Neutralising threats: the human cost of military occupation

By EA Emily, Hebron team, 

The scars of Hebron’s local community are easy to miss at first glance but lie only just below the surface. I first arrived in the aftermath of a wave of violence from October 2015-March 2016 [1]. Within moments of meeting, locals in the city’s Israeli-controlled H2 area would tell me about a Palestinian killed by Israeli forces just meters away. It was clearly fresh and painful.The snippets of the story I was hearing about the killings didn’t seem to match up and skepticism drove me to research. But it turned out all the snippets of story were true; the information didn’t match up because each related to a different incident. Israeli human rights organisation B’TSelem documented 24 killings of Palestinians in Hebron in 6 months; most victims were between 17 and 26 [2].

13.05.16-Hebron-H2-Men Wait to pass Checkpoint to Ibrahimi Mosque. Photo EAPPI/Emily

13.05.16-Hebron-H2-Men Wait to pass Checkpoint to Ibrahimi Mosque. Photo EAPPI/Emily

Last week a fresh wave of violence hit the city. On 1 July 2016, Sarah al- Hajuj Atrayera, 27, was shot dead at a checkpoint nearby Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque. [3] Israeli forces state that she attempted to stab a soldier (see B’Tselem report). The incident took place the day after a 13 year-old Jewish girl was stabbed to death in her home in the nearby settlement, Kiryat Arba. [4] [5] The Palestinian assailant was killed at the scene. The Palestinians I spoke to were appalled by this act of aggression which they say goes against Islam.

27.06.2016 Hebron-Abu Eisheh Family, residents of Tel Rumeida. Photo. EAPPI/E. Richardson

27.06.2016 Hebron-Abu Eisheh Family, residents of Tel Rumeida. Photo. EAPPI/Emily

For some in the community there are strong negative impacts. Mahdi and Maha Abu Eisheh witnessed from their kitchen window the death of Abd al-Fattah Sharif, 21, controversially killed on March 24th 2016 by an Israeli soldier while lying wounded on the ground. [6] The children are terrified to pass checkpoints, which they have to do twice to get to school. Their father, Bassam, has been trying to build their confidence but said they suffer from disturbed sleep.

27.05.16 Hebron H2-Soldier Blocks Man-and Children CP-Ibrahimi Mosque-Photo EAPPI/Emily

27.05.16 Hebron H2-Soldier stops Palestinian man and children at checkpoint at Ibrahimi Mosque- Photo EAPPI/Emily

In many cases, such as that of Abd al-Fattah, the Palestinians killed was reported to be in possession of a knife. In others, it was not so clear. What all of the cases had in common, however, was the use of lethal force by the Israeli forces. Amnesty International, called the incidents ‘unlawful killings’ or ‘extrajudicial executions’. Article 6 of the ICCPR stipulates that deprivation of life is only permitted if others’ lives are endangered.

EAPPI rejects the use of violence by all sides as a means of solving the conflict and committing a terrorist attack is deplorable; the assailant should be punished. However, if they don’t pose an immediate threat to life, then international law clearly states that they should be arrested and tried in a court of law. Abd al-Fattah’s case sparked international outrage as a result, but it was not an isolated case. [7] In many of Hebron’s cases, those killed did not pose an immediate threat to life.[8]

Following media attention, the soldier that killed Abd al-Fattah was put on trial, but more often there is no investigation. The Israeli authorities consistently refuse to release CCTV footage despite international pressure. B’Tselem issued a statement last month in which it denounced the Israeli justice system: “the semblance of a functioning justice system allows Israeli officials to deny claims… that Israel does not enforce the law on soldiers who harm Palestinians” but “an examination of the…military law enforcement system indicates that it makes no attempt to fulfil even [its] limited mandate”. [7]

Abd al-Fattah is only one example of medical assistance being withheld (see B’Tselem report). Red Crescent director, Dr. Abed Rabbo Manasra, said that in all such incidents, Palestinian ambulances are refused passage, he reported that some were attacked en route. The paramedics in the Israeli ambulances on the scene, Dr Manasra said, are often ideological settlers. UK journalist Jonathan Cook writes: “These paramedics appear to be openly flouting internationally established principles of neutrality that all medical staff are supposed to observe” [8]. Article 32 of the 4th Geneva Convention also prohibits “omission leading to death, for example, deliberate refusal to give medical care”. [9]

24.6.2016.Hebron-Soldier At Checkpoint near Mosque-Photo. EAPPI/E. Richardson

24.6.2016.Hebron-Soldier At Checkpoint near Mosque-Photo. EAPPI/Emily

What makes Amnesty International identify some of these killings as ‘extrajudicial’? In cases where the assailant is no longer a lethal threat, killing cannot be justified by security but is driven by retribution on a perceived enemy, outside a legal framework. This is against Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to a fair trial. A former soldier from Breaking the Silence told us in his army training he was taught to see Palestinians as a threat. “If you see people as a threat, you take them out of the bracket of innocent people” he said, adding: “shoot to kill is not only the right thing to do, it is the brave thing to do”.

Many of the human rights violations that I have observed arise from the fact that the civilian population of the West Bank is governed by military law and under military control. These unlawful killings are just another reminder of the human cost of the military occupation; an occupation that needs to end for a just peace to prevail.

More information:

B’Tselem: Extrajudicial killing at Tomb of Patriarchs: Israeli Border Police officer shoots and kills Sarah Hajuj though she no longer poses threat

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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