News Column

Israel: Serious Violations in West Bank Operations

July 2, 2014



JERUSALEM, July 2 -- Human Rights Watch issued the following news release:

Israel's (http://www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/israel-palestine) military operations in the West Bank following the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers have amounted to collective punishment. The military operations included unlawful use of force, arbitrary arrests, and illegal home demolitions. During raids on Palestinian towns, refugee camps, and villages, Israeli forces have shot and killed at least five Palestinians and arrested and detained at least 150 more without charge.

The military says the operations are in response to the kidnappings and killings and intended to weaken Hamas, but the scale of arbitrary arrests and detentions, unlawful use of force, property destruction including home demolitions, and raids on homes and media offices raise the collective punishment concerns. Human Rights Watch investigated two of the deadly shooting cases and found that while some youths were throwing stones, there was no evidence that the victim or anyone in the line of fire posed an imminent threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers or others.

"Israel's search for those responsible for the appalling kidnappings and killings of its citizens cannot justify unlawfully killing civilians, destroying property, and detaining hundreds of Palestinians without basic due process," said Sarah Leah Whitson, (http://www.hrw.org/bios/sarah-leah-whitson)Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The teens' killers should be brought to justice but mass punishment without trial merely creates more injustice."

In addition, Israeli security forces should take all feasible measures to prevent reprisal attacks, Human Rights Watch said. News reports said that during demonstrations in Jerusalem on July 1, 2014, participants shouted "Death to Arabs" and attacked a number of Palestinian residents. Israeli settlers, in two separate incidents, reportedly ran over a 28-year-old Palestinian man near Hebron and a 9-year-old girl near Bethlehem in the West Bank on June 30, shortly after Israeli forces discovered the three Israeli teenagers' bodies. News reports said on July 2, unknown attackers abducted Mohammed Abu Khudair, 17, a Palestinian boy from the Shufat neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and that a boy's body, apparently Abu Khudair's, was found in a Jerusalem forest later that day. Israeli authorities say they are investigating the incidents.

News reports stated that Israeli forces discovered the bodies of the teenagers north of Hebron, in the West Bank. Human Rights Watch condemned (http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/16/israelpalestine-free-3-abducted-youth) the June 12 abductions and killings (http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/01/israelpalestine-killings-three-abducted-youth) of the Israeli teenagers near West Bank settlements. It is not clear which, if any, of the several Palestinian armed groups that separately claimed responsibility for the abductions is responsible for them or the killings. On June 26, Israeli authorities published the names of two Palestinian suspects they said were at large and affiliated with Hamas, though some reports indicated that the killers' connection with Hamas may be tenuous (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/06/qawasmeh-clan-hebron-hamas-leadership-mahmoud-abbas.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=06fee2792b-June_30_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-06fee2792b-93084597). Hamas has denied responsibility.

On June 30, Israeli forces removed residents from and detonated explosives in the family homes of the two suspects, in Hebron, badly damaging the homes, and destroyed furniture and other property, based on news reports and photographs. Neither of the suspects has been charged or tried.

The Israeli military also used explosives to destroy the family home of Ziad `Awad, a Palestinian accused of killing an Israeli security officer, Baruch Mizrachi, in the West Bank in 2013, on the morning of July 2, 2014. `Awad's wife, four children, and two other relatives had lived there, a witness told Human Rights Watch. On June 30, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an appeal by HaMoked, an Israeli rights group, against the demolition, ruling that punitive home demolitions were a lawful form of "deterrence" under the Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, which Israel incorporated into its law. Punitive home demolitions harm people because a family member is accused of a crime. They are collective punishment, which the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits in all circumstances.

Israeli forces have arrested about 700 Palestinians since June 12, 2014, and are currently detaining at least 450, some during the large-scale military incursions and others who are known supporters or leaders of the Hamas Reform and Change Party, which won Palestinian elections in 2006, according to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner's rights group. The Israeli military justice system has confirmed the "administrative detention" of at least 150 of those arrested, Addameer reported, while the rest are expected to either be charged or subjected to administrative detention orders in the coming days. Under administrative detention orders, the Israeli military detains Palestinians for indefinitely renewable periods of up to six months, without charge or trial, and denies them the right to see or challenge any evidence against them.

Israel is holding a total of approximately 350 Palestinian "administrative detainees," the largest number since 2009. It should charge them with a recognized criminal offense or release them, Human Rights Watch said.

"Throwing hundreds of people in jail and then keeping 150 of them detained without the most basic due process rights is blatantly unlawful," Whitson said. "If someone is accused of kidnapping and killing the teenagers, the Israeli authorities should charge and try them, but flout the rule of law to detain others."

In one of the shootings Human Rights Watch investigated, the Israeli forces fatally shot Ahmed Samada, 20, in the chest, in Jalazon refugee camp at about 2:15 a.m. on June 17, 2014. Camp residents told Human Rights Watch that Israeli forces entered the camp and fired rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition at youth who were protesting and threw stones when Israeli forces approached.

Two witnesses, one who was with Samada and another who was in another building overlooking the scene, interviewed separately, said Samada was not throwing stones and was on a rooftop at the time. An Israeli military spokesperson told news media that Samada was shot after throwing a brick at Israeli soldiers. While Human Rights Watch could not determine whether Samada and others on the roof with him threw stones at the time, there is no evidence that Israeli forces faced any imminent lethal danger. Witnesses said that some Israeli forces were stationed behind a concrete wall and others around the corner of a building from the rooftop where Samada was standing, making it unlikely that they were in any imminent lethal danger. One witness said that he saw the Israeli soldier who shot Samada with live ammunition and that the soldier was standing behind a concrete wall about 30 meters away.

In the other shooting, Israeli forces entered Qalandia refugee camp in a similar early-morning incursion on June 20, and fatally shot Mustafa Aslan, 21, in the head when he went onto his roof to check whether they were damaging his father's car, said one witness to the shooting and two others who helped move him downstairs afterward. Youth in the camp were throwing rocks at the forces, who fired rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition, but witnesses said Aslan did not throw stones and was shot almost immediately when he went to the roof. Aslan died from his head injury on June 25.

In both cases, Israeli forces temporarily refused to allow camp residents and the victims' relatives to leave their homes to seek medical care, without apparent justification, witnesses said.

Based on news reports, investigations by Al-Haq, a Palestinian rights group, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and preliminary information gathered by Human Rights Watch, Israeli forces also shot and killed Mahmoud Dudeen, 15, on June 20 in the southern West Bank town of Dura, and Ahmad Khaled, 27, in al-Ein refugee camp near the northern city of Nablus on June 22. Mahmoud Tarifi, 31, was shot and killed in Ramallah in the early morning of June 22, when Israeli forces were present in the area.

Israeli forces reportedly shot and killed Yusef Abu Zagher, 18, on June 30, during clashes with Palestinian residents in Jenin. An autopsy determined that Sakher Abu al-Hasan, 17, from the community of Hamamat al-Maleh in the Jordan Valley, died of a bullet wound on June 21, in unclear circumstances; initial news reports stated he had stepped on a land mine. As of June 23, Israeli forces had shot and injured an additional 21 Palestinians with live ammunition since June 12, including during clashes in refugee camps, according to UN OCHA figures.

The Israeli military's open fire regulations strictly limit the use of lethal force to life-threatening situations, as international law requires in such situations, but the record of Israeli forces shows that violating the regulations carries few penalties. Human Rights Watch has documented Israeli forces' repeated use of excessive force, including unlawful lethal force, against Palestinians who did not pose an imminent lethal threat, most recently when Israeli forces fired live ammunition and killed two Palestinian boys on May 15.

The Israeli rights group B'Tselem has documented at least 46 cases from 2005 to early 2013 in which Israeli forces killed Palestinians in the West Bank "by firing live ammunition at stone throwers." Since September 2000, Israeli forces have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians who did not participate in hostilities, according to B'Tselem's data. But the military justice system has convicted only six Israeli soldiers for unlawfully killing Palestinians, with the longest jail sentence seven-and-a-half months, according to Yesh Din, another rights group. Human Rights Watch has called for Palestine to seek access to the International Criminal Court to deter serious international crimes by all sides.

"In case after case after case, Israeli forces are firing live ammunition from assault rifles at Palestinians armed with rocks or nothing at all," Whitson said. "Since the military can't be bothered to enforce its own regulations against these soldiers or the commanders giving them orders, it's time for Palestine to go to the ICC."

For details on detentions, raids on the media, and the Samada and Aslan cases, please see below.

Mass Arrests and Detentions Under administrative detention orders, the Israeli military detains Palestinians for indefinitely renewable periods of up to six months, without charge or trial, and denies them the right to see or challenge any evidence against them. Israel claims that letting detained Palestinians contest the evidence against them could jeopardize Palestinian informants, but this rationale does not justify the grave due process violations involved, Human Rights Watch said.

While international law permits a limited use of administrative detention in emergency situations and for imperative reasons of security, Israel's practice of administrative detention without respecting basic due process rights amounts to arbitrary detention. Its sweeping use of administrative detention in recent weeks suggests an illegal policy of collective punishment rather than a narrowly tailored policy of detention only where imperatively necessary.

Raids on the Media On June 18, 2014, Israeli forces raided the offices of Transmedia, a Palestinian media services company, in Hebron, Nablus, and its headquarters in Ramallah, seizing roughly US$1 million worth of equipment and effectively forcing it to close its operations, according to news media and reports by the Palestinian Center for Media Freedoms, a rights group.

Israeli forces on June 22 raided the main building of Palmedia, another media services company, in Ramallah, including the offices rented by RT, a Russian news network, confiscating and damaging equipment and files, according to reports by RT and other news media. RT quoted an Israeli military spokesperson as stating that the raid targeted Palmedia because it "provides services to Al-Aqsa TV, which has propagandist and inflammatory content." However, Transmedia reportedly provided media services to Al-Aqsa, but Palmedia did not. In response to questions from RT, the Israeli military subsequently stated that the raid had targeted "the Al-Quds station," which it said "is used to encourage recruitment, terror acts and fundraising for Hamas." However, Israeli forces did not enter the Al-Quds office in the Palmedia building during the raid, RT reported.

Closing down media companies merely because they provide services to opposing political groups violates freedom of expression. Some Israeli officials have claimed that Al-Aqsa broadcasts "incitement" against Israeli citizens. But based on news reports, Israeli forces did not provide a warrant to either media company in advance of the raids and seizures based on evidence that the companies played any role in supporting alleged incitement to violence. Given this lack of evidence, Israeli forces should immediately return seized equipment and compensate the owners for property damaged during the raids.

In total, since June 12 the Israeli military has conducted 1,600 raids and searches of Palestinian homes, businesses, and other locations, including Islamic charitable organizations that the military alleged are linked to Hamas, according to military statements, news reports, human rights groups, and UN OCHA.

Killing of Ahmed Samada At about 1 a.m. on June 17, hundreds of Israeli forces entered the Jalazon refugee camp, north of Ramallah in the West Bank, forcibly entering Palestinians' homes, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The witnesses said the soldiers fired rubber-coated steel bullets, teargas, and live ammunition, and threw percussion or "flash bang" grenades at young men from the camp who threw rocks at them. Israeli forces shot Samada in the chest at about 2:15 a.m., while he was on the roof of a friend's home, witnesses said.

Human Rights Watch viewed photographs of the body taken at the autopsy showing a small entry wound in the upper right hand side of his chest and scrapes on the legs. The autopsy, done by the Palestinian forensic pathology institute in Abu Dis, near Jerusalem, recovered a live bullet from Samada's body that is consistent with standard 5.56 mm assault rifle ammunition. There were no reports of gunfire from any Palestinians during the incident, and the Israeli military has not claimed that its forces came under fire.

An Israeli military spokesperson told news media that Samada was shot after throwing a brick at Israeli soldiers. All witnesses said that some youths in the refugee camp had thrown stones, but Human Rights Watch could not determine whether or not Samada and others on the roof with him had done so.

N., a resident of Jalazon who was a friend of Samada's, told Human Rights Watch:

We were watching the [World Cup] on television and Ahmed couldn't get back to his house when the army entered the camp. There were hundreds and hundreds of forces. So I took him to the roof for safety. He was wearing shorts and flip-flops. We had gone onto another roof when we saw soldiers entering the building, so we jumped onto the roof where he was shot. He was standing next to the side of the roof when he was shot. It knocked him backward by a meter or so. Then he fell down and I started dragging him. He was throwing up blood.

The friend said Samada had been on the first day of a new job that day in the Plaza Mall.

Human Rights Watch visited the scene on June 23 and observed a trail of blood on the roof consistent with N.'s description. Human Rights Watch also viewed videos taken by camp residents on their phones showing Samada, bleeding and apparently unconscious, after N. and others helped drag him down a ladder from the roof into the building.

F., a Jalazon resident who was watching from the window of a second building about 80 meters away, said he saw an Israeli soldier fire an assault rifle at Samada from a position behind a concrete wall next to a small, one-story store just up the road from the building where Samada was on the roof. "The soldiers were getting a lot of stones thrown at them, but this one was not under threat from the guys on the roof," F. said.

The two witnesses and a resident of the building where Samada was shot on the roof said that at the time of the shooting, Israeli forces were stationed behind the concrete wall, about 30 meters away, and around the corner of another building on the other side of the street. Human Rights Watch could not determine whether Samada participated in throwing stones, but in the circumstances, it appears unlikely that if he did, he posed a lethal threat to Israeli forces.

The group on the roof brought Samada, a large man, down a ladder from the roof with difficulty to the home of M., 59, her husband, and her children, and then took him downstairs to a small gated driveway. M. told Human Rights Watch:

We were sitting in my room with the kids. We heard a crowd on the roof and thought it might be soldiers but then the guys came down saying one of them was injured. We took him down to the entrance and I went outside to ask for help - as a woman I was less at risk from them shooting. They refused and threw sound grenades at us. There were still clashes in the area between the youth and the soldiers at the time but I was talking to soldiers directly. Then N. went and talked to them because he knows some Hebrew, but they still refused.

N. said that after the soldiers refused to let them leave, he called an ambulance. His mobile phone recorded the call at 2:40 a.m. Medical records at the Ramallah Medical Complex, about six kilometers south of Jalazon, show that staff registered Samada's admission at 3:26 a.m.Human Rights Watch could not confirm whether Israeli forces unduly delayed the ambulance from entering the camp or reaching Samada.

Jalazon residents said Israeli forces entered between 12 and 15 homes that night, and destroyed property without justification. In one case, in a home around the corner from the rooftop where Samada was shot, M. showed Human Rights Watch photographs of her home in disarray after Israeli forces entered: "I opened the door when they knocked so they wouldn't blast it open. Scores of soldiers came in and turned everything upside down, breaking our beds, dressers, glasses, cabinets, they even dumped the food and all the spices onto the floor."

Killing of Mustafa Aslan Several hundred Israeli forces entered the Qalandia refugee camp at about 1:30 a.m. on June 20 and entered several residents' homes. In ensuing clashes with rock-throwing youth, Israeli forces used rubber bullets, teargas, and live ammunition, residents said.

The Israeli forces shot Aslan, 21, in the head at about 2:15 a.m. when he went onto the roof of his family's home to check on the family's car, parked in the street below, after hearing noises indicating it was being damaged, witnesses told Human Rights Watch.

A relative, Z., 23, said:

We were at home and we heard someone hitting our dad's car, parked outside, so Mustafa and I went up on the roof to look. He had just looked out over the side when he was shot. We had just got up there. It went in his forehead and out the back of his head. It threw him backward and I started yelling and dragging him to the stairs. It was just the two of us up there, no one else. We didn't know there were soldiers all over the place already.

The building faces the main, east-west road running through Qalandia camp. Z. said he was standing about two meters behind Aslan at the time of the shooting, and that he saw a group of Israeli soldiers along one wall of an alley perpendicular to the main road, on the opposite side. "I couldn't see how many but they were lined up one after the other," Z. said. "That's where the shot came from."

Human Rights Watch could not confirm the location of the shooter, but observed that a soldier in the location Z. pointed out, about 30 to 40 meters away, would have had a clear line of fire. A live bullet fired from the alleyway upwards toward the roof would be consistent with Aslan's head wound, with the bullet entering the forehead and exiting through the top back of the head, according to a description provided to Human Rights Watch by medical staff at the Ramallah Medical Complex.

Q., 19, who was related to Aslan by marriage, said she had been sitting with him in the family's living room on the second floor of the building, and was following him and Z. up to the roof when she heard Z. shouting. Q. told Human Rights Watch:

They had just gone up there. He was in his pajamas. I was going toward the stairs when suddenly he was already injured. They didn't have time to do a thing to the soldiers before he was shot, and he wouldn't have anyway. He was a champion boxer in Palestine, he was training for that career. He never participated in clashes.

Human Rights Watch observed photographs of Aslan sparring and two medals he had won in boxing.

T., 20, another relative who lives on the first floor, helped bring Aslan down from the roof. "My father was shouting, 'Someone's injured!' I didn't know who but ran upstairs. I saw Mustafa lying there near the stairwell and I asked him, 'Are you awake?' But he didn't move or answer." During a June 23 visit, Human Rights Watch observed a trail of blood on the rooftop consistent with witness accounts.

Israeli forces temporarily refused to allow Aslan's relatives to take him to seek medical care, the three family members told Human Rights Watch. "All the women in the house came out and started screaming, and then women in the neighborhood started screaming too, and the soldiers had to back down and let us take him," Q. said.

The family drove Aslan along the main camp road westward to the main intersection, where an ambulance took him to the Ramallah main hospital. Hospital intake records indicate that Aslan was admitted to the Ramallah Medical Complex, about 6 kilometers north of Qalandia camp, at 2:49 a.m. The Israeli military agreed to an official Palestinian request to transfer Aslan for treatment to the Israeli Hadassa hospital in Ein Kerem, west of Jerusalem, where he died on June 25.

International humanitarian law obliges an occupying military to facilitate medical care with the least possible delay to anyone injured in military operations, and prohibits deliberate attacks on civilians. Those who commit such attacks with criminal intent are responsible for war crimes.

Other Qalandia camp residents told Human Rights Watch that Israeli forces also raided homes and destroyed property during the night, and fired live ammunition during clashes with youth who threw rocks. Israeli forces shot Mahmoud Mazen Shehadeh, an 18-year-old who lived near the Aslan family, with a live bullet in the upper left thigh about half-an-hour later, witnesses said.

Human Rights Watch did not investigate the circumstances of the shooting, but there were no reports or claims by the Israeli military that any Palestinians shot at Israeli forces. The bullet, which is still lodged in Shehadeh's pelvis, severed his urethra and fractured his thigh and pelvis, according to doctors at the Ramallah hospital, where he is being treated. He spent three days in intensive care.

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