Israeli forces have carried out a series of unlawful killings of Palestinians using intentional lethal force without justification, said Amnesty International today, based on the findings of an ongoing research trip to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
The organisation has documented in depth at least five incidents in which Palestinians were deliberately shot dead by Israeli forces when they posed no imminent threat to life, in what appear to have been extrajudicial executions.
In some cases, the person shot was left bleeding to death on the ground and was not given prompt medical assistance, in violation of the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment. Since 1 October, Israeli forces have killed more than 50 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Israel either after stabbings were carried out or the Israeli authorities allege stabbing attacks were intended.
Amnesty International Israel was among the first international organisations to publicly condemn the extrajudicial killing of a wounded Palestinian in the village of Tel Rumeida on March 24, 2016. Investigations and documentation conducted by Amnesty International reveal routine Israeli extrajudicial killings of Palestinians and disclose the failure of the government to hold soldiers responsible for these attacks accountable formed the basis of a recent call by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy for an investigation into possible human rights violations and a reevaluation of the country’s military assistance to Israel. AI Israel plans to continue exposing Israeli policies that contravene human rights law and its obligations as an occupying power in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as call upon international bodies to exert pressure on Israel until it properly commits to the rights of the Palestinian population under its control.
There have been calls to kill attackers in every situation, in defiance of the law or any accepted rules of engagement for the military. Lapid, for example, said in an interview, “Don’t hesitate. Even at the start of an attack, shooting to kill is correct. If someone is brandishing a knife, shoot him.” Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan also gave his blessing to that notion. And the head of the Jerusalem police department, Moshe Edri, announced, “Anyone who stabs Jews or hurts innocent people is due to be killed.” Knesset member Yinon Magal tweeted that authorities should “make an effort” to kill terrorists who carry out attacks.
Israeli intelligence and security forces have struggled stop ‘lone wolf’ attackers and frustrated Palestinians from using a rudimentary weapon such as a kitchen knife, a car, a screw-driver, a hammer, a home-made Molotov, a stone, a sling-shot to make a political statement. Asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency against protesters absent a political solution means perpetual warfare. Adopting Yitzhak Rabin’s ‘break their bones’ policy and downgrading to sticks and cudgels to club and silence protestors, as they did during the first intifada, will only increase international pressure on Israel.
Grisly and Unpredictable Violence
The Palestinians methods of resistance are currently semi-violent, they have not evolved into the suicide bombings of Hamas during the second intifada or terrorist attacks of the PLO in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The Israelis have injured and detained hundreds of Palestinians and the continued closures of the Al-Aqsa mosque to Muslim worshipers have fueled fears that extremists in Israeli society are attempting to change the religious order in Jerusalem that has endured since 1967. The bottle-neck in Jerusalem prevalent during the ‘silent intifada’ has been broken and Netanyahu’s government faces the prospect of a massive uprising if it is mishandled, an uprising Netanyahu has vowed to greet with a “harsh offensive on Palestinian Islamic terror…adding” that Israel faced an “all-out war against terror.”
After the conclusion of the 50-day war, the tensions continued to bubble beneath the surface as exemplified by the tensions in Jerusalem from October to December 2014. The protests, coined by many as ‘the silent intifada’ originated in the Shu’fat district and were shaped by cruel events which included a Palestinian ramming his car into a group of passengers waiting in the light rail station which killed a 3-months old baby and injuring several others (22nd October, 2014). This was swiftly followed by the shooting of a 14 year old Palestinian-American in protests two days later and killing of a Palestinian man suspected of trying to assassinate far-right Israeli activist Yehuda Glick. Glick, a U.S-born activist who was leading a campaign to dismantle the status quo on the Temple Mount established by Moshe Dayan in the aftermath of the 1967 War which forbade Jewish prayer and worship on Temple Mount to ease tensions between Muslim and Jewish worshipers.
Following another car attack on 5th November, 2014 which left fourteen Israeli civilians injured and one policeman dead Netanyahu contended that the lone wolf attacks were ‘a direct result of incitement’ by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. The prime minister’s claims were debatable particularly after the expansion of illegal settlements (a key factor undermining any potential peace proposals and widely consider an antagonistic act against the Palestinian population) had been occurring during protests. Days before the attacks ‘an Israeli government committee on 2nd November 2014 advanced plans for five-hundred settler homes in East Jerusalem, an official said, in the face of disapproval from the United States at construction on occupied Palestinian land.’This follows the proposed construction of 2,610 homes in the Givat Hamatos area which was disclosed by the activist group, Peace Now in early October.
The November 5th attack occurred hours after renewed clashes occurred at the Holy Sites and the resultant shooting of the driver has resulted in more riots across the Old City, Shu’fat and Sheikh Jarrah. These lone wolf attacks climaxed when four Israelis civilians were killed and eight injured as two Palestinians armed with a pistol, knives and axes hacked their way through a West Jerusalem synagogue on 18th November 2014 and four were killed in a shooting in Tel Aviv in June, 2016.
The horrific murder of an Israeli-American girl, 13, by Mohammed Tarayreh, 19, in Kiryat Arba in some ways has epitomised the disturbing nature of the violence which has effected Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories since the conclusion of the 2014 Gaza War; it is grisly and unpredictable. Kiryat Arba is situated on the outskirts of Hebron, a city plagued by vicious bouts of violence and unrest. On 14 March, four IDF soldiers were wounded by Palestinian assailants while the extra-judicial killing of Abdel-Fattah al-Sharif by IDF soldier, Elor Azaria (caught on live camera by Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem) following an attack on an IDF soldier on 24 March which stirred immense controversy across the country and international community.
However the surge in violence, protests and demonstrations by Palestinians has been mirrored by a surge in settler-led violence against the Palestinian population. According to UN OCHA, ‘the number of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage increased by 32 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 144 percent compared to 2009.’ while Al-Haqa, a human right groups based in Ramallah ‘documented a significant increase in the number of settler attacks and in the severity of violence’ in the Occupied Territories. More disturbingly authorities have largely turned a blind-eye to the violence. According to a Yesh Din report, published in July 2013, only 8.5 percent of the investigations concluded by Samaria & Judea (SJ) District Police were indictments served against suspects who committed acts of violence. This was a poultry number when measured against 90.5 percent of all the investigations conducted which were closed without an indictment being served against Israeli civilians acting violently against Palestinian civilians and property.
Recent incidents have illustrated the settlement crisis has only deepened. In July 2015, settlers murdered a Palestinian mother and her 18-month year old baby in an arson attack in Duma. Meir Ettinger, leader of the settler youths who conducted the attack, whose ideological views and previous arson attacks against churches and mosques were well-known by Shin Bet, remained at large until he conducted the terror attack. While the Israeli government condemned and described Ettinger’s acts as a terror attack, it was once again the actions of the coalition government that catalysed this savage inter-communal violence. On 29th July, days before the attack, Netanyahu had announced that 300 new settlements, following the dispute over territory in Beit El, would be relocated while also advanced plans for about 500 new units in east Jerusalem. This deadly attack was accompanied by the murder of a sixteen year old Shira Banki and the wounding of five others at a Gay Pride Parade by an ultra-Orthodox Jew who had been previously imprisoned for a similar attack in 2005. Religious extremism in Israeli society is as equal a threat to innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians as religious extremism is in Palestinian society.
Political violence and ‘terrorist’ attacks are now being accompanied by low-intensity ethno-nationalist violence where ‘regular people go beyond racist attitudes and undertake vigilante violence against one another. It can be spontaneous, unorganised, individualised, and therefore harder to anticipate and control.’ Whether it be price-tag attacks by extremist settlers or lone-wolves and small groups of young Palestinian militants this violence has been fuelled by rumour, tit-for-tat revenge cycles, disinformation and incitement by political figures in Gaza, West Bank and the Knesset.
“A clear pattern has emerged of lethal force being used unlawfully by Israeli forces following a wave of recent stabbing attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians and military or police forces in Israel and the occupied West Bank,”
Use of Excessive Force for Dispersal of Demonstrations in the West Bank
In recent years, the West Bank has seen continuing protests against the prolonged Israeli
occupation and the repressive policies, practices and outcomes to which it has given rise,
including the ever-expanding unlawful Israeli settlements established within the occupied
West Bank, the approximately 700km-long fence/wall built mostly on Palestinian land,
forcible house demolitions, Israeli military checkpoints, roads reserved for use by Israeli
settlers from which Palestinians are excluded, and other restrictions on the movement of
Palestinians in the OPT.
The right to peaceful protest is of particular importance for Palestinians in the OPT, as they have no opportunity to influence the policy of the occupying power through voting or other such means. To an extent, exercising the right to protest in full view of well-armed Israeli troops, despite the evident dangers that this presents, has also become a mark of defiance by Palestinians, especially youth, against the continuing occupation and its daily humiliations.
Israeli forces frequently declare areas of protest a closed military zone, block access roads into it, and use excessive force against protesters and bystanders and damage residents’ property. Israeli forces have used tear gas against homes, sometimes injuring people inside – mainly by the asphyxiating effects of tear gas – and have deliberately damaged property such as residents’ water storage tanks located on rooftops. Israeli forces have also frequently attacked medics seeking to assist people wounded, human rights defenders and journalists who are present to monitor their behaviour or report on protests, including by firing tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets at them. The approach appears intended to intimidate people into not attending the protests.
The Case of Nabi Saleh
Since 2009, the residents of Nabi Saleh village hold weekly non-violent demonstrations. Their aim is to protest against the expansion of settlements. The settlement Halamish was established on agricultural lands that belong to Nabi Saleh and the neighboring Palestinian village. In 2009, settlers from Halamish took over the El Kawas spring that is located between the two villages. The village residents, among them women and children, participate in the weekly demonstrations. The Israeli Defence Forces use excessive force to disperse the demonstrations, shooting live fire, metal bullets covered with rubber, stun grenades and tear gas grenades, as well as using clubs and pepper spray.
In addition, the IDF perform night arrests, detaining adults and children. They limit the movement of residents by announcing Nabi Saleh as a closed army zone. They also shoot tear gas into homes. Two people died during the demonstrations. On November 2012, the IDF shot Rushdi Tamimi in his back. Video evidence shows that the IDF hindered efforts to transfer him by ambulance to the hospital. He died two days later. In an investigation carried out by the IDF, they found that soldiers shot live fire towards the demonstrators more than 80 times. On December 2011, an IDF soldier shot a tear gas grenade at the face of Mustafa Tamimi from a short distance. He later died in hospital.
Amnesty’s report, published on February 27, 2014, shows evidence that Israel used excessive force to disperse non-violent demonstrations in the occupied West Bank. It highlights Israel’s responsibility for a number of illegal killings and injuries.
Israeli soldiers have repeatedly committed serious human rights and humanitarian law
violations, including unlawful killings, in response to Palestinian opposition and protests in
the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The cases documented in this report represent only a minority of the cases that have occurred over recent years and which follow a general pattern, in which Israeli forces use excessive, often lethal, force against Palestinians who pose no threat to their lives or the lives of others. Soldiers are permitted to do so effectively with impunity – inasmuch as the official system established to investigate alleged human rights violations or other abuses by Israeli soldiers is neither independent nor impartial.
This creates a situation of absolute absence of justice and the growing environment of impunity which the Israeli army and police enjoy. As the occupying power in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israel is responsible for the welfare of the inhabitants of the occupied territories, all of whom are protected persons. It must respect and protect the rights of Palestinians. Instead, Israeli forces routinely violate their obligations under international human rights law and the law of occupation by unlawfully killing and injuring civilians, including children, who are posing no threat to their lives or those of others. This has carried on for decades with the full knowledge of the Israeli government and military command.
Authorities appear unwilling to send a strong signal to their forces that serious violations of the rights of Palestinians are not acceptable and will no longer be tolerated. They should do so – by ensuring that all alleged violations of the rights of Palestinians by Israeli forces are investigated promptly, thoroughly and independently, and that those responsible for committing unlawful killings or other violations are brought to justice according to the standards set by international law and, if found guilty, receive punishments commensurate with the gravity of the crimes. As long as Israeli soldiers and police are not held to account for abusing their powers and committing such serious abuses, the pattern of unlawful killings of protesters will continue, and Palestinians will be denied their right to peaceful protest without fear of injury or death.