Human Rights Watch accused the Israeli military of using indiscriminate force in response to Palestinian gunfire, causing excessive civilian casualties.
Human Rights Watch also deplored Palestinian shooting at Israeli settlements, and called on the Palestinian Authority to take measures to prevent armed attacks on Israeli civilians.
"Israeli forces are causing civilian deaths by firing indiscriminately into Hebron's Palestinian neighborhoods," said Joe Stork, Washington Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "The Israeli military is obligated to protect Palestinian civilians from heavy fire, and should take the necessary steps to halt this pattern of indiscriminate and excessive fire."
Hebron has been the scene of regular heavy fire exchanges between Palestinian gunmen and the Israeli military. Palestinian gunmen have used light automatic weapons to fire on Israeli Defense Force's (IDF) positions and civilian Israeli settlements located in the Israeli-controlled center of the city. The IDF has responded with heavy fire from medium-caliber machine guns and rockets directed into Palestinian neighborhoods, causing deaths, serious injuries and extensive damage.
On the night of February 17, 2001, the IDF responded to Palestinian gunfire by targeting the Abu Snainah neighborhood of Hebron and a Palestinian collective farm located on the outskirts of Hebron, causing three Palestinian civilian deaths and wounding at least five. The IDF fire killed twenty-nine year old Issam al-Tawil as he was driving home with his parents, his brother and his sister-in-law. IDF fire on the al-Rayyan collective farm hit three of the four workers present at the facility, killing Shaker al-Manasra and gravely injuring Yusuf al-Manasra and Ahmad Farajullah. Ahmad Farajullah later died of his wounds. The surviving workers and the manager of al-Rayyan collective farm denied that there had been any gunfire from the farm. Also hit during the IDF response was the luxury al-Mezan hotel, which was hosting two wedding parties with more than a thousand guests at the time. On February 18, 2001, IDF soldiers fired shots at the car of Rajik al-Qamari as he was driving nearby an IDF checkpoint, hitting his windshield with three bullets. Al-Qamari narrowly escaped injury.
Human Rights Watch also deplored the actions of Palestinian gunmen in shooting at Israeli settlements. Although Israeli settlements are established contrary to international humanitarian law, they are not legitimate targets for military attack as they are inhabited by civilians, including children. Palestinian gunmen are also effectively putting Palestinian civilians at risk by shooting at settlements and IDF positions from heavily populated civilian areas.
"This behavior is not acceptable and we reiterate our call to the Palestinian police to do more to prevent such shootings," said Stork, "but such Palestinian actions do not give Israel carte blanche to respond with heavy or indiscriminate fire into Palestinian neighborhoods, risking civilian lives."
No Israeli settler has been killed in the Hebron district by Palestinian gunfire aimed at the settlements, although at least two settlers have died in Palestinian road attacks attributed to Hamas in the area. A Fatah member in Hebron recently told Human Rights Watch that local Fatah leaders regularly instruct Fatah gunmen to shoot at Israeli settlements. During a visit to the downtown Hebron settlements in November 2000, Human Rights Watch researchers learned of one Israeli settler injured in connection with Palestinian gunfire, a pregnant woman injured in a car crash while fleeing shooting at the Tel Rumeida settlement. However, homes in the settlements visited by Human Rights Watch in Hebron had been hit by gunfire. Although physical damage caused by Palestinian automatic weapons was generally light, settlers told Human Rights Watch that they had to relocate their sleeping arrangements into crowded safer rooms, and said that their children were unable to sleep and were constantly fearful.
The following partial list of incidents recently documented by Human Rights Watch in Hebron in which Palestinian civilians were killed or severely injured indicates a serious and persistent indiscriminate use of deadly force by the IDF.
On January 5, IDF fire from the Beit Haggai settlement hit eighteen-year-old Ahlam al-Jabali and her eighteen-year-old sister-in-law, Arij al-Jabali, as the two were seeking shelter in the stairwell of their home. A single bullet penetrated the body of Arij al-Jabali, who was killed in the incident, and lodged in the body of Ahlam al-Jabali, who recovered. According to the family, the IDF was responding to fireworks fired at Beit Haggai from the family's neighborhood. Arij al-Jabali was expecting to get engaged on the day of her death.
On January 2, IDF gunfire wounded thirty-year-old Samir Abu Shakhdam as he was walking home from work in a Palestinian area bordering on the Israeli-controlled Tel Rumeida settlement. Earlier in the day, two IDF soldiers guarding the Tel Rumeida settlement had been wounded by Palestinian gunfire. An ambulance which came to evacuate Abu Shakhdam evacuated another seven wounded civilians from the same neighborhood.
On January 1, IDF soldiers shot and severely injured Jadallah al-Jabiri in the center of Hebron, nearly severing his foot. The IDF has admitted that its soldiers acted wrongly in the incident which was filmed by an Associated Press cameraman, and has apologized for the incident.
On December 31, IDF fire into the Haret al-Sheikh neighborhood of Hebron injured eighteen-year-old Arit al-Qawasma in her bedroom, injuring her in the right shoulder and face. As she was being evacuated from the house, renewed IDF fire killed eleven-year-old Muath Abu Hadwan, who had come to watch the evacuation, and wounded another boy. During the same period, IDF fire injured thirteen-year-old Abir Salameh as she went to feed her chickens on the roof of her house, injuring her in the stomach.
On November 16, IDF soldiers fatally shot thirty-one-year-old Yusuf Abu Awad near a checkpoint in Beit Umar. According to eyewitnesses, soldiers asked Abu Awad to stop at the checkpoint, and then began throwing stones at his car. When Abu Awad protested the stone throwing, a soldier came up to him and pointed his gun at his chest. Abu Awad attempted to push the gun away from his chest, and was shot in the face by the soldier. The IDF is reportedly investigating the killing.
At about 4 p.m. on November 11, IDF fire from the Shalala street position fired on Munib Abu Munshar as he was unloading building materials from his truck, killing him instantly. There were no clashes taking place at the time, although Palestinian youth had clashed with IDF soldiers at the position earlier in the day.
On October 23, 2000, IDF fire killed fifty-seven-year-old Abdul Aziz Abu Snainah as he went to his front room to answer a phone call during a period of heavy IDF fire. The IDF shot at Abu Snainah's brother in the street as he tried to come to the assistance of his brother. Human Rights Watch researchers counted more than sixty medium caliber bullet scars on the home, as well as dozens of impact craters on nearby homes and the street.
On October 18, IDF soldiers positioned in the Beit Haggai settlement shot thirty-eight-year-old Ibrahim Abu Turki as he rode his donkey from his home village of Kilkas past the settlement. Abu Turki remains in critical condition and was paralyzed by the gunshot wound.
At about 10 p.m. on October 13, IDF soldiers shot twenty-two-year-old Shadi al-Wawi, a university student, as he was sitting on the roof of his relative's home in the al-Fawar refugee camp. Palestinian youth were clashing with IDF soldiers located about 150 meters away from the home, but al-Wawi and his family did not participate in the violence. IDF soldiers fired several shots at the family as they tried to rescue al-Wawi, and threatened a medical team which tried to reach al-Wawi. An ambulance was forced to take an alternative route, taking over one hour to reach the hospital. Al-Wawi died on route to the hospital.
On October 9, 2000, IDF fire severely injured twenty-eight-year-old Shihab Sharif as he was walking home in the Bab al-Zawiah neighborhood after visiting a cousin at about 10:15 p.m. Sherif was hit by bullets in his left side, his back, and his right elbow. On the same day, IDF fire on the Haret al-Sheikh neighborhood injured twenty-eight year old Fatina Fakhoury, a mother of four, in the face, and a bullet fragment also hit her seven-day-old baby in her arms.