(Jerusalem) – No evidence has been presented by the Israeli authorities that a 15-year-old boy fatally shot in the back by Israeli soldiers near his school on December 9, 2013, posed any threat to life that would justify such a killing. It was the second incident involving the lethal shooting of a child in the back by Israeli forces deployed near a school in 2013.
A soldier shot Wajih al-Ramahi in the Jalazone refugee camp, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch is inconclusive as to whether al-Ramahi, who was shot in an area between the school and a market, had joined Palestinian youths nearby who were throwing stones toward the soldiers, but the soldiers were approximately 200 meters away and not at any risk of being hit by stones, the witnesses said.
“Twice this year, Israeli soldiers hiding near schools, apparently to make arrests, have killed children who posed no apparent threat,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If the past is any guide, these boys’ families can look forward to a prolonged, opaque, and fruitless process that does not hold perpetrators to account or deliver justice.”
In January, Israeli forces who had concealed themselves next to a military fence not far from the boys’ school in the village of Budrus fatally shot Samir `Awad, 16, witnesses said. `Awad had entered an open military gate in the Israeli separation barrier. Soldiers appeared and shot `Awad as he tried to run away, witnesses said. They said that `Awad and other Palestinians in the area had not thrown stones or otherwise threatened the soldiers. The military has not claimed that they did.
The military has said it is investigating both killings.
In the December 9 incident, a soldier near the Beit El settlement shot al-Ramahi in the back from a distance of around 200 meters, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported on December 11 that a “military official” told the newspaper:
A squad from the Tzabar Battalion of the [Israel Defense Forces] Givati Brigade was deployed on ambush to apprehend stone-throwers. During the activity [the Palestinians] began throwing stones at the squad and toward Israelis in the area. According to the [internal military after-action] report the squad commander began the procedure for arresting a suspect and shooting was only in the air.
According to medical sources and photographs of the body seen by Human Rights Watch, al-Ramahi had a bullet wound in his back and no exit-wound. The lack of an exit-wound is consistent with statements that the bullet was fired from an assault rifle at considerable distance from al-Ramahi.
There was no apparent justification for the use of live ammunition, Human Rights Watch said. International standards on the use of firearms in policing situations stipulate that lethal force may be used only as a last resort when strictly necessary to protect life. Should the incident be covered by the laws of war, which are applicable in the occupied West Bank, the shooting would violate the prohibition on targeting civilians, so long as the individual was not actively participating in hostilities. An attack on a civilian that is carried out intentionally or recklessly is a war crime.
In the January incident, a military spokesman, Capt. Eytan Buchman, said troops had followed “standard rules of engagement, which included live fire,” Haaretz reported on the day of the incident. The Israeli military said it was investigating the incident, which news reports said involved soldiers from the Armored Corps.
Witnesses to the January incident told Human Rights Watch that they testified at a military hearing in February, with the assistance of an Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, which also documented the incident and provided the information it collected to the military. In May, the Military Advocate General’s office informed B’Tselem that the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division was conducting further inquiries. A Palestinian doctor who had seen `Awad’s body provided testimony in May, and one of the boys who witnessed the shooting testified at a hearing in December.
Israel has indicted only 16 security officials for unlawfully killing Palestinians since September 2000, and convicted only six; the longest jail sentence imposed was for seven months, according to information Yesh Din, an Israeli rights group, obtained from the military.
For descriptions of the two cases, please see below.
Two boys from the Jalazone refugee camp, ages 15 and 16, told Human Rights Watch that on the afternoon of December 9, they, al-Ramahi, and three other teenagers were playing soccer in the courtyard of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in Jalazone. The boys, like other residents and witnesses whom Human Rights Watch interviewed, asked not to be identified. At around 3 p.m., the two boys said they and al-Ramahi left the school and walked along a main road toward a mini-market, about 150 meters north. The two boys said they saw four soldiers on a hillside outside the perimeter fence of the Beit El settlement, approximately 200 meters away. The boys and other witnesses told Human Rights Watch that no other soldiers, military vehicles, or settlers were in the area.
Two other Jalazone residents who were at the mini-market said that a group of boys and young men from the refugee camp had gathered along the main road, and beside it in an open area of rubble and crushed stone between the school and the market. Some of the group in the open area threw stones toward the Israeli soldiers, the two residents said. Human Rights Watch could not determine based on these interviews whether al-Ramahi was among those who threw stones. The military has not claimed that any soldiers were wounded by stones.
The two residents and another witness said they heard multiple gunshots before al-Ramahi was shot, but were not aware that anyone other than al-Ramahi was harmed. “The soldiers used to shoot tear gas and sound bombs [flash-bang grenades] here,” a 29-year-old resident said, but he said he heard only gunshots that afternoon.
Witnesses said that al-Ramahi was in a sparse grove of olive trees immediately south of the open area when he was shot. Human Rights Watch observed a clear area between the grove and the location where witnesses said they saw the soldiers, across a small valley. A 21-year-old man from Jalazone said that between 4:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., he heard a number of gunshots:
Then they stopped, so I went to see what happened. I saw Wajih lying on the ground, near the mini-market. The soldiers were far away so I went to check on him, but they fired again so I crouched down to get close to him. The soldiers were close to the settlement, outside it near a guard tower [approximately 200 meters away] and were shooting toward us, maybe 4 or 5 shots. I and a friend got him and carried him to the street. It took a few minutes for us to get a car to stop and take him. He died in my hands before we got to the hospital.
A medical source knowledgeable about the details of al-Ramahi’s death told Human Rights Watch that al-Ramahi was admitted to the Ramallah Medical Center at 4:48 p.m., and doctors pronounced him dead at 5:15 p.m. after unsuccessfully performing CPR. The medical source said al-Ramahi had one entry wound from a gunshot below his left scapula, significant internal bleeding in his chest, and no exit wound. Human Rights Watch viewed photographs of the wound.
The Israeli military informed B’Tselem on December 15 that it would conduct a criminal investigation into the case.
In a separate incident in the same area near Jalazone, a 16-year-old boy told Human Rights Watch that on October 1, an Israeli soldier shot him from point-blank range in the thigh with live ammunition during a confrontation involving soldiers. The soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at youths from the refugee camp, who threw stones at them, between the school and the mini-market. The boy said that he and a soldier were shouting insults at one another when a second soldier, whom he had not seen, stepped up beside him and shot him, then arrested him.
Human Rights Watch observed scars on the boy’s leg and X-rays that he and his father said were from the bullet, which appeared to have entered his left inner thigh and exited above the left knee, breaking his femur. “The soldiers put a plastic zip-tie on my wrists and blindfolded me and took me to Beit El and left me there for an hour,” the boy said. “Then I was taken to Qalandiya checkpoint, where they left me for 45 minutes before a [Palestinian] ambulance came to take me to Ramallah hospital.” During the same incident, soldiers shot and injured an 18-year-old man and then a 30-year-old man who attempted to carry the younger man away from the scene, the boy said.
The open area where `Awad, 16, was shot slopes downhill from the school, where he was in 11th grade. About 250 meters from the school, a series of military structures form part of the Israeli separation barrier, which was built on the village’s land in the area: coils of barbed wire, then a military fence with a gate, then a second higher fence, and beyond that, a military road. The boys who were with `Awad at the time told Human Rights Watch that the three of them and two other schoolboys walked toward the fences after they had finished their final exams before holidays. `Awad, who was wearing jeans and a yellow hoodie, had just completed a science exam, they said.
“This was the first time we’d ever seen the fence gate open,” the 15-year-old boy told Human Rights Watch. “We just decided to go inside [between the two fences] because there was no Jeep [military vehicle] on the road. We thought there weren’t any soldiers there.”
The 14-year-old said:
We saw the gate was open, and we got excited, we decided to go through it. It’s a grey gate. We crossed the barbed wire coils and [two boys] went through the gate, first [a 13-year-old], then Samir, and then there were soldiers who had been lying in the ditch, four on the left and two on the right [of the gate]. They stood up and said, “Stop.” The others ran back toward the village, and the soldiers fired in the air, two or three times.
Samir got scared and ran the wrong way through the gate. He tried to climb the [second] fence and one the four soldiers from the left-hand side shot him in the leg. He fell, got up, and came back through the gate toward the village. Another soldier grabbed him by the shoulder, but he got past and tried to run away toward the village. He was limping. One of [the soldiers] threw a sound bomb [flash-bang grenade], and then another soldier shot him in the back and the head.
The boys said that they and the other children were not carrying anything in their hands and were not throwing rocks. After `Awad was shot in the back, the boys said, several soldiers approached him. “One soldier started slapping him because he was unconscious, and then did CPR on him, and tore up an undershirt to bandage him,” the 15-year-old said.
Palestinian medical records obtained by B’Tselem confirmed that `Awad had been shot three times, in the leg, the back of the chest, and the back of the head.
`Awad’s younger brother, Mahmud, 9, ran to tell his parents about the shooting, his father, Ahmad, 47, told Human Rights Watch. “At first we weren’t scared when Mahmud said he was shot because we assumed it must be rubber bullets,” Ahmad `Awad said. Budrus residents said that the Israeli forces refused to allow them to retrieve `Awad’s body for several minutes. A neighbor in his 30s told Human Rights Watch: “The soldiers kept saying ‘go back, go back.’ Finally I ignored them and walked up to his body and took him.” `Awad’s father said his son was driven to the nearby village of Na’alin, where an ambulance picked him up and drove him to Ramallah, 35 kilometers away.
Budrus residents said that the military informed them that it would hear witness statements at a hearing on January 29 in the Beit El settlement, near Ramallah. Two witnesses from Budrus went to Beit El for the hearing, but military officials told them the hearing would be held in the Geva Binyamin settlement, a few kilometers south. The witnesses drove to Geva Binyamin, where military officials repeatedly told them to wait, then told them the hearing would be at Beit El after all. Beit El officials then postponed the hearing until February 4. The witnesses attended and presented their evidence. The Military Advocate General’s office informed B’Tselem on April 23 that it was evaluating the investigation conducted into the incident by the military police. On May 13, the office informed B’Tselem that the military police had re-opened the investigation and were conducting further inquiries. In May, a Palestinian doctor who had seen `Awad’s body testified to the Israeli military, and on December 24, one of the boys who witnessed the incident testified again, according to B’Tselem.