Al Hamra: A Fatal Crossing

By P. Longden, Jordan Valley team.

Israel has militarily occupied Palestine since 1967. The military operates a system of fixed military checkpoints, surprise flying checkpoints, as well as other physical obstructions inside the occupied West Bank. These restrictions, which include the separation barrier and prohibited roads, enable the Israeli military to control Palestinian movement throughout the West Bank breaching an entire population’s right to freedom of movement.Though one of the declared objectives of the government of Israel’s policy, restricting Palestinian movement, is to prevent attacks on Israeli citizens, those living in  Israel as well as those living in West Bank settlements (1), the sweeping and disproportionate nature of these restrictions, makes it prohibited collective punishment.

According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem: “At these checkpoints, which constitute the most severe restriction on movement of Palestinians, Israel'[s] security forces check every person who crosses, resulting in frequent lengthy delays.” These Checkpoints have proven to be hot spots for violence. We (EAs) monitor these checkpoints, counting how many cars cross and how long it takes them, as well as documenting any human rights violations that may occur. We specifically track restrictions on Palestinian access to livelihood, education, worship and healthcare.

03.03.16. Jordan Valley, Al Hamra Checkpoint - Photo EAPPI/G. Soares

03.03.16. Jordan Valley, Al Hamra Checkpoint – Photo EAPPI/G. Soares

On 9th January 2016, Ali Abu Maryam, (21) and Sa’id Abu Al-Wafa (38) drove for the last time through an isolated Israeli checkpoint in the northern part of occupied West Bank called Al Hamra or Beka’ot checkpoint. Al-Hamra is a permanently staffed internal checkpoint in the Jericho district, southeast of Tubas.

The two Palestinian men were fatally shot by Israeli soldiers who claimed that one of the men attempted to stab Israeli soldiers. Sa’id Abu Al-Wafa was a foodstuffs retailer, from al-Zawiyah village, and frequently passed al Hamra checkpoint on his way to Jericho to sell foodstuffs.Ali Abu Maryam, who was travelling with him, was a third year student at al-Quds Open University, from al-Jadidah village.

The circumstances of this incident remain disputed. The Israeli army alleged that the men were killed after one of them attempted to stab a soldier who was searching cars at the checkpoint. Palestinian witnesses contest this claim, saying that the two men were shot without even having exited the vehicle they were driving.

16.02.16. Jordan Valley, Jericho, Photograph of Haaretz newspaper story about the killing of two Palestinians at Hamra checkpoint on 090116. Photo EAPPI. P Longden

16.02.16. Photograph of Sa’id Abu Al-Wafa and his family in Haaretz newspaper reporting the fatal shooting of two Palestinian civilians at AL Hamra checkpoint on 09.01.16. Photo EAPPI/ P. Longden

We (EAs) arrived at the scene approximately four hours after the incident had taken place. The checkpoint was open and Palestinians were driving through but slower than usual. The white Mercedes van in which the men had been travelling had been moved from where the incident had taken place. When I examined it I could see signs of damage. Both front windows were smashed and there were no bullet holes apparent in the bodywork, suggesting accurate gunfire.

Whatever the true circumstances of this tragic incident may be, this case has raised concerns about the excessive use of force by the Israeli military and is part of a worrisome trend in which shooting to kill has become the new norm.

03.02.16. Jordan Valley, Hamra checkpoint, View of Hamra checkpoint showing sentry tower and vehicle passing through. Photo EAPPI. P. Longden

03.02.16. Jordan Valley, Hamra checkpoint, View of Hamra checkpoint showing sentry tower and vehicle passing through. Photo EAPPI. P. Longden

Since October 2015, there has been an alarming increase in violence in Israel and Palestine resulting in record high casualties. (1) As a result of the escalation more than 100 people have been killed.

According to OCHA’s protection of civilians weekly report “Since 1 October until the end of this reporting period [11th January 2016], 97 Palestinians, including 21 children, and 23 Israelis were killed in attacks and alleged attacks against Israelis in the oPt and Israel.” [2]

OCHA have also reported that the majority of attacks on Israeli military, police and civilians have been stabbings or attempted stabbings carried out ‘by Palestinian individuals not affiliated with any particular faction, but acting on their own’. According to media reports these incidents usually result in the alleged Palestinian perpetrators being killed.

10.01.16. Jericho, Jordan River, Israeli soldiers at a peaceful celebration of the baptism of Jesus. Photo EAPPI/P. Longden

10.01.16. Jericho, Jordan River, Israeli soldiers at Jesus’ baptismal site. Photo EAPPI/P. Longden

 

A number of Israeli officials have publicly condoned the use of lethal force by its military personnel and police officers as deterrence. In 2014, Defence minister Moshe Ya‘alon stated: “It must be clear that anyone who comes to kill Jews must be eliminated. Any terrorist who raises a gun, knife, rock, tries to run over or otherwise attack Jews must be put to death. This is not a punishment, but a way to prevent additional murders.”

 

 

In this tense climate of fear and violence, mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians seems to have deepened. There is a widespread belief among the Palestinians that we meet that many of the reports of attacks are untrue and that people have been killed just on the suspicion that they are a security threat. In an interview the District Governor of Jericho and the Jordan Valley Majed Al-Fatiani expressed his concerns regarding the fatal shootings saying:

“We estimate that 100 out of the 150 deaths by shooting, are for no reason. The Israelis have a right to defend themselves, we don‘t deny that, but they shoot on no suspicion, or no reason. Our young people have no hope; Israel has taken all their hope. We ask for joint investigations, but they refuse.”

Israeli voices are also being raised to denounce the excessive use of lethal force by the Israeli military in response to the recent escalation. In October 2015, nine Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations signed a joint statement published by B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights NGO. The statement quotes several high profile Israeli police and politicians declaring their support for a shoot to kill policy, and while the NGOs condemn all attacks of violence against civilians the statement recognises the need for politicians and senior police officers to act to calm the public climate of incitement.

As the occupying power, Israel has a responsibility to refrain from the willful killing of protected persons; failure to do so is considered a grave breach of the Geneva Convention (Section 4, Article 147) and constitutes a war crime. (4). The use of excessive force against unarmed civilians is one of the issues on which successive reports from the United Nations and human rights groups have said Israeli military could be charged with war crimes at the International Criminal Court.

Israel’s military occupation of Palestine is fast approaching its 50th year; it is characterised by the systemic use of force against Palestinians that result in sweeping human rights violations. These violations of international and humanitarian law are making the conflict increasingly inextricable as well as exacerbating the resentment between the two peoples. The UN has described it as an ‘affront to the world‘.

It is time for the violence against civilians to stop and for civilians on both sides to be safe. It’s time for all parties to obey international and humanitarian law. It is time for a just and lasting peace.

Please contact your elected representative and ask them what they are doing to help end this occupation. And ask them to and call on politicians and leaders to deescalate the violence targeting of Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

More information:

Haaretz: Two Palestinians, From Different Walks of Life, Brought Together in Death at a Checkpoint

Restrictions on movement: Checkpoints, Physical Obstructions, and Forbidden Roads, B’Tselem 2011

Press Release: Human Rights Organizations in Israel: Politicians’ calls to police and soldiers to shoot rather than arrest endorse the killing of Palestinians

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