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Excessive IDF Force at Clashes

Like most other parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, since September 29, 2000, Hebron district has been the scene of frequent clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and IDF soldiers, who have responded with tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, and, at times, with live ammunition. On occasion, clashes have escalated to include gunfire and Molotov cocktails from the Palestinian side, but for the most part clashes in Hebron have been limited on the Palestinian side to stone throwing. At least eleven Palestinians have been killed by IDF soldiers in Hebron district during clashes. In two of the cases where Palestinians were killed by IDF soldiers in Hebron district, Palestinian gunfire, which drew IDF gunfire in response, contributed to the deaths.

Weapons and munitions appropriate to some situations can be used in ways that constitute illegal and excessive use of force when used in ways or for purposes for which they were not intended. Rubber bullets, according to IDF regulations,84 are to be used only at distances not less than forty meters, only aimed at the legs and lower body, only used when there is a clear threat to life, and never used against children. IDF regulations also specify that rubber bullets should be used only when measures of lesser severity are unavailable to prevent a threat to public welfare and when their use does not endanger innocent people. The cases investigated by Human Rights Watch confirm the reported findings of Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations that rubber bullets, as well as plastic-coated metal bullets and live ammunition, have been used routinely in an illegal and indiscriminate manner, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians.

Earlier Human Rights Watch research has determined that the IDF has resorted to unlawful, excessive force in response to stone-throwing Palestinians, causing Palestinian casualties that could have been avoided with a more appropriate IDF response. Human Rights Watch research into clashes in Hebron continues to find cases of excessive, unlawful use of force by IDF soldiers in response to stone-throwing Palestinian crowds. In addition, there are a disturbing number of cases where Palestinian bystanders have been wounded or killed by IDF gunmen during clashes, suggesting that IDF fire during clashes is routinely indiscriminate.

On a number of occasions, armed Palestinian gunmen have been present at civilian clashes, and sometimes Palestinian gunmen have fired from among civilian Palestinian protesters. Human Rights Watch was not able to find conclusive evidence that members of the Palestinian Authorities' security services fired from among civilian Palestinian protesters in Hebron, but did find evidence that members of Fatah, the Palestinian political organization headed by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, did so.

On January 12, 2001, IDF soldiers shot and killed Shaker Hassouni, a known Fatah activist who, according to the IDF and witnesses in the area, threw an explosive device and fired at IDF soldiers. The IDF soldiers pursued Hassouni into the Palestinian-controlled H1 area, shot and killed him, and then dragged his corpse back into H2 area. Photographs taken of the incident clearly show one of the IDF soldiers holding a handgun recovered from Hassouni. The incident took place at the end of a fierce protest, and Hassouni's actions put at risk the many unarmed civilians who participated in the protest.85

In a second incident, a Palestinian gunmen who fired at an IDF position appears to have contributed to the death of an unarmed Palestinian youth. On December 8, 2000, Ahmad al-Qawasmi, aged thirteen, was participating in clashes in Shalala Street in Hebron. According to a witness who was watching from nearby:

      I didn't see anyone shooting, but I heard a shot from near Ahmad and then the soldiers started shooting. There was a gunman with a pistol, ... the shot came from a Palestinian with a pistol. Then there was a lot of shooting, then teargas, and then the soldiers came.86

Ahmad al-Qawasmi was killed by the IDF gunfire responding to the Palestinian gunman.

However, in other cases of IDF killings at the clashes, the IDF has used lethal force in response to protests that were confined to rock-throwing, in violation of the IDF's own open-fire regulations. On December 22, 2000, a clash took place near the Israeli-controlled by-pass road near Beit `Einun, a Palestinian village in Hebron district. Palestinian youngsters began throwing stones at cars on the by-pass road, and a large number of IDF soldiers gathered at the by-pass road to disperse the crowd. According to Nadir al-Moutur, a fifteen-year-old boy who participated in the clash, `Arafat al-Jabarin, aged fifteen, was throwing rocks with his slingshot and went to try to reach another stone-throwing boy who had been isolated from their group: "He walked just a few meters, before he reached the other boy, he was jumping here and there. The soldiers shot at him, several shots. One of the shots hit him in the head. ... The soldiers shot live bullets at us. ... There were only stones thrown, there was no shooting or throwing of Molotov cocktails."87 `Arafat al-Jabarin was struck in the head, and died soon thereafter.

The IDF's own version of the events, as posted on its website, does not mention any Palestinian gunfire at the scene of the incident, stating only that "[t]here was rioting, including the throwing of rocks, ... at Beit [`Einun] junction north of Hebron. IDF forces responsed with riot dispersal equipment."88

A Human Rights Watch researcher visited the scene of the incident. According to the eyewitness, the IDF soldiers were located in an easily defensible position, near the bypass road significantly above the stone throwers, and had several armored cars and a tank at the location. The stone throwers had been pushed back to a location several hundred meters from the bypass road, and no longer posed a serious threat to the soldiers or to vehicles on the road. The distance between the stone throwers and the IDF suggests that it would have been difficult for stone throwers to reach the IDF position, let alone pose a serious risk to the soldiers. `Arafat al-Jabarin was killed from a distance of at least 150 meters, and his stone throwing from such a distance posed only a minor threat to the IDF soldiers. Certainly, the circumstances of the shooting do not suggest that `Arafat al-Jabarin posed the type of "grave threat to life" that the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials as well as the IDF's own open fire regulations require before allowing the use of lethal fire.

The IDF shooting of eighteen-year-old Samir al-Khdour at al-Fawwar refugee camp, located south of Hebron, on November 16, 2000, took place under similar circumstances. Clashes took place at the refugee camp from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. that day, and then most of the youngsters began going home. Samir al-Khdour and six or seven other youngsters remained behind, and continued to throw stones with slingshots. According to a witness: "The soldiers ran after those who stayed [behind] and they were using live bullets. Samir had a slingshot, he used the slingshot to throw rocks at the soldiers and then the soldier shot him dead. Samir was about fifty meters from the soldiers."89 The witness did not see or hear any Palestinian fire, and the IDF spokesperson spoke about "violent riots" at al-Fawwar camp but did not mention Palestinian gunfire.90 There were IDF positions in at least three places around the clash site, including several armored IDF jeeps at the entrance to the camp and a second IDF position on the top of a steep hill overlooking the rock throwers. It does not appear that the small number of rock throwers at the time of the shooting posed a "grave threat to life" to any of the well-placed IDF positions.

Many of the Hebron clashes have taken place near heavily populated refugee camps such as al-Fawwar camp, or near popular markets, as is the case with the Shalala Street clash point in downtown Hebron. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the significant number of unarmed bystanders who have been wounded or killed near the clash sites, suggesting that IDF fire is often indiscriminate.

Following the December 8, 2000, shooting of Ahmad al-Qawasmi, described above, many neighbors rushed to the scene to assist the wounded boy. Fawzi Faray, who works in a building opposite from where al-Qawasmi was shot, was one of the Palestinians who attempted to assist Ahmad al-Qawasmi: "I saw Ahmad lying on the ground, and rushed to the door. I wanted to rescue Ahmad. Then I saw two soldiers coming towards Ahmad. One of them was a commander, he had his machinegun and started shooting randomly at people. He was giving orders to the other soldiers and had ranks on his jacket. The commander saw me stepping down and shot at me, but I was not injured." The stairwell of the building which Fawzi Faray escaped in was riddled with impact craters from the incident.91

According to Fawzi, the commander also shot at two other Palestinians who had come to help Ahmad: "I escaped, running up the stairs. I looked from the window and saw two Palestinians carrying Ahmad. When they had walked just a bit, the commander came and started shooting randomly in their direction. There was heavy stoning at the time, and the commander just got crazy when the Palestinians were throwing stones. When the Palestinians saw the commander was shooting at them, they put down Ahmad and ran away."92 According to two witnesses, the soldiers then walked over to Ahmad al-Qawasmi. One witness reported: "I saw the soldier put his foot on Ahmad's neck. The boy was alive, he was calling for help. When the soldier put his foot on Ahmad's neck, he stopped moving. Then they searched the boy."93 The soldiers finally allowed another boy from the neighborhood to carry Ahmad al-Qawasmi away, but al-Qawasmi died on December 11, 2000, from his wounds.

Unarmed bystanders have also been wounded, and in at least one case killed, during clashes. On October 13, 2000, IDF fire killed Shaadi al-Waawi, a twenty-two-year-old university student, at al-Fawaar refugee camp. Al-Waawi had only returned from his studies in Sudan on October 10, 2000, and was on the roof of his relatives' home talking on a cellular phone to relatives in Gaza at about 10 p.m. on October 13, 2000. At the entrance to the camp, some 200 meters away, youths had begun setting tires on fire, and throwing stones at the IDF. There were seven people on the roof, just watching the clashes while al-Waawi spoke to his relatives. Taufik al-Waawi, Shaadi's uncle, explained to Human Rights Watch what happened:

      One minute after [Shaadi] finished the call, he was killed. ... The soldiers were at the entrance, near the gas station. The youngsters were in between. They were burning tires and throwing stones with the slingshots. The soldiers were shooting teargas, one of the canisters even landed on the roof. Then the soldiers fired a lighting flare to light up the area. The door was closed, Shaadi was in the middle of the roof. They shot him twice, once in the chest and once in the head.

      We opened the door to move Shaadi and then the soldiers shot three more shots that hit the door.94

IDF soldiers told the ambulance which came to evacuate Shaadi that they would only allow it to enter the camp if the crew agreed to hand the body over to them, so the family was forced to take a second ambulance through bad backroads, taking more than one hour to reach the hospital. Shaadi died from his wounds soon after arriving at the hospital.

On February 17, 2001, IDF soldiers at the Al-Shuhada' street checkpoint fired at several civilian cars, without apparent provocation. According to Rifa`i, a nearby shopkeeper, there had been fire exchanges between Palestinian gunmen and the IDF at about 1:30 p.m. that day, lasting for about twenty minutes, but the situation was quiet afterwards. At about 4 p.m., Rafiq al-Qamari was driving his BMW past the same checkpoint when IDF soldiers suddenly opened fire on his car. Rifa`i watched from his shop as the IDF opened fire on the BMW and a parked Opel:

      [The fire] was coming from the Israeli side from two or three directions, the ones at the checkpoint in Al-Shuhada' Street, and the ones on top of the buildings. I went to hide in the corner. There was a BMW and an Opel, the BMW stopped in front of my door, it was coming from Bab al-Zawiya. From where I was hiding, I could see bullets hitting the car. Minutes later, the shooting became heavier and I heard an explosion. The [missile] hit the Opel. I then ran upstairs, the fragments of the missile hit the door and my grill. ...The shooting was random, they hit my shop several times. It was quiet at the time.95

Three bullets penetrated the windshield of al-Qamari's BMW and several others struck the body of the car, but al-Qamari narrowly escaped injury.

On October 24, 2000, "Aisha" (not her real name), a seventeen-year-old student, was in school when the headteacher sent the students home because a march was passing nearby and clashes were expected to start soon. As she began walking home on Shalala Street, "there was no rock throwing yet, the youngsters were still far from the clash site." Suddenly, shooting began from an Israeli position near Beit Haddassah settlement:

      I saw the settlers and soldiers on top of the building near Beit Haddassah. After this, there was random shooting towards us, live and rubber bullets. I and fourteen other girls were walking in the street. There were some youngsters, they told us to get down on the ground, and we fell to the ground. ... When we fell to the ground, the shooting stopped. When we got up, the shooting started again. I received a bullet and fell unconscious to the ground. It was a rubber bullet that hit in the back of my head.96

On October 3, 2000, Issam, a twenty-nine-year-old taxi driver was parked at the taxi stand in the downtown Bab al-Zawiya area of Hebron when clashes broke out at about 2 p.m. He went to his taxi to move it away from the area of the clashes, but was hit by a bullet in the right shoulder before he reached the taxi. Issam spent one month in the hospital recovering from the wound.97

Unlawful Killings and Shootings

Most international attention to the current conflict has focused on the confrontations between Palestinian stone throwers (and occasional gunmen) and the Israeli army. Those clashes, which have resulted in hundreds of Palestinian deaths, give major cause for concern. An earlier Human Rights Watch study of three such clashes found that in the cases studied, Palestinian casualties occured in circumstances where the IDF resorted to unlawfully excessive use of lethal force.98 However, many other killings attributed to the Israeli security forces did not occur at the clash sites, but under suspicious circumstances that warrant urgent investigation. Indeed, the high frequency of unlawful shooting incidents has led some IDF commanders to express concern that some IDF soldiers are becoming "trigger-happy."99 Human Rights Watch investigated a number of such cases. Our research shows that in most cases of suspicious killings by the IDF, neither the IDF nor other Israeli authorities have been willing to carry out an investigation to determine the culpability of the soldiers involved.

Killing of Shaker al-Manasra and Ahmad Faraj Allah, and wounding of Yusif al-Manasra, February 16, 2001
On the evening of February 16, 2001, heavy IDF gunfire was directed at a collective dairy farm on the northern outskirts of Hebron, killing two workers and seriously injuring a third. The al-Rayyan collective farm is located next to a main exit road out of Hebron, and almost directly across the road from an IDF checkpoint that controls access to the main roads out of Hebron. The collective farm was operated by the Islamic Charity Organization, one of many Islamic relief organizations with links to the militant Hamas movement,100 but there is no evidence to suggest that Islamic militants used the farm for armed activities.

Three days before the attack on the farm, its manager was contacted by an Israeli official from the District Coordination Office (DCO), named "Rafi," who lives at Beit Haggai settlement. At first, Rafi told the manager that he had orders to close down the farm, but the latter refused to accept this, saying that the farm had operated for ten years without incident. According to the manager, Rafi then demanded that the farm take responsibility for its own "internal security" by hiring an unarmed guard to monitor the premises, and installing lights to illuminate the farm's exterior at night.101 According to both the manager and two of the surviving workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the farm had complied with Rafi's requests by hiring an unarmed guard, installing the lights, and by providing a list of the names of the workers at the farm.

On the evening of the attack, there were four workers at the farm, including the newly hired guard, Shaker al-Manasra. Yusif al-Manasra, one of the two survivors of the IDF attack, recalled what happened prior to the shooting:

      We started turning on the lights the night before the incident, and they gave a list with the names of the workers to the mukhabarat [the Arabic term used by Palestinians for the intelligence services, in this case referring to Israeli intelligence]. The mukhabarat asked for the names of the workers so if there is any shooting, they can come to the farm and speak to the workers.

      The night of the incident, after finishing milking the cows at about 8 p.m., at 8:30 p.m. we all went to the [common] room. Because Ahmad was the guard, he prepared the dinner. We started having our dinner for about twenty minutes. After supper, Shaker went out to pray, which took him about ten minutes. After he finished his prayers, heavy shooting started towards the farm. There was no shooting before.102

The shooting from the IDF checkpoint position became very heavy, and the four workers decided it would be best if they went outside and sought shelter in the front yard of the farm, on the side farthest from the IDF position. However, while the men were taking shelter in the front yard, they came under fire from other IDF positions, probably including positions at Beit `Einun, the IDF checkpoint at the bypass road, and an IDF tank position near Halhul. The IDF fire was indiscriminate: In fact, several IDF medium-caliber rounds hit the luxury al-Mezan hotel located at least 500 meters from the farm. At the time, the hotel was hosting two wedding parties with more than a thousand guests. A Human Rights Watch researcher was also staying at the al-Mezan hotel at the time of the attack. A medium-caliber round passed within a meter from where he had been sitting when the attack started.

After taking shelter for five to ten minutes, Yusif al-Manasra and Ahmad Faraj Allah were the first to be injured by the IDF fire. Jallal Faraj Allah then left to find an ambulance to evacuate the wounded. The two wounded men lay bleeding for about fifteen minutes as the shooting continued. A neighboring house caught fire from the shooting, and some people came in cars to extinguish the fire. Shaker al-Manasra, the remaining worker who had not been wounded, managed to carry the wounded Yusif al-Manasra to a private car to take him to a hospital. As Yusif was being evacuated, an ambulance finally arrived but could not reach the scene because of the continuing gunfire. Shaker al-Manasra volunteered to return to the farm's front yard and carry out his wounded colleague. While trying to evacuate the wounded Ahmad Faraj Allah, Shaker al-Manasra was hit in the neck with a medium caliber round and died instantly. Ahmad Faraj Allah, critically wounded during the attack, died two days later.

Human Rights Watch was unable to establish what, if anything, triggered the IDF fire on the farm. The two witnesses to the attack interviewed by Human Rights Watch, as well as the manager of the farm, were adamant that there were no weapons on the farm, and that there was no shooting from the farm to provoke the heavy IDF response. A Human Rights Watch researcher staying in the nearby al-Mezan hotel did not hear any small-arms fire from the direction of the farm prior to the heavy IDF shooting, although there were heavy exchanges of fire at the same time in downtown Hebron. The IDF has not given its version of the events that led to the shooting at the farm, although Rafi, the DCO official who had contacted the manager prior to the attack, repeatedly contacted the manager on the night of the shooting to ask for information about the incident.103 The IDF official spokesperson stated only that "shots were fired on Friday at a number of locations in the West bank [including at] an IDF force at the Ofkim Junction, south of Halhul," the location of the IDF checkpoint which first fired at the farm.104

Wounding of Jad Allah al-Jabari, January 1, 2001
On the morning of January 1, 2001, Imad S., an Israeli-accredited105 cameraman for Associated Press (AP), went to the Israeli-controlled center of Hebron to take some stock footage of soldiers. The H2 area was under curfew that morning, so Imad S. walked through the area, occasionally stopping to film some military activity. When he reached the IDF checkpoint located in front of Avraham Avino and the Palestinian vegetable market, he began filming the soldiers at the checkpoint.

As he began filming, he noticed a Palestinian he knew, Jad Allah al-Jabari, a municipal cleaner, walking from the direction of the Ibrahimi Mosque (inside H2) to the checkpoint, apparently attempting to exit to the Palestinian-controlled area (H1): "He was close to the checkpoint at the circle in front of the market. The soldiers called him. The old man [Jad Allah] stopped and the soldiers walked fifty meters to him. The soldiers told him in Hebrew that there was a curfew, that he couldn't [exit]. He didn't understand Hebrew, so they told him to go home in Arabic. He started walking towards the market."106

Imad S. explained to the soldiers that Jad Allah's "mind wasn't all there," and the soldiers told him that they did not care, that it was curfew and that nobody was supposed to walk around. Imad S. explained what happened next:

      I turned my back to see where Jad Allah went. Suddenly, I heard a soldier yelling `Stop! Stop!' in English, and seconds later I heard two shots. Jad Allah was in between, fifteen meters from the soldiers who left him and fifteen meters from the soldier [coming out of the market] who shot him. I saw the dust and Jad Allah fell down. I turned on my camera, which takes six to seven seconds to turn on, and ran to Jad Allah while recording.107

Imad S. continued filming as Jad Allah lay on the ground, his right foot nearly severed from the gunshot wound. A few minutes later, more soldiers gathered, and one tried to stop Imad S. from filming by placing a hand over his camera and telling him to "get out of here" before receiving instructions from their commanders to allow Imad S. to continue with his work. Imad S. estimated that Jad Allah lay on the ground unattended for fifteen minutes before soldiers provided him with first aid.108

The shooting incident and the graphic images taken by Imad S. received significant press attention worldwide.109 Because of this, apparently, it is one of the few cases in which the IDF has taken prompt action to investigate an unlawful shooting and to punish the soldiers responsible. On January 7, the IDF released a statement characterizing the incident as "severe" and concluding that "those involved in the incident acted wrongly in the way which they applied IDF regulations for opening fire." The soldiers and the company commander "were tried before the battalion commander and received a severe reprobation," the soldiers of the battalion were briefed on the incident to learn from the mistakes made, and the investigation of the incident was handed over to the military police.110

On January 29, the IDF's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, announced that the military investigation into the "very grave" incident had faulted the soldiers for several mistakes, including violating open-fire instructions, failing to follow normal arrest procedures, failing to provide immediate medical care, interfering with the work of an accredited journalist, and providing inaccurate accounts to their superiors about the incident. The army chief of staff explained that the investigation was ongoing and could lead to action against the soldiers.111

Killing of Yusif Abu `Awad, November 16, 2000
On November 16, at about 7 p.m., thirty-one-year-old Yusif Abu `Awad left his home in Beit Umar to drive some passengers to the IDF checkpoint at the entrance of Beit Umar.112 There had been a candlelight march in Beit Umar earlier in the evening to commemorate Palestinian children killed during the clashes, but the situation was quiet by the evening. When Yusif Abu `Awad arrived at the entrance to Beit Umar about 7:30 p.m., however, there was some commotion because a Palestinian youth had been arrested.

Bahjat Abu S. had heard some shouting around the IDF checkpoint at the entrance to the village, and went to investigate. As he got closer to the checkpoint, some of his neighbors told him that his son had been arrested by the IDF, a claim that turned out to be wrong. As he reached the scene, he saw an IDF jeep driving away, and then noticed a commander and two IDF soldiers nearby. He explained to Human Rights Watch how he approached the commander and then had an argument with one of the soldiers, who later killed Yusif Abu `Awad:

      I went to the main road which leads to Beit Umar. I reached the building where Yusif was [later] killed and there was a commander and two soldiers. The two soldiers were hiding behind the building and the commander-he had stars on his shoulders-was walking towards me.113

Bahjat Abu S. began speaking to the commander in Arabic, asking what happened to his son, but the commander signaled that he didn't understand Arabic. Bahjat Abu S. found a Hebrew speaking neighbor and continued his conversation with the commander, pleading to see his son. The commander explained that he had no time to explain what had happened, but that Bahjat Abu S. should go to the police station in the nearby settlement of Kfar Ezyon to enquire about his son. Bahjat Abu S. was still pleading with the commander when one of the two soldiers came up to him and spoke to him rudely:

      Then, one of the soldiers hiding in the building came up to me and pointed his gun at my chest and started shouting at me in Arabic, `Go from here, you brother of a whore.' I said, `Speak politely to people, I am talking to your commander and not to you, and it seems you have no good manners ...' We argued and spoke to each other in bad words. Then the commander, when he saw I was very angry, took me aside and spoke kindly to me to calm me down.114

Just minutes after the commander took Bahjat Abu S. aside, Bahjat heard the shot that killed Yusif:

      The soldier went a little away from us. While I was talking to the commander, I heard a shot nearby. The distance between me and Yusif was only five meters, and the soldier was only one meter from Yusif. It was only two minutes after we stopped arguing. I was talking to the commander and at that time the soldier had begun arguing with Yusif. There were no clashes, no throwing of stones. There was a line of about seven cars near the entrance, [waiting to drive] into Beit Umar, being checked by the soldiers.115

A second witness to the killing, thirty-year-old Basem A., had walked over with Bahjat Abu S. and watched as Bahjat pleaded with the commander to talk to the boy in the jeep. His attention shifted to the two soldiers near Yusif's car, and he recounted what he saw:

      We went to the street to save the boy who was in the jeep. There were five or six soldiers in the jeep, and the soldiers had stopped traffic in both directions. ...

      I noticed two soldiers standing near the wall of some garages. Yusif was in his car and there were two people in the car with him.

      I saw one soldier picking up a stone and throwing it at the car. Then I saw Yusif stepping out of the car. The soldiers were about four meters away. It seems that Yusif saw the soldier throwing the stone. Yusif started speaking to the soldier in Hebrew. He said, `You told me to stop here, so why are you throwing stones at me?'I understand Hebrew, so I could follow their conversation. The soldier who threw the stones at the car is the same one who shot Yusif.

      The two soldiers ran at the car. The first soldier pointed his gun at Yusif's chest. Yusif stepped back and moved the rifle away from his chest, and pulled back his fist like he was going to hit the soldier, but he did not hit him.

      The soldier, when he saw Yusif step back, aimed his gun at Yusif's head and then shot him. I saw the fire flash and saw Yusif's head explode. Yusif fell to the ground. He was bleeding heavily, like someone opened the [water] tap in the house.116

The commander at the scene, who was still talking to Bahjat Abu S. at the time of the shooting, appeared shocked, and began yelling at the soldier, saying "What happened, what have you done?" A large crowd of Palestinians gathered, and the soldiers shot in the air to keep back the angry crowd. Almost immediately, the commander and his soldiers began moving towards the main road and left the area.117 Soon thereafter, a higher-level commander of Russian origin who was responsible for the village of Beit Umar, arrived and asked the villagers to confirm that Yusif had been killed. After confirming the death, the commander left the scene.

The official spokesperson from the IDF offered a radically different account of the incident, stating on their website that "[d]uring violent Palestinian riots at the village of Beit [Umar] in the area of Bethlehem, Palestinians attempted to take a weapon from an IDF soldier at the scene. The soldier tried to struggle with the Palestinian, and when he felt that his life was in danger he shot the Palestinian in self-defense."118 Subsequent press accounts and confidential sources establish that the IDF did open an inquiry into the incident, although the scope of the investigation has not been made public.119

Killing of Munib Abu Munshar, November 11, 2000
Munib Abu Munshar, aged eighteen, was killed by IDF gunfire on the evening of November 11, 2000, while unloading construction supplies near the Shalala Street IDF position located on the border between the Israeli-controlled H2 and the Palestinian-controlled H1 areas, a site of frequent rock-throwing clashes. At the time of the shooting, according to several witnesses, there were no clashes. Munib's father, fifty-six-year-old Muhammed Abu Munshar, operates a large construction supplies business in Hebron. On November 11, 2000, he received a call from a family friend to deliver some wire grids used in concrete reinforcement to a downtown Hebron shop undergoing reconstruction. The shop is located on Shalala street, the site of almost daily clashes between Palestinians and the IDF, and about one hundred meters outside the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron. Muhammed Abu Munshar related what happened that day, based on his own recollections and his conversations with Munib's co-worker at the scene (who was unavailable to be interviewed by Human Rights Watch):

      The owner of the shop ordered seventeen pieces of metal frame. He is a close friend, and he said, `Please, do it for me, don't send the goods until I call you and tell you it is quiet and safe. ... [At about 4 p.m.] he called for the goods, he said the situation is very quiet, no clashes. ...

      So we loaded the metal on the smaller lorry, the bars were sticking out over the front. When they reached Bab al-Zaweya, Munib and the worker climbed on the truck to unload the metal, one on each side. According to [the co-worker], they unloaded the first piece of metal when [the co-worker] was shot in the leg. He told Munib, `I'm injured, get down from the lorry.' But Munib didn't have time to get down from the lorry.120

`Abd al-Rahman Shabeni, the Hebron bureau chief for the Arabic language Al-Quds newspaper, was at his office just across the street from where Munib Abu Munshar was unloading his goods when the incident took place. He told Human Rights Watch what he saw:

      I was standing by the window, it was about 4 p.m. The sweets shop across the way was being reconstructed and Munib had parked his truck and was unloading building material. Munib and another worker were on top of the lorry.

      I opened the window and started talking to him, I didn't know him. I told him to be careful not to fall down. ... A friend came and we were readying to go to the mourning for Ra'ed Muhtasib [killed November 10]. I went out of the office and reached Shalala Street. I saw that [Munib] was shot dead and his body was lying on top of the lorry. ... I didn't hear any gunshots, I was shocked to see him shot dead. According to my experience in the area and as a reporter, I expect that the shooting came from [the IDF position] at Shalala Street, from a distance of about 100 meters.

      There were no clashes at all in the area, it was very quiet, there were about five or six people in the street. Hours before, there had been clashes.121

The military governor of Hebron contacted the Abu Munshar family soon after the killing, expressing his regret about the shooting which he called a "mistake," according to Munib's father. The family also received a letter of condolence from the Israeli authorities, and were promised during a meeting with an official from the District Coordination Office, known to them as Rafi, that the soldiers responsible would be investigated and brought to court if appropriate. However, since the initial IDF response to the family, Muhammed Abu Munshar's calls to the military governor and the DCO to receive an update on the case have repeatedly gone unanswered: "Since then until now, I have not heard anything from the Israelis, it [the promise of an investigation] was all just words."122 The family has retained an Israeli lawyer to take their case to court, but have found it difficult to remain in contact with the lawyer because of the Israeli closure of the West Bank.

Killing of Ra`ed Muhtasib, November 10, 2000
Ra`ed al-Muhtasib, a twenty-four-year-old barber, was the son of a member of the Palestinian mukhabarat (security service), Sadi Muhtasib. A physiotherapist had come to the family's home to treat Sadi Muhtasib, and at about 9:15 p.m. on November 10, 2000, Sadi, Ra`ed, and his brother, Fadi, got into their father's car to drive the masseur home. On their way back, they noticed a parked yellow car with Israeli (yellow) license plates, and Sadi slowed down his car, concerned that the occupants of the other car were Israeli undercover agents working in Palestinian-controlled territory. One of the three occupants of the other car then stepped out and started talking on his cellphone. Sadi recalls: "I was suspicious. We drove a few meters ahead to the junction which leads to the PA headquarters. I received a shot from some other direction, they shot at me first. The people in the car must have warned them. I told my sons to lie down and started driving away. There was heavy shooting at us and Ra`ed tried to close the window on my side."123 Fadi, who was sitting on the back seat, explained what happened next: "I was sitting in the back seat just behind my father who was driving. The shot went from the [rear] license plate into the back seat, then into the front seat and into Ra`ed. ... When Ra`ed was hit, he said, `I'm shot,' and then fell over towards my father. Father told me to hold Ra`ed as we drove to the hospital."124 The shot had shattered Ra`ed's spinal cord, and he was declared dead at the hospital.

The witnesses identified the Israeli-controlled H2 area as the source of the shooting, but the cause of the shooting remains unclear." Ra`ed's father remains convinced that he was the target of an assassination attempt. In a statement on the IDF website, the IDF denied "any attempt to assassinate a Fatah activist or a senior officer of the Palestinian Authority in Hebron this evening [10 November] and the reports about his son being hit. IDF forces in Hebron opened fire only when they came under danger. This shooting was only toward the sources of fire."125 Another theory is that they stumbled upon several undercover Israeli agents who called for a response from nearby IDF positions. The car Sadi was driving could easily be identified, as its license plate begins with the number 6, reserved for the mukhabarat. Alternatively, it is possible that Ra`ed was the victim of indiscriminate IDF fire, and that the car was not targeted by the IDF. Whatever the reasons for the IDF fire, the killing warrants a full investigation, and such an investigation has not been carried out.

Wounding of Ibrahim Abu Turki, October 13, 2000
On October 13, 2000, IDF soldiers posted at the settlement of Beit Haggai, located just south of the city of Hebron, shot and critically injured thirty-eight-year-old Ibrahim Abu Turki, a father of ten, as he rode on his donkey near the settlement. Aisha S., aged fifty-eight, lives near the settlement of Beit Haggai and was a witness to the events. According to Aisha S., there had been shooting coming from the settlement on the morning of October 13, a Friday. A Palestinian car driving near the Beit Haggai settlement had been fired upon and forced to turn around that morning. Her sons had attempted to walk to Qalqas around noontime to attend Friday prayers at the mosque, but were forced to turn around because of the firing from the settlement. The family did not hear or see any Palestinian fire at the time, only shooting from the settlement.126

About one hour after the shooting from the settlement had stopped, her daughter called out from the kitchen, screaming "Come here, come here, they shot someone riding a donkey." The family went to the windows to watch. Almost immediately, a large number of IDF jeeps arrived and cordoned off the area. A large crowd of Palestinian villagers gathered, but the soldiers prevented them from approaching. After about half an hour, the soldiers took Ibrahim Abu Turki on a stretcher to an ambulance. Abu Turki was first taken to a hospital in Jerusalem, where he was declared clinically dead, but later regained consciousness. He remains partially paralyzed with serious brain damage. Doctors have told the family that he is unlikely to make a significant recovery.

The IDF has expressed regret about the incident, but has not formally apologized to the family or given details of its investigation, if any, of the incident. According to the IDF area commander Col. Noam Tibon, an IDF soldier "fired towards a Palestinian whose behavior was perceived to be suspicious. The soldier that spotted the Palestinian intended to fire warning shots and mistakenly injured him."127 The soldier was reportedly taken off combat duty. The family of Abu Turki has not been informed by the IDF about an investigation into the incident, and has not been contacted by the IDF for information about the shooting. Fahmi Abu Turki, Ibrahim's uncle, explained: "All that the army has done for us is to give us permits to travel to the hospital. In terms of an apology, we heard on the radio that the army was sorry, but there has been no formal official apology. ... We want [an investigation] and if it is confirmed that this was a crime, the people responsible should be prosecuted."128

Ibrahim's brother, forty-five-year-old `Abd al-Majid Abu Turki, was killed while walking on the same stretch of road in June 1998, when an teenager from Beit Haggai settlement riding in a passing van struck him on the back of head with a piece of wood.129

Wounding of Shihab Sherif, October 9, 2000
On October 9, 2000, at about 10:15 p.m., Shihab Sherif, aged twenty-eight, was walking home after visiting his cousin in the downtown Bab al-Zawiya neighborhood when he came under IDF fire. There were no clashes at the time, and the area was quiet before the IDF shooting erupted. He told Human Rights Watch:

      As I was going home I heard very heavy gunfire. I was afraid I would be hit, so I laid down. ... After about one and a half minutes, I felt a bullet enter on my left side. I thought that if I stayed in the same place, they would fill my body full of holes. So I rolled around and around. While I was rolling I took another bullet in my back, it was a sniper bullet. ... They were shooting directly at me, they opened fire with many continuous shots. My whole side was covered with shrapnel [wounds] from bullets bouncing off the pavement. It sounded like hundreds of bullets. Then I was hit a third time in my right elbow, just above the joint.130

As he lay wounded in the street, the gunfire continued and made an evacuation difficult. An ambulance came to the scene and local residents tried to help, but none could approach the wounded Shihab. Finally, residents shouted to Shihab to crawl down to a nearby alley, and then carried him to an ambulance from there.

Killing of `Ala Mahfouz, October 6, 2000
On Friday, October 6, 2000, clashes broke out after the mid-day prayers in al-Fawwar refugee camp, located south of Hebron. Initially, a group of about six Israeli soldiers was forced to withdraw because of the intensity of the clash, leaving four wounded Palestinians behind. After about an hour, some thirty to forty IDF soldiers returned to the camp and began forcing back the large Palestinian crowd, using rubber bullets and tear gas.

Fourteen-year-old `Ala Mahfouz went into his home with his parents and siblings, and climbed onto the roof to get a better view of the events. `Ala began throwing stones from the roof, hitting and wounding an IDF soldier in the face. After this, `Ala went back inside the house. The soldier was evacuated to an ambulance, but his partner apparently remained on the street just outside the home, waiting for `Ala to reappear.

The clash continued in the street, with Palestinians pelting the IDF soldiers with stones, and the soldiers responding with rubber bullets and teargas. At about 3:30 p.m., more than an hour after `Ala had hit the soldier with a rock, about ten IDF soldiers brutally beat a youngster they caught in the street. `Ala's father and his neighbor went down to evacuate the youngster, and `Ala, who was drinking a cup of tea at the time, went out on his second floor balcony to see what was happening. According to the father: "I went down to evacuate [the youngster], I went down three steps and my son was here on the veranda looking out. Immediately, they shot at him. He was hit in the forehead, [the bullet] entered his head and didn't come out."131

`Ala's father and two neighbors tried to evacuate the gravely wounded `Ala but were faced with hostile IDF soldiers. According to the neighbor,

      The three of us went to evacuate him. We went down to the street and the soldiers fired rubber bullets at us, we were hit. All the streets were closed, so we had to run through the soldiers while they were shooting at us. ... All of us were hit by rubber bullets. I was hit with two rubber bullets in my legs, `Ala's father had one on his left shoulder, and his uncle one in his thigh.132

It took the three men about twenty minutes to reach an ambulance, and there were further delays when the ambulance driver was hit with a rubber bullet in his arm and temporarily unable to drive. `Ala died from his wounds on October 26, 2000, in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. According to several witnesses in the refugee camp, the soldier who shot `Ala has openly boasted about the killing to them, stating that it was in revenge for the wounding of his fellow IDF soldier, and threatened to kill others in the household.

Targeted Assassinations

In addition to the unlawful killings of Palestinian civilians, Israeli forces are also implicated in carrying out a number of targeted assassinations of alleged Palestinian militants in the Hebron area. The assassinations form part of a broader, publicly acknowledged, policy of "liquidations" carried out by Israeli forces throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip against Palestinian militants whom Israel suspects of planning or carrying out attacks on Israeli security forces and civilians.133 The decision to kill particular individuals have not been subject to any transparent civilian or military review.

Extra-judicial executions are strictly prohibited under international law, and Israel has the obligation to prove that the persons targeted under its "liquidation" policy are legitimate military targets and not victims of extra-judicial executions. Israel's failure to make public detailed information on its policy of "liquidation" of specific individuals is particularly troubling given that at least one of the persons Israel acknowledges killing under the policy, Thabit Ahmad Thabit, was a senior official in the Palestinian Ministry of Health and secretary-general of Fateh's Tulkarem branch, both clearly civilian posts. Thabit was killed as he was leaving his home on December 31, 2000. While the individuals killed in the two cases studied by Human Rights Watch in Hebron appear to have been involved in military activities, it is still incumbent on Israel to both acknowledge responsibility for individual assassinations, and to provide evidence that the persons targeted were legitimate military targets who could not easily be arrested. Without the safeguards of public acknowledgment and justification, Israel's policy of "liquidation" is too open to abuse.

Assassination of `Abbas al-`Awiwi, December 13, 2000
On December 13, 2000, Israeli gunmen assassinated `Abbas al-`Awiwi, a twenty-six-year-old member of the `Izz al-Din Qasim military wing of Hamas, as he left his cobbler's shop in al-`Adel street in the Palestinian-controlled Wadi al-Tuffah area of Hebron. Sha`ban A., a shoe seller who was standing on the opposite side of the street during the attack, described what he witnessed:

      I was in the street selling shoes and clothes, on the other side of the street. It was raining heavily. `Abbas was coming out of the entrance [of his shop] and waited to get into a car. He was with a friend, and the friend left. ... After this we heard the shooting. ... There was a public taxi and after it passed, `Abbas fell down. I heard three shots. To cover the shooting of `Abbas, heavy shooting started from Tel Rumeida [settlement] and Shalala Street, shooting in the air. ... He died immediately.134

There are conflicting views about how the assassination was carried out. Some witnesses believe that al-`Awiwi was shot from a passing car or by a gunman who walked past in the street, while others believe that al-`Awiwi was shot from the IDF position in nearby Tel Rumeida settlement. What is clear is that the killing was a targeted shooting, as there were no clashes or fire exchanges at the time of the shooting.

This particular "liquidation" may have been carried out in retaliation for a December 8, 2000, roadside attack near the settlement of Kiriat Arba, attributed to Hamas, in which two Israeli settlers were killed (see below), and for which several Hamas members were arrested on December 12, 2000, the day before the killing of al-`Awiwi. Al-`Awiwi was an active member of the military wing of Hamas who had spent years in Israeli prisons. Al-Awiwi had been placed in preventive detention by the Palestinian Authority at the request of the Israeli authorities, but like many detained Palestinian militants, he had been released during the first days of the unrest.135 The Israeli government has not publicly claimed responsibility for the killing of `Abbas al-`Awiwi.

Suspected Assassination of Fayez al-Qaimari, October 21, 2000
Another apparent "liquidation" took place on October 21 in the downtown Bab al-Zawiya district of Hebron. Fayez al-Qaimari was cleaning his taxi when a gunshot hit him in the head, instantly killing him. A fruit seller who witnessed the attack from a few meters away described what he saw to Human Rights Watch:

      We closed at about 1 or 2 p.m., and only left one door [of the shop] open. I was standing outside, leaning against the door. I heard a shot, just one shot. I stepped back for safety and started looking in the street. At the time, Fayez was leaning against his car. Suddenly, he fell to the ground. ... I didn't rush to Fayez in case there would be more shots. A big group of people came to carry Fayez, but he was already dead.

      I had been outside for about ten minutes before the shooting, and I had not heard any shots. But before then, maybe half an hour before, there had been a lot of shooting. That is why I was careful not to go out.

      I don't know what Fayez was doing [at the time of the shooting] but I can say for sure that Fayez was not shooting at the IDF. When Fayez fell to the ground, there was no gun. He was shot from Shalala Street, the soldiers were on top of a building.136

The IDF has not claimed responsibility for the killing of Fayez al-Qaimari, and the incident took place more than two weeks before the IDF announced that it had begun a campaign of "liquidating" Palestinians whom Israel suspects of involvement in planning or carrying out attacks against Israeli soldiers or civilians. According to his family and other witnesses, al-Qaimari was a member of Fatah, although it is unclear what role, if any, he had played in armed attacks. His family, who said that they knew little about al-Qaimari's role in Fatah, described him as a member who was undergoing military training but who spent his nights at home.137 However, a well-placed Palestinian source in Hebron told Human Rights Watch that al-Qaimari was known as a talented sharpshooter who may have been training other Fatah gunmen, giving a possible motive for a targeted assassination.138 The nature of the shooting-a single well-placed shot to the head at a time when there was no other shooting-suggests a targeted killing.

84 The IDF does not make its open fire regulations public. Human Rights Watch is in possession of the IDF's "Orders on Opening Fire in Judea and Samaria" collected in June 2000. The Israeli press has reported on several occasions since September 29, 2000, that the IDF has relaxed its open fire regulations. The IDF has refused to respond to Human Rights Watch's request for details of the new regulations.

85 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 9, 2001; IDF, "IDF Spokesperson's Announcements," January 12, 2001; Margot Dudkevitch, "IDF Kills Tanzim Gunman in Hebron," Jerusalem Post, January 14, 2001.

86 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 15, 2001.

87 Human Rights Watch interview with Nadir el-Moutur, Safir, February 23, 2001.

88 IDF, "IDF Spokesperson's Announcements: Summary of Weekend Events (22-23/12) in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District," December 23, 2000. When gunfire occurs at clashes, the IDF is certain to mention this fact in its statements.

89 Human Rights Watch interview with `Arafat Hamdan, al-Fawwar refugee camp, February 14, 2001.

90 IDF, "IDF Spokesperson's Announcements," November 16, 2000.

91 Human Rights Watch interview with Fawzi Faray, Hebron, February 24, 2001.

92 Ibid.

93 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 15, 2001. Early reports of the death of Ahmad al-Qawasmi suggested that a soldier had placed his foot on the neck of the boy and executed him. See LAW, "LAW reveals details of shooting of child in Hebron," December 10, 2000. Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights testified that the soldier did put his foot on the boy's neck, but did not fire additional shots.

94 Human Rights Watch interview with Taufik el-Waawi, al-Fawwar refugee camp, February 14, 2001.

95 Human Rights Watch interview with Rifa`i, Hebron, February 20, 2001.

96 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 15, 2001.

97 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 23, 2001.

98 See Human Rights Watch, Investigation into Unlawful Use of Force in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Northern Israel, October 4-11, 2000, A Human Rights Watch Short Report, Vol. 12, No. 3(A).

99 Joel Greenberg, "Israeli Military Worries Some of Troops May Be Trigger-Happy," New York Times, January 17, 2001.

100 Jamie Tarabay, "Islamic Militants Gain Influence Through Philanthropic Work," Associated Press, March 2, 2001.

101 Human Rights Watch interview with I.F., Hebron, February 17, 2001.

102 Human Rights Watch interview with Yusif al-Manasra, Bani Na`im, February 19, 2001.

103 Human Rights Watch interview with I.F., Hebron, February 17, 2001.

104 IDF, "IDF Spokesperson's Announcements," February 17, 2001.

105 Palestinian journalists with an Israeli-issued press card are formally allowed to work during curfew periods in H2, although in practice they often face harassment and attack from IDF soldiers and settlers.

106 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 9, 2001.

107 Ibid.

108 Ibid.

109 See Eric Silver, "TV Camera Captures Agony of Unarmed Arab Shot by Soldiers," Independent (London), January 2, 2001; Laura King, "An Israeli Soldier, A Palestinian Civilian: With Shocking Speed, Encounter Turns Violent," Associated Press, January 1, 2001; Ross Dunn, "Palestinian Shot For No Reason," Times (London), January 2, 2001.

110 IDF, "IDF Spokesperson's announcements," January 7, 2001.

111 "Israeli Army Official Faults Soldiers in Man's Shooting," Associated Press, January 30, 2001; "Head of Israeli Military Condemns Soldiers For Wounding Palestinian," Agence France Presse, January 29, 2001.

112 Human Rights Watch interview with `Amne Abu `Awad, Beit Umar, February 13, 2001.

113 Human Rights Watch interview, Beit Umar, February 20 ,2001.

114 Human Rights Watch interview, Beit Umar, February 20 ,2001.

115 Ibid.

116 Human Rights Watch interview, Beit Umar, February 13, 2001.

117 Ibid.

118 IDF, "IDF Spokesperson's Announcements," November 16, 2000.

119 Joel Greenberg, "Israeli Military Worries Some Troops May Be Trigger-Happy," New York Times, January 17, 2001; "Head of Israeli military condemns soldiers for wounding Palestinian," Agence France Presse, January 29, 2001 (quoting "a military source" that "the army had opened investigations in four other incidents, which could bring soldiers before military courts," including an incident in which "a soldiers shot at a Palestinian in mid-November after a dispute at a West Bank road block.").

120 Human Rights Watch interview, February 19, 2001.

121 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 18, 2001.

122 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 19, 2001.

123 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 16, 2001.

124 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 21, 2001.

125 IDF, "IDF Spokesperson's Announcements," November 11, 2001.

126 Human Rights Watch interview, Qalqas, November 7, 2000.

127 Louis Meixler, "Israelis Shoot Palestinian Farmer," Associated Press, October 14, 2000.

128 Human Rights Watch interview, Qalqas, November 7, 2000. A short news story by respected journalist Amira Hass stated that the IDF brigade commander for Hebron had apologized formally to the family, but the family denied to Human Rights Watch that such an apology was given. Amira Hass, "IDF apologizes to family of paralyzed man," Ha'aretz, November 9, 2000.

129 Laura King, "Senseless Killing Has Hebron on Edge," Associated Press, June 18, 1998.

130 Human Rights Watch interview with Shihab Sherif, November 3, 2000.

131 Human Rights Watch interview, November 5, 2000.

132 Human Rights Watch interview, November 5, 2000.

133 Human Rights Watch letter to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, "End Liquidations," January 29, 2001; Human Rights Watch release, "Israel: End `Liquidations' of Palestinian Suspects," January 29, 2001. See also Amnesty International, Israel and the Occupied Territories: State Assassinations and Other Unlawful Killings (London: Amnesty International, February 2001); B'Tselem, "Israel's Assassination Policy: Extra-judicial Executions" (January 2001).

134 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 12, 2001.

135 Human Rights Watch interview with Akram al-`Awiwi, February 12, 2001; Margot Dudkevitch and Lamia Lahoud, "IDF kills five Palestinians; Hamas Vows Revenge," Jerusalem Post, December 14, 2000. On the October release by the Palestinian Authority of Palestinian militants held in administrative detention, see Keith B. Richburg, "Arafat Turns To Militants in Uprising: Freed Extremists Become Part of Palestinian `Resistance'," Washington Post, October 25, 2000.

136 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 18, 2001.

137 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 17, 2001.

138 Human Rights Watch interview, Hebron, February 17, 2001.

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