In a new Amnesty International (AI) report titled “Trigger Happy: Israel’s Use of Excessive Force in the West Bank,” the human rights organization accuses Israel of using excessive, reckless violence against civilians in the occupied West Bank. The killings of dozens of Palestinians might constitute a war crime. The Israeli army dismissed the accusations, and stated that Amnesty International had shown a “complete lack of understanding” about the difficulties faced by the Israeli soldiers.
According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA), at least 41 Palestinians were killed as a result of the shooting of live ammunition by Israeli soldiers between January 2011 and December 2013, while hundreds of others were injured, some of them seriously. Those killed included both protesters and bystanders, and at least four children.
“Out of nowhere many soldiers jumped out and ambushed Samir. They shot him first in the leg, yet he managed to run away towards the village. But how far can an injured child run? Twenty, maybe 30 metres? They could have easily arrested him, especially when he was injured, but instead they shot him in the back with live ammunition…To me this is premeditated murder,” stated Malek Murrar, 16, in the report. He had been interviewed on September 20, 2013, at the site where he had witnessed his friend Samir Awad being shot earlier in the year.
Together with a group of other Palestinian children, Samir Awad, 16, was protesting against Israel’s construction of a fence/wall which cuts across the village of Bodrus, near Ramallah, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) where they lived. They were ambushed by Israeli soldiers who shot and killed Samir.
The shooting and killing of Samir Awad follows a familiar pattern in which Palestinian children and adults gather to protest the Israeli occupation as well as the means the Israeli army used to quell the protests which in many cases ends with the death of some protesters. The use of brutal force against protesters (who are defending what is rightfully theirs) is often unnecessary, arbitrary and abusive. At other times, the Israeli army stands by not taking any action when Palestinians who are protesting the occupation of their land are being attacked by Israeli settlers.
The Israeli army actions have been extensively investigated by UN agencies and international and Israeli human rights organizations who agree that many of those actions constitute a pattern of war crimes and serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The Israeli government failure to conduct fair investigations and take appropriate action undermines the rule of law and denies justice to the victims.
Ahmad Amarin, whose 15-year-old-son, Saleh, was shot dead by an Israeli soldier told to Amnesty International researchers, “I demand that the Minister of Defence himself is put on trial as well as those who give the orders to shoot and kill kids. It is not only the soldier who should go on trial. The soldier doesn’t take the decision by himself. There are orders and there must be some kind of way to prevent this from happening again and again.”
The release of the Amnesty International report comes three days after Richard Falk, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, released his final report after six years in that position. In his report, which covers both the situation in the West Bank and in Gaza, Falk accuses Israel of “systematic oppression” of the Palestinian people in both locations, in what appears to constitute the “inhuman” practice of “apartheid.”
Falk also stated that, “Through prolonged occupation, with practices and policies which appear to constitute apartheid and segregation, ongoing expansion of settlements and continual construction of the Wall arguably amounting to de facto annexation of parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, the denial by Israel of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people is evident.”
In addition to urging the cessation of trade with settlements and lifting the blockade on Gaza, Falk calls for the International Court of Justice to “assess allegations that the prolonged occupation possesses legally unacceptable characteristics of ‘colonialism’, ‘apartheid’ and ‘ethnic cleansing.’” It is time that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza end, and that the Palestinians receive the dignity, respect, and land that has so long been their due.