As warned by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the killings perpetrated by the IOF during the Great Return March may constitute war crimes falling within the purview of the Court’s preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine since 13 June 2014. This week, Al-Haq highlights once again, the IOF’s unremitting suppression of peaceful Palestinian protests as part of the Great Return March and Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy.
The case of Tahrir Mahmoud Wahba, a deaf student killed by the IOF
Tahrir Mahmoud Wahba, 18, a student and resident of Khan Younis, was injured with a live bullet in the back of his head on 1 April 2018, during the first week of the Great Return March and succumbed to his wounds on 23 April 2018 at the Gaza European Hospital in Khan Younis. Tahrir, who was deaf, had participated in the Great Return March protests along with tens of Palestinian youths and children, calling for an end to Israel’s unlawful closure of the Gaza Strip and the realisation of Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Mus’ab Abd Al-Karim Al-Qassas, 27, a friend of Tahrir’s witnessed his injury on 1 April 2018, east of Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis. He told Al-Haq’s field researchers that the IOF were positioned some 50 meters behind the main fence, shooting live ammunition and firing tear gas at peaceful Palestinian protesters.
Mus’ab described how Tahrir’s presence brought joy to the youths who had taken to protest in the Great Return March over the past weeks, as they stayed in tents set up and named after their villages of origin from which they were dispossessed in 1948. Mus’ab, who knew sign language, used to explain what Tahrir was saying to the other youth who would gather around them in the tents. He described his shooting by the IOF:
At around 12:00 pm on Sunday, 1 April 2018, as I was sitting with a group of friends I met at the camp, I saw Tahrir arrive at the tents. He had been absent for two days. He sat with us and I explained what he was saying in sign language to the others... His presence brought joy to the protesters. At the time, I saw some youth lighting fire to car tires at a distance of about 150 metres from the fence. At around 3:00 pm, I saw Tahrir holding a car tyre and walking towards them [the youth]. I quickly followed him to stop him and bring him back to the camp. When I approached him, I saw him throwing the car tire into burning fire. Then I saw him waving to the soldiers, motioning the victory sign. After less than two minutes, Tahrir turned around away from the fence and walked a few steps back. He was only five meters ahead of me when I heard the sound of a gunshot coming from where the IOF were positioned. Then I saw Tahrir fall to the ground… I ran towards him and carried him. I saw blood flowing from the back of his head. I put my hand on his injury and saw parts of his brain in my hand. A group of youth arrived and carried him with me towards the ambulances at Jakar Street, about 300 metres away from the fence. After putting him in the ambulance, I lost consciousness from the shock of the moment. After about an hour, I woke up and was surprised to see that I was lying in a hospital bed at the Gaza European Hospital in Khan Younis. I saw an IV connected to my arm. I started to scream and removed the IV. I was in a state of severe shock, shouting “I want to see Tahrir. Where is Tahrir?” (Excerpt of Al-Haq Affidavit No. 301A/2018)
Mus’ab later found out from Tahrir’s family that Tahrir had been admitted to the intensive care unit and underwent surgery also at the Gaza European Hospital in Khan Younis. Tahrir remained under treatment in the intensive care unit there for 23 days until his death was pronounced at around 8:00 am on Monday, 23 April 2018.
The killing of journalist Ahmad Muhammad Ashraf Abu Hussein
On Friday, 13 April 2018, during the third week of the Great Return March, the IOF fatally shot Ahmad Muhammad Ashraf Abu Hussein, 24, a correspondent for Sawt Al-Sha’ab Radio and a photojournalist with Bisan News Agency, as he was covering the protests east of Jabaliya, in the North Gaza Governorate. On Wednesday, 25 April 2018, Ahmad succumbed to the injuries he had sustained as a result of IOF fire, at around 3:30 pm at Israel’s Tel HaShomer Hospital. Thaer Fadil Ahmad Al-Za’anin, 32, one of his colleagues at Bisan News Agency, witnessed Ahmad being shot in the abdomen at around 2:00 pm as he was covering the protests, despite wearing a distinguishing flak jacket marked with the word “PRESS” and a helmet marked with the word “TV”, while also carrying a camera. Thaer told Al-Haq:
After Friday prayers, at around 1:30 pm [on 13 April 2018], I saw hundreds [of protesters] who came to participate in the peaceful protests... Some of them raised the Palestinian flag... Tens of youth and children approached the barbed fence at distances varying between 50 and 100 metres. I saw them throwing rocks at the IOF, who were positioned on sand hills elevated five metres above ground level along the barbed fence opposite the protesters. At the same time, I heard the IOF firing live bullets and saw large amounts of tear gas canisters showering the protesters... I joined my colleague Ahmad Abu Hussein in covering the protests and taking pictures. We were standing around the paramedics and ambulances positioned at Jakar Street, some 250 metres from the barbed fence... At around 2:00 pm, while I was watching my colleague Ahmad taking photos of the firing of tear gas canisters and as I heard the shooting of live ammunition, I saw Ahmad fall to the ground. I immediately headed towards him as he was lying on the ground with his hands motionless. I started shouting for the paramedics to come. A group of paramedics came and helped me evacuate Ahmad towards an ambulance... which took him to the Indonesian Hospital. After that, I immediately followed the ambulance to the hospital. When I reached it some 20 minutes later, Ahmad had already been admitted to the intensive care unit... We were informed that he was shot by a live bullet in the abdomen and was suffering from severe internal bleeding and that his blood levels were at around three units. He was immediately brought to the operating room and underwent a three-hour surgery. I was [waiting] near him along with his friends, colleagues, and family. The doctors would regularly update us and informed us that they had removed parts of his internal organs, including his left kidney, his liver, his pancreas, his spleen, and his left lung, given the severity of his injury, resulting in the rupture of his internal organs. Ahmad remained in the intensive care unit for the rest of Friday, in addition to Saturday and Sunday, without any improvement in his medical condition. (Excerpt of Al-Haq Affidavit No. 322A/2018)
On 15 April, Ahmad was transferred to the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah for further treatment, where he underwent several surgeries. Ahmad was in clinical death for several days at the Palestine Medical Complex, while Israeli hospitals refused to receive him due to the severity of his condition. He was then transferred to the Israeli Tel HaShomer Hospital, where Ahmad remained in the intensive care unit for six days until his death was pronounced at around 3:30 pm, on 25 April 2018.
During the fifth and sixth weeks of protests, the IOF continued to resort to excessive and lethal force to suppress the Great Return March in the Gaza Strip, violating international human rights law governing the policing of a peaceful assembly. Notably, Israel, as belligerent occupant, must guarantee the rights of the protected occupied population, including their rights to life, freedom from ill-treatment, and right of peaceful assembly, which are enshrined in Articles 6, 7, and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The killing of Tahrir Mahmoud Wahba, 18, also deaf, and a peaceful protester, is in violation of Israel’s obligations under the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, to ensure that lethal force is not employed other than in exceptional circumstances where it is “strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” or in self defence. In this respect, the actions of Tahrir in burning tires almost 150 meters away from the fence, does not represent in any way an immediate threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers or others, requiring the use of lethal force. Instead Tahrir’s death represents a violation of his right to life under Article 6 of the ICCPR and may amount to wilful killing, a grave breach and war crime under international criminal law.
Additionally, Article 10 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), requires Israel, as Occupying Power, to “take all necessary measures to ensure [the] effective enjoyment [of the Convention] by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.” The IOF’s wilful killing of Tahrir further violates Article 11 of the CRPD, which calls upon all States Parties to take all necessary measures to protect persons with disabilities in times of risk, including armed conflict.
The IOF’s targeting of Ahmad Muhammad Ashraf Abu Hussein, 24, while he was covering a peaceful assembly as a journalist and clearly distinguished as a member of the press, wearing a flak jacket imprinted with the word “PRESS”, constitutes a serious violation of international law. According to Article 19 of the ICCPR, the right to freedom of expression includes media freedoms, and “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” The killing of Ahmad, while he was taking photographs in his capacity as a journalist, represents a serious attack on press freedom in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Notably, Article 79 of the First Additional Protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions provides that “journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians.” In addition, customary international humanitarian law requires that “civilian journalists engaged in professional missions in areas of armed conflict must be respected and protected as long as they are not taking a direct part in hostilities”. As such, the targeting and killing of Ahmad amounts to wilful killing and a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and war crime prosecutable at the ICC. The United Nations (UN) Security Council has further demanded that all parties to armed conflict immediately put an end to the deliberate targeting of protected persons, which includes journalists. This protection is echoed in UN Security Council Resolution 2222 (2015) on the protection of journalists and media professionals in armed conflict.
The continued killing of peaceful Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip constitutes a clear violation of Israel’s obligations under Article 6 of ICCPR, which provides that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. Moreover, the killings by the IOF may amount to war crimes of wilful killings punishable by the ICC. Al-Haq strongly condemns the IOF’s continued suppression of the Great Return March and recalls that the prolonged closure imposed on the Gaza Strip must immediately be lifted by Israel, the Occupying Power, while the right of return of Palestinian refugees must be realised, seventy years since their original expulsion in 1948. Al-Haq is particularly concerned that Israel continues to target Palestinian journalists covering the IOF’s violent suppression of the Great Return Much, given the ICC’s ongoing preliminary examination into the situation in the OPT.
 On 27 April 2018, the IOF killed Muhammad Amin Al-Muqayad, 20, Khalil Na’im Attallah, 21, and Abd Al-Salam ‘Eid Baker, 32, during the Great Return March protests in the Gaza Strip. The child Azzam Hilal Oweida, 15, was also fatally wounded by the IOF on 27 April and succumbed to his injuries the next morning, on Saturday, 28 April 2018. See Al-Haq, “27 April 2018: Wilful Killings Continue in the Gaza Strip as Impunity Prevails” (30 April 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1224-27-april-2018-wilful-killing-of-four-palestinians-including-a-child-and-injury-of-453-protesters-as-israeli-impunity-prevails-and-iof-continue-to-suppress-great-return-march-for-the-fifth-consecutive-week.
 Al-Haq documented the killing of five Palestinian children since the launch of the Great Return March protests on 30 March 2018, including: Ibrahim Salah Abu Sha’ar, 17, Hussein Muhammad Madi, 14, Alaa’ Addin Al-Zamili, 16, Muhammad Ibrahim Ayub, 14, Azzam Hilal Oweida, 15, and Yousef Jassir Abu Jazar, 15. Al-Haq’s Monitoring and Documentation Department, as of 5 May 2018.
 Al-Haq documented the killing of two Palestinian journalists who were covering the Great Return March protests since 30 March 2018, including: Yasser Abd Al-Rahman Murtaja, 31, and Ahmad Muhammad Ashraf Abu Hussein, 24. Al-Haq’s Monitoring and Documentation Department, as of 5 May 2018.
 Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, “Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, regarding the worsening situation in Gaza” (8 April 2018), available at: https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/item.aspx?name=180408-otp-stat.
 See also Al-Haq, “27 April 2018: Wilful Killings Continue in the Gaza Strip as Impunity Prevails” (30 April 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1224-27-april-2018-wilful-killing-of-four-palestinians-including-a-child-and-injury-of-453-protesters-as-israeli-impunity-prevails-and-iof-continue-to-suppress-great-return-march-for-the-fifth-consecutive-week.
 Al-Haq, “30 March: 15 Palestinians Killed, More than a Thousand Injured, as IOF Violently Suppress Palestinian Protestors in the Gaza Strip” (31 March 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1206-30-march-15-palestinians-killed-more-than-a-thousand-injured-as-iof-violently-suppress-palestinian-protestors-in-the-gaza-strip.
 ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law Database, Rule 34, available at: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule34.