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Shoot and lie: Israeli forces are killing civilians with impunity

On Sunday, an undercover unit of Israel’s Border Police conducted an arrest raid in Shuafat refugee camp, an area of Occupied East Jerusalem locked behind the Separation Wall.

Encountering resistance from local residents, the undercover forces requested assistance, and a large number of uniformed Israeli forces entered the camp. The police, in order to “extract the undercover unit and the detainee”, deployed “tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets and stun grenades.”

Nafaz Damiri was shopping in Shuafat when the raid took place. As he stood taking shelter inside a supermarket, Israeli forces shot him in the face with a sponge bullet. The 55-year-old husband and father of one, who was born deaf and dumb, has now lost his right eye.

Following the raid, the Israeli police tweeted the following (thanks to Sol Salbe for translation):

During an arrest of a suspect in Shuafat dozens of residents began throwing stones at the border police force. The force made use of [unspecified] means and left with the detainee. Later on a demonstrator was evacuated for medical treatment.

In addition, the following item was posted on the Israeli police’s website at 6pm that evening.

During the arrest of a suspect at the Shuafat refugee camp, dozens of residents began throwing stones at the border police force in an attempt to prevent the (male) detainee from being taken to the station. The troops used [unspecified] means and left with the detainee without taking casualties. Later on, a demonstrator who claimed that he was injured during the removal was evacuated.

Video evidence

In the Israeli authorities’ version of events, as “dozens” of Palestinians threw stones at the security forces, one “demonstrator” was injured. The Jewish Press, a right-wing, US-based news site, described Damiri as “one of the rioters.”

The police’s claims soon came unstuck, however, as security camera footage emerged showing how Damiri had indeed been shot while simply standing in the shop. This was the second time in just 24 hours that a story spun by Israeli forces following Palestinian casualties had been exposed.

On Sunday, B’Tselem published video footage of the moments leading up to the murder of 17-year-old Palestinian Muhammad Kasbeh at the hands of the Israeli army’s Colonel Yisrael Shomer. Kasbeh was killed on July 3 in a-Ram, near the Qalandiya checkpoint.

At the time, the IDF Spokesperson claimed Col. Shomer had “felt in mortal danger and carried out suspect-arrest procedure.” Unnamed officials told the press that the stone-throwing was nothing less than a pre-plannedambush by “several Palestinians” throwing “rocks and stones.”

The video, however, supports what eye-witnesses claimed and the medical evidence indicated: that the commander exited the jeep and deliberately shot the fleeing teenager three times from behind. The whole incident takes about 30 seconds, from the moment Kasbeh threw a stone at the jeep, to when the soldiers return to their vehicle and continue on their way.

“Non-lethal” sponge bullets

Reporting on Sunday’s Shuafat camp raid, The Times of Israeldescribed sponge bullets as “less-than-lethal fire.” In fact, late last August, 16-year-old Palestinian boy Mohammad Sunuqrut was killed by a sponge bullet fired at his head in the Wadi Joz neighbourhood of East Jerusalem – the autopsy results contradicting police claims that he fell and hit his head.

Police used the bullets for months “without issuing regulations for their use.” One human rights organisation has documented 17 instances of Palestinians in East Jerusalem being injured by sponge bullets over the past year (prior to Sunday’s attack in Shuafat), including 12 occasions when a shot to the head caused fractures and/or a loss of vision. The youngest casualty was just six-years-old.

Last November, Israeli forces shot 11-year-old Muhammad Abu al-Hummus in the face at close range with a sponge bullet, blinding his left eye. The vision in his right eye was also “severely damaged.” The attack took place in Issawiya, part of Occupied East Jerusalem, during protests by residents at the “the closure of three out of four entrances to the village by Israeli forces.”

In an even more disturbing incident on March 31 of this year, Zakariya Julani, a 13-year-old child from Shuafat refugee camp, lost an eye after he was shot by a Border Police officer. According to the boy’s family and friends, Zakariya was shot as he was returning from school. There were no disturbances in the area at the time.

Targeting civilians with live ammunition

In the West Bank, meanwhile, Col. Shomer’s use of live ammunition to kill an unarmed Palestinian civilian is a horrifyingly frequent occurrence. For example, on March 18, Israeli occupation forces shot 20-year-old Ali Mahmoud Safi in the chest during protests at Jalazun refugee camp, near Ramallah. He later died in hospital.

On April 27 in al-Araqa village near Jenin, meanwhile, 18-year-old Muhammad Murad Muhammad Mustafa Yahiya was shot in the lower stomach and died in hospital. The teenager was shot during clashes with Israeli occupation forces near the Separation Wall.

Two weeks ago, Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem revealed how it had documented “dozens” of cases in the previous few months when “Palestinians were injured, some severely, by live ammunition fired by Israeli security forces”, including 11-year-old Muhammad Hamad, shot in the stomach during a protest on March 13 in Silwad village.

According to the recently-published UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry, between June 12 and August 26, 2014, Israeli forces killed 27 Palestinians, including five children, and injured 3,100 others, including 460 children. Around a quarter of Palestinian injuries were sustained as a result of Israeli forces’ use of live ammunition.

Impunity and international justice

The Israeli soldiers who pull the trigger know there is almost no chance they will be held to account for the killing and maiming of Palestinian civilians. In just the last month, the Israeli military decided to file no charges in the case of a 14-year-old shot dead in an ambush at the Separation Wall, and also closed the investigation into the IDF’s killing of two Palestinian teenagers in ‘Iraq Burin in 2010.

No wonder then, that in the case of Mohammad Kasbeh there are few hopes that the military police will carry out “an effective, unbiased investigation.” Indeed, the impunity enjoyed by Israeli armed forces in the killing of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank is significant in light of the preliminary examination being conducted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently explained, one of the “core principles of the Rome Statute system” is “complementarity”. This means that it is only when national authorities are “unwilling or unable genuinely to conduct national investigations and prosecutions” that “the Rome Statute authorizes the ICC to step in.”

In a bid to prove the integrity of its own internal investigative processes, Israel has focused predominantly on incidents that have occurred in the context of hostilities in the Gaza Strip. However, the impunity enjoyed by those who commit war crimes is just as equally – if not more – evidenced by Israel’s atrocities in the West Bank.

From the colonel down to the conscript soldier, there is a systematic absence of accountability for what amounts to wilful killings – war crimes. As Amnesty International put it last year, the frequency of the shootings and “the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators” all point to lethal violence being used “as a matter of policy.”

If the ICC opens a full investigation into possible breaches of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it won’t just be the ruins of Gaza that implicate Israeli officials; it will also be the bereaved families of West Bank towns, villages, and refugee camps, whose loved ones where gunned down by an occupying army that shoots, lies, then closes the file.

Published first by Middle East Monitor.

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