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IOF Targets Palestinian Civilians with Lethal Force, Killing 13 across the OPT

Friday, 23 November 2018 17:27 Date: 22 November 2018
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Funeral of Muhammad Bisharat,23, killed by the IOF on 24 October 2018.Between 22 and 28 October 2018, the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) killed 13 Palestinians, including three children, while injuring hundreds of others throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). The killings are a result of the IOF’s systematic resort to excessive and lethal force, in violation of international norms on the use of firearms by law enforcement officials, against protected Palestinians in various contexts, including during peaceful protests, military raids, and incursions routinely carried out across the OPT.

Killings in the West Bank

In the West Bank city of Hebron, on Monday, 22 October 2018, at around 10:30 am, 42-year-old Mu’ammar Arif Al-Atrash was shot and killed by the IOF at the entrance of Al-Shuhada Street, near Al-Mahkameh (The Sharia Court) Checkpoint, about 150 metres from the Ibrahimi Mosque. The IOF fired several bullets at Mu’ammar, claiming that he had attacked one of the two Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint with a sharp tool, injuring his hand. According to Al-Haq’s field report and documentation, an Israeli ambulance arrived to the scene shortly thereafter, which provided medical aid to the Israeli soldier but not to Mu’ammar. Instead, Mu’ammar was left lying on the ground, and seen covered with a black plastic bag by Israeli policemen five minutes after the ambulance left.

Some 30 minutes after the incident, Mu’ammar’s body was taken away. As of the time of writing, Mu’ammar’s body continues to be punitively withheld by the Israeli authorities, denying his family the right to bury him and to grieve in dignity. As of 22 November 2018, the Israeli occupying authorities continue to withhold the bodies of 30 Palestinians, four of them since 2016. Israel’s punitive practice of withholding the bodies of Palestinians killed by the IOF amounts to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of the victims’ families, while it also obstructs any genuine possibility of investigating the circumstances of their killings.[1]

In the northern West Bank, on Wednesday, 24 October 2018, at approximately 1:00 am, around three Israeli military jeeps raided a Palestinian home in Al-Rafeed area, east of Tammoun village near the city of Toubas. Palestinian youth confronted the raid by throwing stones at the soldiers. In response, the IOF fired tear gas canisters, sound grenades, and shot rubber and live bullets at the youth. At around 2:30 am, and as the jeeps seemed to be withdrawing from the area, ten Israeli soldiers were scattered amongst the Palestinian youth on the streets. The soldiers surrounded the youth, and at once started to excessively shoot live bullets at them from around 30 metres, injuring five, including 23-year-old Muhammad Mahmoud Bisharat. Muhammad and another four injured youth were transferred to the Toubas Turkish Hospital, and then to Al-Razi Hospital in Jenin for treatment of the wounds they sustained as a result of IOF fire. Muhammad, whose injury was critical, was pronounced dead at Al-Razi Hospital at 3:30 am that same night.[2] The IOF routinely carries out military raids across West Bank villages and towns, using excessive force, including lethal force, against Palestinians therein.[3]

In the Ramallah Governorate, on Friday, 26 October 2018, the IOF killed 33-year-old Othman Ahmad Ladawdeh, with a live bullet in his lower back that penetrated to his lungs, and 28-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Shreiteh with a live bullet to the head as they participated in a peaceful protest in the area of Al-Na’lan mountain in Al-Mazra’a Al-Gharbiyya village, north-west of Ramallah. On that day, some 200 Palestinians, including families, had protested Israel’s continued settlement expansion in the area since the beginning of 2018 by setting up a public park to protect the area from settler take-over. In response, the IOF deployed some 50 soldiers and border police in the area for the protection of the Israeli settlers who were approaching the protesters. Dispersing the Palestinian protest, the IOF excessively fired tear gas canisters and sound grenades, and shot rubber bullets towards Palestinian youth throwing stones at them, injuring five of the youth with rubber bullets and another youth with a tear gas canister. In addition, Al-Haq documented tens of injuries as a result of tear gas fired by the IOF. Al-Haq highlighted the excessive and disproportionate force Israel used to suppress the peaceful protest of Palestinians in the area of Al-Na’lan mountain, noting that the IOF excessively shot at the protesters with the apparent aim of harming as many Palestinians as possible.[4]

Killings in the Gaza Strip

In the Gaza Strip, between 22 and 28 October 2018, the IOF killed 10 Palestinians, including three children. Amongst the 10 killed, six were fatally shot by Israeli soldiers during the Great Return March protests in Deir Al-Balah and Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been protesting since 30 March 2018, calling for an end to Israel’s unlawful closure, the realisation of refugees’ right of return, as mandated by international law, and demanding an end to Israel’s 51-year occupation of the Palestinian territory. In retaliation, the IOF has relentlessly resorted to excessive and lethal force against the protesters, targeting children, paramedics, and journalists.[5]

On Monday, 22 October 2018, the IOF shot 18-year-old Muntaser Muhammad Al-Baz, from Nusseirat refugee camp, with a live bullet in the head, while he was participating in the Great Return March protests east of Deir Al-Balah. Muntaser was transferred to Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, then to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza city due to the severity of his injury. Muntaser was pronounced dead at around 8:00 pm that same day, having succumbed to the head wound he sustained from IOF fire.

On Friday, 26 October 2018, the IOF shot and killed 22-year-old Ahmad Sa’ed Abu Libdeh, 19-year-old Nassar Iyad Abu Taym, and 18-year-old Ayesh Ghassan Shaath, while participating in the Great Return March protests that took place east of Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis. Ahmad was shot in the chest, while Nassar and Ayesh were both shot in the head. The three were shot while approximately within 100-300 metres from the fence during the protests.[6]

In addition, on Saturday, 27 October 2018, at about 2:00 am, 24-year-old Mujahed Ziyad Aqel from Nusseirat refugee camp was pronounced dead at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza city. Mujahed was shot with live ammunition in the thigh while participating in the Great Return March protests east of Al-Breij refugee camp on Friday, 26 October, for the 31st consecutive week.

On Sunday, 28 October 2018, 37-year-old Yihya Bader Al-Hassanat, from Al-Mughraqa, north of Gaza’s Central Governorate, was shot by the IOF with live ammunition in the head also while participating in the Great Return March protests, east of Al-Breij refugee camp. Yahya was taken to Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Hospital in Deir Al-Balah and was then transferred to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza city as a result of his critical condition. Yihya was pronounced dead at Al-Shifa Hospital at about 5:00 pm that day

Also on Sunday, 28 October 2018, at about 6:30 pm, the IOF fired at least one drone missile on the Gaza Strip, killing three Palestinian children, including: 13-year-old Abd Al-Hameed Muhammad Abu Thaher, 14-year-old Khaled Bassam Abu Saed, and 15-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Al-Sutari, while near the fence in the east of Wadi Salqa village, east of Deir Al-Balah. The three children sustained injuries by shrapnel, fired by the Israeli army, in several parts of their bodies as they approached the fence. For two hours, the IOF prevented the Palestinian Red Crescent Society ambulance and medical personnel from accessing the area to reach the wounded children, as IOF soldiers, positioned on the other side of the fence, opened fire towards the area. More than two hours after the missile has been fired, the IOF allowed the ambulance to reach the three children, who were then taken to Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Hospital in Deir Al-Balah. By the time they arrived to hospital, Abd Al-Hameed, Khaled, and Muhammad had already been dead.[7] Later, the Israeli army spokesperson publicly stated that an IOF military aircraft targeted three Palestinian ‘saboteurs’ because they had allegedly approached and tried to cut the fence, and to implant an explosive device.[8]

Legal Analysis

As occupying power, Israel is obliged under international humanitarian law and international human rights law to take effective measures to ensure the protection of the occupied Palestinian population in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. However, Al-Haq’s documentation highlighted in this focus, covering the week of 22 to 28 October 2018, illustrate Israel’s deliberate and systematic disregard of its obligations under international law towards the occupied population. In the cases presented above, the IOF targeted and killed Palestinians, including children, using unnecessary, indiscriminate, disproportionate, and excessive force, including lethal force, in different contexts.

Al-Haq is gravely concerned about Israel’s continued disregard for the international norms on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials, including in the policing of peaceful assemblies. Indeed, the IOF’s conduct in the abovementioned cases demonstrates Israel’s disproportionate use of force against Palestinian civilians, including children, depriving them of their fundamental rights. As occupying power, Israel must respect the right to life of Palestinians, as enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights (ICCPR), by which Israel is bound in the OPT.[9] The IOF must be guided by the principles of necessity and proportionality when using force and firearms. Non-violent means should be used in order to minimize injury and death. The excessive and disproportionate use of force is in violation of the United Nations (UN) Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, which requires that the use of force must be take place when “strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”[10] It further violates the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which mandate that the “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”[11] Meanwhile, the indiscriminate and disproportionate firing at unarmed civilians posing no threat to the lives of the IOF violates Article 51 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions for the protection of civilians, as well as customary rules of international humanitarian law prohibiting indiscriminate attacks.[12] Furthermore, the targeting of Palestinian civilians with lethal force may amount to wilful killing or wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health, which may amount to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention under Article 147and a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.[13]

The killing of the three children, Abd Al-Hameed Abu Thaher, Khaled Abu Saed, and Muhammad Al-Sutari on 28 October 2018 by an Israeli drone missile, further violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), particularly Article 38(1), according to which Israel is obliged “to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child.”[14] Children are entitled to special respect and protection under international law, including in times of armed conflict. |Notably, customary international humanitarian law requires the occupying power “ not [to] hinder the ... protection against the effects of war, which may have been adopted prior to the occupation in favour of children under fifteen years.”[15] Moreover, following the targeting of children, the Israeli army denied the Palestinian Red Crescent Society ambulance and medical staff access to the scene to ensure the provision of medical care to the three injured children, violating their rights to health, including access to medical care,[16] to freedom from ill-treatment,[17] and to life.[18] This reflects the IOF’s disregard towards fundamental rules of customary international humanitarian law, according to which “personnel engaged in the search for, removal and transporting of and caring for wounded and sick civilians, the infirm and maternity cases, shall be respected and protected.”[19] Moreover, the ICRC has stressed that personnel of national Red Cross or Red Crescent societies must be allowed to carry out their humanitarian activities.[20] Furthermore, according to the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, medical assistance must be provided to injured individuals “at the earliest possible moment.”[21]

Finally, the IOF suppression of peaceful protests and assemblies across the OPT, evident both in relation to the Great Return March demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, as well as protests and assemblies in the West Bank, amounts to a violation of Palestinians’ right of peaceful assembly under Article 21 of the ICCPR.[22] Critically, the killings carried out by the IOF in the context of demonstrations in the OPT may fall within the mandate of the UN Commission of Inquiry established pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-28/1 adopted on 18 May 2018 to investigate alleged violations of international law committed in the OPT since 30 March 2018.[23]

[1] For more information on the Israel’s punitive withholding of Palestinians’ bodies, see: Al-Haq, “Newly Adopted Law to Withhold the Bodies of Palestinians Killed Breaches International Law, Must be Repealed” (14 March 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/right-to-life-and-body-integrity/1197-newly-adopted-law-to-withhold-the-bodies-of-palestinians-killed-breaches-international-law-must-be-repealed; Al-Haq, “The Aftermath of an Attack: Israel’s Arbitrary and Collective Punishment Measures” (7 September 2017), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/right-to-life-and-body-integrity/1137-the-aftermath-of-an-attack-israels-arbitrary-and-collective-punishment-measures; Al-Haq, “The Consequences of Israeli Impunity” (23 August 2017), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/right-to-life-and-body-integrity/1135-the-consequences-of-israeli-impunity; and Al-Haq, “From Killing to Burial: Questions Left Unanswered” (10 March 2016), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/documentation/weekly-focuses/1028-from-killing-to-burial-questions-left-unanswered.

[2] Al-Haq field report and Affidavit No. A 693/2018, given by Akram Fayez Odeh, a resident of Tammoun, Toubas Governorate, on 24 October 2018.

[3] See, for example: Al-Haq, “Israel Occupying Force (IOF) Dawn Raids in the Dheisheh Camp, south of Bethlehem” (5 July 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/documentation/weekly-focuses/1278-israel-occupying-force-iof-dawn-raids-in-the-dheisheh-camp-south-of-bethlehem; Al-Haq, “IOF’s Continued Raids across the West Bank” (2 April 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/documentation/weekly-focuses/1208-iofs-continued-raids-across-the-west-bank-; and Al-Haq, “Excessive Use of Force and Arrests during IOF Raids” (13 January 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/documentation/weekly-focuses/1168-excessive-use-of-force-and-arrests-during-iof-raids.

[4] For more information on this incident, see: Al-Haq, “Israeli Occupying Forces Excessively Shoot at Palestinians, Intend to Harm as Many Protesters as Possible” (7 November 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/documentation/weekly-focuses/1318-israeli-occupying-forces-excessively-shoot-at-palestinians-intend-to-harm-as-many-protesters-as-possible; Al-Haq Affidavit No. A707/2018.

[5] Al-Haq, “International Community Must Take Immediate Action to End Israel’s Attacks and Unlawful Closure of the Gaza Strip” (14 November 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1321-international-community-must-take-immediate-action-to-end-israels-attacks-and-unlawful-closure-of-the-gaza-strip

[6] For more information, see: Al-Haq, “Eight Months On: 173 Palestinian Protesters Killed and Thousands Injured by the IOF during Gaza’s Great Return March” (13 November 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1320-eight-months-on-173-palestinian-protesters-killed-and-thousands-injured-by-the-iof-during-gazas-great-return-march

[7] Al-Haq Affidavit No. A697/2018, given by Muhammad Ghazi Al-Hissi, a resident of Hamad residential city, Khan Younis Governorate, on 30 October 2018.

[8] See tweet by Israeli army spokesperson Avichay Adraee on 28 October 2018, available at: https://twitter.com/AvichayAdraee/status/1056609424989659136 (accessed 21 November 2018). See also Maha Hussaini, “‘I was dreaming of his bright future’: Israeli air strike ends three children’s lives in Gaza” (Middle East Eye, 29 October 2018), available at: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/i-was-dreaming-his-bright-future-israeli-missile-ends-lives-three-children-gaza-2131222071.

[9] Article 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” See also, Article 6(1), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) (ICCPR): “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

[10] Article 3, UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (1979).

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

[12] ICRC, Rule 11, “Indiscriminate Attacks”, Customary International Humanitarian Law Database, available at: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule11; and ICRC, Rule 12, “Definition of Indiscriminate Attacks”, Customary International Humanitarian Law Database, available at: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule12; see also Article 51, Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions (1977).

[13] Articles 8(2)(a)(i) and 8(2)(a)(iii), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998).

[14] Article 38(1), Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).

[15] ICRC, Rule 135, “Children”, Customary International Humanitarian Law Database, available at: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule135.

[16] Article 12, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) (ICESCR).

[17] Article 7, ICCPR.

[18] Article 6, ICCPR.

[19] Article 20(1), Fourth Geneva Convention (1949). See also ICRC, Rule 25, “Medical Personnel”, Customary International Humanitarian Law Database, available at: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v2_rul_rule25_sectiona.

[20] ICRC, “Occupation and international humanitarian law: questions and answers”, available at: https://www.icrc.org/en/doc/resources/documents/misc/634kfc.htm. See also Article 10, Fourth Geneva Convention (1949).

[21] Principle 5(c), UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (1990).

[22] Article 21, ICCPR. See also Article 20(1), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

[23] Al-Haq, “Al-Haq Attends 28th Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the Situation in Palestine, Calls for Accountability” (22 May 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/targets/united-nations/1255-al-haq-attends-28th-special-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council-on-the-situation-in-palestine-calls-for-accountability.