see dozens of Israeli soldiers on high sand berms, around 10 metres higher than the ground behind the second border fence. The soldiers were in a sniper position and only their helmets could be seen. Two military bulldozers were adding sand along the border line. As Muhammad recalls:

I heard live bullets, rubber bullets and tear gas canisters being fired towards protesters. I saw dozens of young men and children being injured with live bullets or who suffocated from tear gas. At around 3:30 pm, while Shaker [Muhammad’s friend] and I were standing at Jakar Street, about 300 metres away from the border fence, watching the events around us, my younger brother Bader, 19, arrived. Bader told me that he had just come from home as he woke up late in the afternoon. He told me that my nephew Haitham, 17, and my cousin had been injured and were in hospital. He then asked for a cigarette because he did not smoke the whole day and had none. I gave him one. Bader was standing about two metres in front of me. I suddenly saw something hit him in the left side of his head and exit from the right side. Then, I saw my brother fall to the ground in front of me, bleeding heavily from his head. I ran towards him and saw that a bullet had entered his head from the left side and exited from the right side. Shaker and I carried him to a Red Crescent ambulance which was next to us. On the way to the Indonesian Hospital in Beit Lahia, paramedics provided first aid and unsuccessfully tried to stop the bleeding with gauze. We arrived at the hospital in about seven minutes, where doctors examined him and ordered that he be taken immediately to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza due to the seriousness of his injury. When we arrived there, the doctors brought my brother into the operation room immediately in an attempt to save his life. Minutes later, at around 5:10 pm, they pronounced Bader dead. Then my family came and took Bader's body and buried him in Beit Lahia’s cemetery. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 130/2018)

The Killing of Muhammad Kamal Al-Najjar

In the same location where Bader was killed, at the border area, east of Jabaliya Refugee Camp, Muhammad Jamil Sa’ad, 24, witnessed the killing of Muhammad Kamal Al-Najjar, 25:

At approximately 11:10 am, I saw Yousef Sa’ad, who was throwing stones at the soldiers behind the border fence, get injured. He fell to the ground, holding his left leg and waving to youth to evacuate him towards the ambulances at Jakar Street. Yousef remained on the ground for more than 15 minutes, bleeding and pleading for help. Whenever anyone approached to rescue him, soldiers would open fire. Suddenly, I saw my friend, Muhammad Kamal Al-Najjar, and others head to the east to rescue Yousef as soldiers continued to fire towards them. Muhammad, along with other young men and a woman, were able to reach Yousef. While men were carrying Yousef, I saw Muhammad fall on the ground about 50 meters away from the first fence. He was shot with a live bullet while trying to rescue Yousef. The soldiers continued to shoot heavily, from the sniper’s position, for about 15 minutes as young men were trying to evacuate Muhammad, who was lying on the ground motionless. Finally, some young men along with a woman were able to rescue Muhammad and bring him to the ambulance. I saw Muhammad with a live bullet in his left waist. Blood gushed out heavily from the wound and I saw his bowels outside his stomach. An ambulance took Muhammad to the Indonesian Hospital. I returned and joined my friends and brother, who were 300 meters away from the fence.

Muhammad later learnt from Al-Najjar’s brother that Muhammad was pronounced dead upon arrival to hospital. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 140/2018)

The killing of Abd Al-Fattah Abd Al-Nabi

The killing of Abd Al-Fattah Abd Al-Nabi was documented in several videos from different angles. In a footage circulated, Abd Al-Fattah appears to be running away, carrying a tyre, with his back to the border fence at the time he was shot – posing no threat to the IOF.  Muhammad Ziyad Abd Al-Nabi, 29, witnessed the killing of Abd Al-Fattah:

At around 4:20 pm, I saw a young man wearing a green shirt, holding a tyre and approaching the border fence. Soldiers started shooting at him heavily when he ran away from the border fence. He was falling to the ground sometimes and running sometimes while still holding the tyre. I saw my relative, Abd Al-Fattah, running very fast towards that young man to help him carry the tyre and get him away from the bullets of soldiers, who were determined to hit him with their heavy shooting. Abd Al-Fattah was able to reach the young man, who was about 300 meters from the border fence. I saw Abd Al-Fattah taking the tyre from the young man and running next to him until they were at a distance of about 400 meters from the border, while soldiers continued to fire. Suddenly, I saw Abdel Fattah fall to the ground. When I approached him, I saw a small hole in the back of his head and another big one on his forehead. The bullet had entered and exited his head and he was bleeding heavily. I carried him along with other young men to the ambulance at Jakar Street and he was transferred to the Indonesian Hospital. When I arrived at the hospital, I saw my relatives around the hospital morgue; Abd Al-Fattah was dead. (Al-Haq affidavit No. 131/2018)

The Killing of Fares Mahmoud Al-Raqab

On 2 April 2018 at around 10:00 am, Fares Mahmoud Al-Raqab, 26, resident of Bani Suheila town in Khan Younes, was pronounced dead at the Gaza European Hospital. Fares was shot in his stomach earlier on Friday 30 March at around 4:00 pm. Fares was 150 meters away from the border fence and was peacefully protesting when he was shot by the IOF. He was transferred to hospital and was immediately referred to the operation room. He was in the intensive care until his death.

The killing of Ahmad Omar Arafa

On Tuesday 3 April 2018, Ahmad Omar Arafa, 25, was killed east of Al-Breij Refugee Camp in the Central Gaza Strip. Ahmad was shot with two bullets; the first entered his back and exited through his chest and the other in his left arm. At approximately 4:00 pm, Ahmad was with other young men who were trying to cut the barbed wires of the fence and vandalize it. About ten minutes later, eight soldiers appeared behind the sand berms and started shooting at Ahmad and the others. They ran immediately to hide behind the hill. As they were running, Ahmad was shot with two bullets and fell to the ground. He was motionless and was bleeding from the back. He was evacuated to the nearest ambulance on Jakar Street then to Shuhada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah where he was pronounced dead. (Al-Haq affidavit No. 139/2018)

Injuries

The disproportionate and excessive shooting by the IOF were not limited to young men but targeted elderly women and children as well. Muhammad Alaa Hussein, 11, states:

I was wandering around the area and taking pictures of the peaceful events at Jakar Street, which is 300 meters away from the border fence. When, at approximately 1:00 pm, I saw around 15 young men and children injured by Israeli soldiers and lying on the ground. Whenever anyone approached, soldiers would fire towards them. The 15 injured stayed on the ground for more than 30 minutes, waving their hands for paramedic officers or civilians to rescue them. I suddenly felt something hit my left leg, I felt dizzy and fell to the ground. I checked myself and saw blood gushing heavily from my leg. My father came and carried me to the ambulance. I was transferred to the European Hospital, where doctors examined me and told me it was a live bullet that entered and exited my leg.

At the same time and place, Aida Al-Majdllawi, 64, was also present. She held the Palestinian flag and approached to rescue those injured with another woman, around 250 meters away from the border fence, while soldiers were still shooting from their sniper positions towards whoever approached. Aida was shot in her left thigh by a live bullet. (Al-Haq affidavit No. 160/2018 and 161/2018)

The Killing of Omar Waheed Samour, Sari Waleed Abu Odeh, and Hamdan Ismail Abu ‘Amsha

Earlier on 30 March, in Khan Younis, at approximately 3:00 am, before the protests had begun, the IOF fired two artillery shells at two Palestinian farmers in an agricultural field approximately one kilometre away from the border fence, east of Al-Qarara, killing Omar Waheed Samour, 26, resident of Bani Suheila east of Khan Younes. According to Nasrallah Marzouq Samour, 27, Omar’s cousin, farmers often collect their harvest at night in order to transport and sell it fresh in the early morning before it withers, despite the risk from the IOF. On that day, at approximately 2:00 am, Nasrallah, Omar, and two other farmers drove to the agricultural field they work in. Half an hour later, Nasrallah drove about two kilometres away to transport the parsley, along with another farmer. At 3:55 am, Nasrallah received a call from one of the farmers, informing him about an explosion in the field where Omar was. When Nasrallah arrived at the field, he saw Omar lying on the ground, along with the other farmer, Ahmad. Ahmad was injured in his feet and back and was bleeding. Nasrallah tried to rescue Ahmad who told him to go and evacuate Omar who was in a severe condition. Omar was motionless. Nasrallah turned his body around and saw blood gushing from his chest and right arm. Ahmad and Omar were transferred to the Gaza European Hospital, where Omar was pronounced dead immediately. Ahmad was treated for injuries due to shrapnel in the feet, back and hands. (Affidavit No.132//2018)

On the same day at approximately 4:15 pm, the IOF fired two artillery shells north-east of Beit Hanoun, killing two farmers; Sari Waleed Abu Odeh, 27, and Hamdan Ismail Abu ‘Amsha, 23, who were trying to rescue injured Palestinians. Hamdan and Sari, along with other several farmers, had been working in an agricultural field, approximately 300 metres away from the border fence east of Beit Hanoun close, to Erez Crossing. Ahamd Khaled Abu Odeh, 19, a farmer who witnessed the killing of his cousin, Sari, and neighbour, Hamdan, states: While we were peacefully working in the field at approximately 4:00 pm, I saw two young men trying to cut the wired fence in an attempt to sneak into the border. The IOF responded with firing bullets towards them. The two men started running towards our agricultural field. The first was injured and someone evacuated him with a motorcycle. The other was still running towards us when he got injured and fell to the ground. The soldiers continued to fire at him heavily. He was very afraid, and tried to walk for some time, fell to the ground again then crawled towards us. Minutes later, soldiers stopped firing. Hamdan Abu ‘Amsha immediately headed towards the injured young man, who was 200 meters away from the border fence at the moment. Then, I heard soldiers firing at Hamdan while he was carrying the injured man. Hamdan fell to the ground and was holding his left thigh and waving at us. He was lying on the ground bleeding for more than 15 minutes while the injured man made his way to us crawling. I then saw Sari Abu Odeh approach Hamdan to evacuate him as the sporadic shooting continued. Sari was able to carry Hamdan and walk for a few metres, before he was shot in his leg and fell to the ground next to Hamdan. Sari and Hamdan were on the ground bleeding for about an hour. I saw them stand up and walk together for a few metres. Sari was pulling Hamdan, when soldiers shot him again and he fell to the ground. They were both hardly crawling towards the field when I heard a loud bomb sound. The IOF had fired an arterially shell that fell between Sari and Hamdan. My uncle called Sari, who told him Hamdan was killed by the shell’s shrapnel. A minute later, I heard a second and third shell. We then lost connection with Sari completely. An hour later, an ambulance came and evacuated Sari and Hamdan’s bodies. (Al-Haq affidavit no. 162/2018)

The targeting of Palestinian farmers in the buffer-zone of the Gaza Strip is a continuous occurrence, in breach of their right to life, to movement, work, liberty and security of persons, among others. According to witness statements above, in both incidents, Omar, Sari and Hamdan did not pose any threat to the soldiers at the time the artillery shells were fired against them. Instead, all three were neutralized by the IOF, were injured and were seeking medical assistance at the time the shells were fired in their direction.

The Killing of Muhammad Muhareb Al-Rabaya’ and Musab Zuhair Al-Saloul

At approximately 4:30 pm on 30 March, in Juhr al-Deek village, south-east of Gaza city, the IOF fired two artillery shells towards two Palestinians, Musab Zuhair Al-Saloul, 23, and Muhammad Muhareb Al-Rabaya’, 22, as they approached the eastern border of the village, away from the protests. Later, the IOF announced that they targeted two armed men and Palestinian ambulances were prohibited from reaching them at the scene.

On Sunday 1 April 2018, the Israeli occupying authorities, through the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Mordechai), confirmed through a post published on his page the killing of Musab and Muhammad at 3:30 pm on Friday 30 April 2018 and that their bodies are being withheld.[1] According to Al-Haq field research and communication with the Red Cross, the latter confirmed that they had asked the IOF to coordinate their entry to the scene to search for and evacuate Musab and Muhammad. However, they received no response from the Israeli authorities. It was only until later that the Israeli authorities informed the Red Cross that they are withholding the bodies of Muhammad and Musab.[2]

Legal Analysis

Israel, the belligerent occupant, maintains effective control over the Gaza Strip, including over the access restricted areas, which it controls militarily using live fire, snipers, artillery shelling and tear gas. Most of the buffer zone is located on agricultural lands but the precise area of the buffer zone is unclear and is not demarcated leaving the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza unaware of the extent of the buffer zone and its applicable regime. Within this grey area, Israel has shot at peaceful protesters in the Great Return March, shooting deep into the Gaza Strip beyond the first border fence. Snipers shot Bader Fayeq Al-Sabbagh in the head at distances of approximately 298 meters from the first border fence and shot Muhammad Kamal Al-Najjar who was approximately 50 meters from the first border fence. Abd Al-Fattah Abd Al-Nabi was shot in the back further away again at approximately 400 meters from the border fence, while farmers Sari Waleed Abu Odeh and Hamdan Ismail Abu ‘Amsha were targeted and killed with shells 300 meters from the fence. Meanwhile snipers shot indiscriminately at elderly women and children located between 250 and 300 meters from the fence.

In the context of occupation, the law enforcement paradigm applies to civilian assemblies, governed by human rights law, and regulated by the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials prohibit the use of lethal force unless “strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”[3] Meanwhile the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials specifies that the use of force may be justified only when strictly necessary, in line with human dignity and human rights of all persons. In addition, by continuing to resort to excessive force, including lethal force, Israel is in breach of the right to life, to peaceful assembly, to freedom of expression, health, among numerous others.

Under the law enforcement paradigm Israel is obliged to guarantee the right to life of all persons ensuring that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life,” a right from which no derogation is permitted.[4] As the Occupying Power, Israel is obliged to protect and ensure protection of the occupied Palestinian population. By this virtue, Israel is obliged to respect, protect, and fulfil Palestinian human rights and guarantees under international law. However, Israel continues to act, often knowingly, contrary to these obligations. The deliberate and well-planned excessive use of lethal force and force against Palestinian protestors is illustrative to Israel’s disregard of these obligations.

The cases presented above demonstrate Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate use of lethal force against Palestinians, including peaceful protestors. Clearly, any crowd control necessary to control unarmed civilian protestors demonstrating during a march, does not require resort to lethal force. Of grave concern is the fact that the targeting and shooting of protestors in the head (Bader Fayeq Al-Sabbagh, Abd Al-Fattah Abd Al-Nabi), and in the torso (Muhammad Kamal Al-Najjar, Fares Mahmoud Al-Raqab, Ahmad Omar Arafa) and the shelling of farmers (Sari Waleed Abu Odeh and Hamdan Ismail Abu ‘Amsha) is reflective of a shoot to kill policy.[5] The employment of artillery weaponry to police the buffer area is a grave violation of the requirement for necessity and proportionality implicit in Article 6 of the ICCPR.

Furthermore, Abd Al-Fattah Abd Al-Nabi and Ahmad Omar Arafa were shot in the back of the head and back respectively, as they were running in the opposite direction from the fence, presenting no threat whatsoever to the snipers and eliminating any necessity to shoot in defence of life. Any consequent targeting and shooting of unarmed civilians breaches the absolute necessity strand of the right to life. In the context of the ongoing occupation of Gaza, these deaths amount to wilful killing, a war crime, prosecutable at the International Criminal Court, for which there is individual criminal responsibility.

Al-Haq is gravely concerned at the deliberate shooting to kill those running to the aid and assistance of the injured. Article 18 of the Fourth Geneva Convention requires that the wounded and the sick are the object of particular attention. Notably, it is a rule of customary law that “The wounded, sick and shipwrecked must receive, to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition. No distinction may be made among them founded on any grounds other than medical ones.”[6] Muhammad Kamal Al-Najjar was killed while trying to evacuate Yousef Sa’ad and bring him to an ambulance. During this time, snipers shot for a full 15 minutes. Similarly, Muhammad Alaa Hussein, who was shot in the leg witnessed soldiers shooting at anyone who tried to evacuate injured men, women and children waiting for paramedics or anyone to rescue them. Notably, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health amounts to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and amounts to a war crime. Sari Waleed Abu Odeh, and Hamdan Ismail Abu ‘Amsha, were killed by Israeli shells trying to rescue injured Palestinians some 300 meters from the border fence. Israel’s targeting and killing of personnel seeking to evacuate and provide medical assistance to the injured, is a clear violation of its obligations under Article 18.

The withholding of Musab and Muhammad’s bodies violates international human rights and humanitarian law. Rule 115 of Customary international humanitarian law stipulates that parties to an armed conflict must respect the dead who “must be disposed of in a respectful manner.” Customary international humanitarian law further obliges parties to the conflict to return the remains and personal effects of the dead to their families.[7] In addition, Article 17 of the Second Geneva Convention requires that the deceased must be held in accordance with the religious rites that they belong to. According to Article 32 of Additional Protocol I, the families of the deceased have a right to be informed of the fate of their relatives, as part of the general principle requiring parties to the conflict to conduct their activities within this scope. The withholding of the bodies of the deceased further amounts to the collective punishment of the families of the deceased, prohibited under Article 50 of the Hague Regulations, Article 33(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and Article 75(2)(d) of Additional Protocol I. Moreover, the practice violates the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, also reaffirmed by the UN Committee Against Torture.[8] In addition, where the deceased are not buried in accordance to their religious and cultural traditions, the withholding of the bodies of the deceased further violates cultural rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Lastly, Al-Haq calls for immediate, impartial investigations into the killings and maiming of Palestinian civilians by the IOF since 30 March 2018 in the Gaza Strip.


[1] See: Coordinator Mordechai Facebook Account post on 2 April 2018  at 3:10 am stating “The burial of bodies is a common value between the Jewish and Islamic religion”, available at: https://www.facebook.com/COGAT.ARABIC/posts/1001107506706995

[2] See also: https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/9453

[3] Principle 9, UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (1990).

[4] Article 6, ICCPR (1966).

[5] Al-Haq, Israel Targets and Kills Unarmed Palestinian Juveniles in the Gaza Strip Using Heavy Weapons of War, 3 March 2018, available at: http://www.alhaq.org/documentation/weekly-focuses/1193-israel-targets-and-kills-unarmed-palestinian-juveniles-in-the-gaza-strip-using-heavy-weapons-of-war

[6] ICRC, IHL Database, Customary International Law, Rule 110, available at: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule110

[7] Stated in Article 16, First Geneva Convention; Article 19, Second Geneva Convention; Article 122, Third Geneva Convention; Article 139, Fourth Geneva Convention.

[8] UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of Israel, 3 June 2016, para. 43