(Jerusalem) – Israeli security forces apparently shot to death a Palestinian boy during a demonstration near the West Bank town of Bethlehem on October 5, 2015. The shooting raises concerns about the excessive use of lethal force by security forces.  

Security forces opened fire at the demonstration, striking 13-year-old Abd al-Rahman Shadi Mustafa Abdallah in the chest with a live bullet, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said. A statement from the Aida Refugee camp where Abdallah lived said he was returning home from school when he was shot, still wearing his school backpack.

“The death of a child after security forces used live ammunition against demonstrators should be a wake-up call for Israeli officials,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “Israel needs to ensure that its police and army comply with international standards for the use of force.”

The death of a child after security forces used live ammunition against demonstrators should be a wake-up call for Israeli officials. Israel needs to ensure that its police and army comply with international standards for the use of force.

Joe Stork

Deputy Middle East Director

An Israeli military statement said that the demonstration in question was “violent,” but did not elaborate. The Israeli military said that its security forces fired both rubber-coated bullets and live bullets from Ruger rifles at the demonstrators.

An 18-year-old Palestinian youth was killed in a separate incident at a demonstration on October 4 in the West Bank city of Tulkarem. The military said it was investigating both deaths.

The demonstrations occurred during an escalation of violence in the occupied West Bank, including attacks on Israeli civilians by armed Palestinians, attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian civilians, and clashes between demonstrators and Israeli security forces. In some areas, Palestinian demonstrators threw stones and fired live ammunition at Israeli forces.

A Palestinian Red Crescent Society spokesman told Human Rights Watch that its paramedics treated nearly 700 Palestinians for injuries in the West Bank clashes since the weekend began. Two other Palestinians, who were suspected of attacks on Israeli civilians, were also killed.

A video posted on YouTube by several news and activist organizations captured the shooting death of one of the alleged assailants, Fadi Alloun, 19, suspected of stabbing an Israeli civilian in Jerusalem. The video appeared to show him being shot as he walked away, while a crowd of Israeli bystanders shouted for security forces to shoot him.

Palestinian attackers have killed three Israeli civilians and injured five since October 1, according to the Israeli police. The Israeli military said a soldier in civilian clothing was killed on October 3, and at least two uniformed soldiers were wounded in clashes on October 5.

On September 24, Israel’s security cabinet approved loosening rules of engagement for Israeli police against stone-throwers in Israel and east Jerusalem, apparently to give them the same leeway as soldiers in responding to stone-throwers in the West Bank. Among the measures approved was the use of Ruger rifles with live ammunition against protesters throwing stones.

Israeli military orders allow soldiers to use lethal force only as a last resort to counter a threat to life or serious injury. Yet in recent months, human rights organizations have repeatedly documented cases in which security forces have killed demonstrators or would-be assailants where no such threat existed. In November 2014, following an attack by an armed Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem who was shot to death by police, Israel’s police minister told reporters that “a terrorist who harms civilians should be killed.”

International humanitarian law, which applies in the occupied West Bank, prohibits security forces from deliberately or indiscriminately killing civilians.

When policing demonstrations, Israel security forces should abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The Basic Principles provide that all security forces shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, the authorities must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Law enforcement officials should not use firearms against people “except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.” Even when the use of lethal force is justified, law enforcement officials need to give a clear warning of their intent to use firearms, with sufficient time for the warning to be observed, unless circumstances do not allow it.

“Especially in light of the rising number of civilian deaths and injuries in the West Bank, Israel should abide by international standards and immediately cancel the loosened rules of engagement for police,” Stork said.