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Findings of Al-Haq’s Investigation into Israeli Occupation Raid on the Qalandia Refugee Camp on 26 August 2013 Resulting in the Killing of Three Palestinian Civilians
The situation in the camp: On Monday 26 August 2013 at around 5:15 am, an Israeli armed forces unit entered the central market area of Qalandia refugee camp. The unit stormed the house of the late Abdul Raheem Othman Al Khateeb to arrest his son, Yousef, 24. Yousef had been alerted to the movement of soldiers near the house and had escaped to the roof of his neighbours’ house, the Al Hafy family. Yousef had been wanted by the Israeli Armed Forces (IAF) and they had stormed the camp on several occasions to arrest him, without success.
On this occasion, an eye witness, Mohammad Nouh Mahmoud Al-Araj, 15, saw undercover Israeli forces clad in civilian dress accompanying soldiers during the storming of the camp. Omar Al Khateeb, another eye witness, said that when soldiers stormed his house, they were accompanied by four people in civilian dress, who changed into military uniform once inside the house.
The storming of the house: Yousef lives with his siblings at the centre of the camp, in a three-storey house. Yousef and his brothers, Omar, 27, and Jihad, 12, live on the first floor, whereas his sisters, Shorouq, 19, and Mayar, 10, live on the second floor and his brother Hatim, 32, lives on the third floor with his three children and his wife.
At approximately 5:15 am, approximately 40 soldiers, including four people not wearing military uniform broke through the main door and stormed the house, . Omar met them at the entrance of the house, after which they took him to his bedroom and asked him about Yousef, who wasn’t in the house. Omar told the soldiers that Yousef wasn’t in the house and that he didn’t know his whereabouts. The soldiers then started beating Omar all over his body using their hands, feet and the butts of their guns. The soldiers increased the intensity of the beating whenever Omar denied knowledge of Yousef’s whereabouts.
The soldiers beat Omar continuously for a number of minutes before handcuffing him behind his back and taking him to the hallway of the house, where Omar saw the undercover soldiers changing into military uniform. At that point, the officer in charge asked Omar to go with the soldiers to the second floor, which he did. Omar walked in front of the soldiers with his hands handcuffed behind his back, while the soldiers kept their guns pointed at his back. They arrived to the second floor, where Mayar and Shorouq were. Mayar was scared and crying. The soldiers split into two groups - some searched Shorouq and Mayar’s room and the rest continued to the third floor, taking Omar with them. When they arrived at the third floor Hatem’s four-year-old daughter started crying hysterically and begging the soldiers not to shoot her. The officer in charge ordered Hatem, his wife, the children, Shorouq and Mayar to go down to the first floor, where they were locked in a room overlooking the main street. Omar’s hands remained tied behind his back and he was detained with his brothers in a room on the first floor. His handcuffs were so tight that he complained of pain in his wrists.
The soldiers continued to move around the house. At around 7:00 am, seven soldiers entered the room, blindfolded Omar and violently dragged him outside, where they pushed and insulted him. Again they made him walk, blindfolded in front of them while they followed with their guns pointed at his back. They walked a distance of around five metres before forcing him to enter a building and remove his blindfold. At that moment, he realised that he had been brought into his neighbours the Al Hafy family’s house. Inside the house, he was made to enter a storage room where Yousef was being held by Israeli soldiers. Yousef was on the ground, bleeding from his nose, and seemed very exhausted. After Omar had entered the store, the soldiers made Yousef stand up. When he did so, Yousef could only stand on one foot and Omar noticed that Yousef was suffering pain in the other leg. Yousef was also unable to move one of his hands and had been harshly beaten by the soldiers.
After making Yousef stand up, the officer in charge asked Omar to confirm Yousef’s identity. Omar denied that the man was Yousef in the hope that they’d release his brother. In response, the soldiers became angry and pushed Omar, causing him to fall on the ground. Then, they started beating him violently with the butts of their rifles on his back, head and shoulders, before dragging him outside the storage room. At that time, Omar could hear the screams of his brother inside the storage room and he began shouting “Yousef, Yousef”. The soldiers continued to drag Omar into his house. This angered Omar so much that he started to curse at the soldiers, who continued to violently beat him until they arrived back at the room where his other brothers were detained. At that point, one soldier attacked Omar and tried to beat him further before being taken away by the other soldiers. One soldier, however, managed to beat Omar with an electrical wire before leaving the room. Shorouq collapsed from fear and the children began screaming.
Omar was placed on the bed in the room, as the soldiers continued to move around the house. At that time, he noticed through the window that police dogs were being taken by the soldiers to the upper floors. Omar was suffering from severe pain as a result of the beatings and the handcuffs around his wrists. Omar and his brothers remained in the room until around 7:10 am, when three soldiers came into the room and blindfolded Omar again before taking him outside, barefoot, in his pyjamas. Once outside, the soldiers put Omar in a military jeep that was parked beside the house. As the jeep drove along the road, Omar could hear stones hitting the vehicle. The jeep stopped for a while, during which time Omar assumes they were still in the camp. When the jeep began moving again a soldier beat Omar with a fire extinguisher that was in the jeep.
The jeep stopped in Adam Military Base opposite Al Ram town and Omar was forced out of the jeep into the yard, where soldiers removed his blindfold. Ten minutes later, an officer, who identified himself as Hani, came to him and told Omar that Yousef was detained too. Hani also told Yousef that the army could do whatever they wanted in the camp. He then informed Omar that he could leave the military base. Omar left, barefoot with torn clothes. At Al Ram junction, he met a resident of the refugee camp and travelled with him in a car to the camp. He arrived home at around 8:00 am to find that the soldiers had vandalised the house and broken Mayar and Shorouq’s bed.
The outcome of the incursion and ensuing clashes: At around 6:00 am, the time that most people wake up in the camp, particularly school children and government employees, residents became alerted to the presence of the Israeli forces inside the camp. Youths started to emerge from their houses and throw stones at the soldiers. The stone throwing continued without being met with live bullets from the Israeli forces for about half an hour. However, during this time there was intermittent use of tear gas and stun grenades. People began leaving for work and students left for school. There was no live fire at this time.
At around 6:10 am, soldiers started firing live bullets heavily across the lanes in the camp. Ali Manasrah, 19, was wounded in his left leg when he left his house to join a number of youths nearby. The youths that he joined were throwing stones at the soldiers. In his affidavit, he said that he was the first wounded person to arrive at the hospital.
Mohammad Noah Al-Araj stated in his affidavit that he was watching the events in the camp through his window and did not hear live fire, so he went onto the roof of his house to watch. Ten minutes later, he heard the sound of live fire and was hit with a bullet in his right thigh. His father asked some of the youths who were around the house to leave the area and stop throwing stones so that he could take his injured child away. The youths backed away from around the house but a military jeep arrived and stopped in front of the house, preventing the youths from leaving. However, a paramedic managed to enter the Al-Araj house and provide first aid for Mohammad, who was taken to the hospital after the soldiers’ withdrawal, an hour after his injury.
An initial medical report issued by Ramallah Hospital stated that around 18 people were injured with live fire during the incident and three others were killed. The majority of injuries were sustained on the legs. Field information indicated that around 13 people were injured on their legs, one in the pelvis, one in the abdomen, one in the waist, and two people sustained injuries to their upper limbs. To begin with, most of the injuries received at the hospital were on the legs, but as more and more people were hurt and rumours began to circulate that a number of people were killed, the youth of the camp began to react with more intensity. Many took to the roofs of their houses and started throwing stones, bricks, wooden sheets, metal and any debris that they could find, at the military jeeps. The soldiers, along with the military enforcement sent to the camp, responded with heavy use of live fire.
Medical treatment and the process of transferring the injured to the hospital: Mr. Mohammad Samhan, Director of Emergency and Aid Centre at the Red Crescent Society, stated that, on Monday 26 August 2013 at around 6:30 am, he started to receive calls from people in the camp informing him that residents had been injured with live fire. Following these calls, ambulances rushed to the camp, but all the entrances were blocked by soil and waste containers, preventing the ambulances from accessing injured people. As a result, most of the injured were taken in private cars, through bypass roads known to residents of the camp. In some cases, they met ambulances on the way and were able to transfer the injured people.
Circumstances of the killing of the three civilians
- Robin Abdelrahman Hussain Zayed, 34, married and a father of four: At approximately 6:50 am, Robin and his colleague Hisham Afaneh, both of whom work as guards for United Nations Relief and Works Agency, were turning back along a road that they usually take on their way to work. Yousef Mtair, Robin’s cousin, met them after they had informed him that they had turned back from their way to work because of the heavy use of tear gas by the soldiers. Yousef, Robin, and Hisham stopped in a yard known as Imain Yard, and Hisham suggested to Robin that they take a different route as they needed to arrive and report to work on time. Robin and Hisham went one way and Yousef went another. At around 7:00 am, Mohammad Mtair, 33, saw Robin and a number of workers near Yousef Al-Khatib’s house, which had been stormed by the soldiers. Mohammad decided to join them, as they had heard from youths that Israeli snipers were in place and there was heavy use of live fire in the next street. Robin, Mohammad and some others started telling school students that were using the road to turn back. At around 7:10 am, they heard that the soldiers had withdrawn, so Robin and Mohammad, accompanied by some others, walked towards Yousef Al-Khatib’s house. After walking 30 metres pass the house they saw the last of the military jeeps that had stormed Yousef’s house leaving the area. They walked in the same direction as the jeeps, but were at some distance behind and didn’t hear any fire until they reached the crossing leading to the main road. Here, at approximately 7:15 am, they heard live fire and Robin was seen putting his hand on his chest, where he had been hit. Mohammad and some of the other men picked Robin up. Fifteen minutes after his injury, a civilian car arrived and began driving him to the Ramallah hospital. On the way, they were able to transfer Robin into an ambulance, which took him to the hospital. He was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after his arrival. Eye witnesses said that, at the time of the shooting, there were soldiers standing around 30 metres away from where Robin, out of his line of sight.
- Jihad Mansour Harbi Aslan, 21: At approximately 6:30 am, Jihad was seen in the market area around 100 metres from the Qalandia Grand Mosque, where military jeeps were parked and a number of soldiers had taken position. Jihad and other youths climbed the wall of a house and reached the roof of Sh-haam coffee shop, around 100 metres away from the mosque. There, they started throwing stones at the soldiers and jeeps that were located around 20 metres away on the street below. At around 7:00 am, Jihad was injured by a bullet in the palm of his hand. The youths began leaving the area, but when Jihad took a step back he was hit with a bullet in the chest. Fifteen minutes later, the youths put him in a civilian car and took him to Ramallah Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:30 am.
- Younis Jamal Mohammad Abu Jahjouh, 23: At around 6:00 am, Younis was seen on the roof of Abu Najeeb shop, around 50 metres away from Qalandia Grand Mosque. Military jeeps were stationed 20 metres away on the street below and Younis was visible to the soldiers. Younis and a number of youths were throwing stones at the soldiers, which was met with heavy fire. At 6:15 am, while Younis was allegedly throwing stones, he was hit in the chest with a bullet. He fell to the ground, stood again and then fell once more. The youths picked him up and carried him through a window onto a staircase leading down from the roof. The youths were visible to the soldiers, who continued to fire heavily at them. However, they succeeded in carrying Younis to the staircase and, after 15 minutes, they managed to transfer him into a civilian car. Younis was pronounced dead at around 9:30 am.
The finding of Al-Haq’s investigation confirm that the Israeli armed forces failed to meet the requirements incumbent upon them under international law for the legitimate use of force in policing operations. Al-Haq’s investigation also finds that the responses of the camp residents in throwing objects onto the Israeli armoured vehicles did not justify the use of lethal force by the soldiers. Witness accounts of burning material atop one of the Israeli armoured vehicles as it was exiting the camp, indicate that the fire did not hinder the ability of the Israeli armed forces to move about freely in the camp, thereby not creating a life threatening situation. Although the use of Molotov cocktails has been reported, Al-Haq could not verify their use.
Under international law, Israeli authorities are obliged to respect the right to life and protect the civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). When carrying out law enforcement operations, such as carrying out arrests or patrolling areas of the territory, Israeli armed forces are bound by international human rights law
As confirmed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) in his report to the Human Rights Council in preparation of its 24th session, the of international human rights law applicable in contexts of use of lethal force draw significantly upon the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (Code of Conduct) and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (Basic Principles), which require States to strictly regulate the use of force and firearms.
The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (The Code) provides further interpretive authority on the requirements international law imposes on governments in relation to the use of force in policing operations. Article 3 of The Code indicates that law enforcement officials may use force “only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty” and where it is “proportionate to the legitimate objective to be achieved.” Furthermore, the use of firearms is considered an extreme measure, and “should not be used except when a suspected offender offers armed resistance or otherwise jeopardises the lives of others and less extreme measures are not sufficient to restrain or apprehend the suspected offender.”
While maintaining public order may necessitate the use of lethal force, the UN Human Rights Committee has emphasised, in relation to right to life, that the law must “strictly control and limit the circumstances in which a person may be deprived of his life.” The intentional use of firearms is only permitted when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.
The conduct during the raid as well as the planning of the raid itself by the Israeli armed forces raises serious concern as to the safety and security of Palestinian civilians. Not only was the operation carried out in the early morning hours, when students head to school and workers leave for work, it also occurred in the crowded refugee camp of Qalandia, increasing the number of innocent civilians put at risk of injury or death. The fact that such raids have led to the deaths of innocent civilians in the past adds to Al-Haq’s concern that issues such as the timing and location of such raids are not properly considered, thereby revealing a total disregard for the safety of the Palestinian civilian population.
 Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials adopted by the UN General Assembly resolution 34/169 of 17 December 1979; Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials adopted by the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990. The “law enforcement officials” who may use lethal force include all government officials who exercise police powers, including a State’s military and security forces, operating in contexts where violence exists, but falls short of the threshold for armed conflict. Code of Conduct, Article 1, commentary (a) and (b); Basic Principles, Preamble, footnote 1.
Al-Haq calls for an independent and impartial investigation into the conduct during the raid as well as the planning of the raid itself and for those responsible to be held accountable.
The graph below illustrates the site where the incidents took place. The attached photographs illustrate the bruises that appeared on Omar as a result of the beating that he suffered: