Since October 2000, the settlements located in the Israeli-controlled center of Hebron (Avraham Avino, Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano and Tel Rumeida) as well as the two larger settlements located on the outskirts of Hebron (Kiriat Arba and Givat Harsina) have come under fire from Palestinian gunmen on a regular basis. Many IDF positions are scattered throughout the settlements and the Israeli-controlled Palestinian areas, so in many cases it is unclear whether Palestinian gunmen are aiming their fire at military targets or at civilian targets.139 However, the location of IDF positions close to the settlements does not negate the obligation of the Palestinian gunmen to take the necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties, and to refrain from firing indiscriminately into the settlements.
Armed Palestinians normally use AK47 automatic weapons and handguns to open fire from Palestinian-controlled neighborhoods such as Harit Abu Sneihneh, Harit al-Shaykh, and Bab al-Zawiya. In Gaza, Palestinian militants have at times used heavier weapons such as mortars to attack settlements and IDF positions, but there is no evidence of the Palestinian use of such weapons during the current violence in Hebron. Most Palestinian gunfire at the settlements occurs at night, although there has also been significant daytime shooting. In two recent incidents, Israeli settlers in Hebron have been killed or wounded by Palestinian gunfire directed at the settlements.
Wounding of Elad Pass, March 10, 2001
Killing of Shalhavet Pass and Wounding of Yitzhak Pass, March 26, 2001
Yesterday afternoon at 4:30 [p.m.] I arrived in the Avraham Avino neighborhood from my Beit Haddassah home. As I was getting out of the car, a shot rang out. It was very close to me. I told the soldiers that we had been shot at and they said `No, it was just a firecracker.' I found out [on the morning of the next day] that a little girl, a three-year-old girl who was standing opposite me, was actually scratched by that bullet. Her mother discovered only last night that the bullet had gone by her and scratched her finger. That same bullet put a hole in the shirt of a girl who was playing in a sandbox in the Avraham Avino courtyard.
About ten or fifteen minutes later, the sniper started shooting again, at the Pass family as they were walking from the parking lot into the neighborhood. Yitzhak Pass was hit in the leg, and he fell. The baby was in a stroller. Her mother didn't even realize [the baby] had been shot, she picked up the baby to take her for cover and then discovered the baby had been shot in the head.
Emergency medical crews arrived almost immediately and started to treat them. Yitzhak was transferred to an ambulance and taken to a hospital in Jerusalem. They tried to save the baby's life, but were not able to.145
The killing of the baby girl and wounding of her father was vigorously condemned by Israeli political leaders, and led Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to change the IDF's "policy of restraint."146 Sharon's spokesperson blamed the attack on professional snipers under the control of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat: "The fact that they could pick off the baby and then the father makes this a hideous, deliberate, coldblooded murder. Snipers are not just gun-toting youth. They belong to professional security forces. ... If Arafat had wanted, the sniper would not have been there."147 Settlers went on a rampage after the killing, attacking and burning Palestinian stores and cars, destroying the office of the Islamic Wafq authority in Hebron, shooting at Palestinian homes, and attempting to invade the Palestinian neighborhood from which the gunfire came. The settlers demanded that the IDF retake the Palestinian-controlled neighborhood and "purify these hills of the murderers and terrorists," and the Pass family announced that they would not bury the remains of Shalhevet Pass until the IDF had "recaptured" the Palestinian-controlled hills.148 Those demands were rejected by the IDF, and Shalhevet Pass was buried on April 1, 2001, after entreaties from Prime Minister Sharon and Israel's Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.149
Physical Damage Caused by Palestinian Attacks
Homes in all of the settlements visited by Human Rights Watch in Hebron had been hit by gunfire. The impact of the Palestinian gunfire on the lives of the settlers was obvious: many had been forced to relocate their sleeping arrangements into crowded safer rooms, and complained that their children were unable to sleep from fear. The light automatic weapons used by Palestinian gunmen caused physical damage to the settlements that was generally lighter than that caused by the heavier IDF response, discussed below.
Roadside attacks on Israeli Settlers
Days after the deadly road attack, Israel's General Security Service (known by its Hebrew initials, Shin Bet) and the IDF arrested three Palestinians who later reportedly confessed to carrying out the attack. According to Hebron settler representatives, the arrests were based on the positive identification of one of the gunman made by one of the surviving teachers out of a "terrorist picture album" shown to her.152 During interrogation by the Shin Bet, the three men apparently confessed to the crime, and admitted that they had carried out the attack on the instructions of the military wing of the Islamist militant group Hamas. The three suspects were all Hebron residents.153 On December 13, 2000, a day after the confessions, `Abbas al-`Awiwi, a member of the military wing of Hamas, was killed on the streets of Hebron in a "liquidation" blamed on Israeli forces (see above).
On February 1, 2001, Palestinian gunmen overtook and fired at the vehicle of Shmuel Gillis, a doctor who lived in the settlement of Karmei Tzur, as his vehicle was driving past al-`Arrub refugee camp. The forty-two-year-old father of five was struck by several bullets, and his vehicle overturned after the attack. Doctor Gillis died at the scene.154 In retaliation for the roadside attack, Israeli authorities demolished two civilian buildings in the area on February 20, 2001, arguing that the structures were illegal and located near the place where the attack had taken place, but not making a specific link between the demolished homes and the attack.155
Establishing the Identity of Palestinian Gunmen
Each few nights, they come and shoot two or three shots from a pistol or a gun, either from behind our houses or farther up the hill. The shot is like a sign to the soldiers, they start shooting heavily at the area. Nobody dares to go outside in the evening. ... I have never seen the Palestinian gunmen, but I swear that if I see any I will tie them up and hand them over to the Israelis. Everyone shooting from in between Palestinian neighborhoods is not a patriot, they are terrorizing our families.156
Although it is difficult to determine with certainty whether the Palestinian gunmen belong to organized Palestinian groups or are simply armed civilians, it is likely that many attacks are to a significant extent authorized and coordinated by elements of the Palestinian leadership. The amount of gunfire exchanged in some of the gun battles in Hebron, amounting to hundreds of rounds from the Palestinian side, strongly suggest official involvement, as the extent of weapons and ammunition in private Palestinian hands is limited. Most of the witnesses who had seen the Palestinian gunmen believed them to be members of Fatah's Tanzim militia, an organization closely associated with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. A member of Fatah who had participated in attacks on settlements in Hebron acknowledged to Human Rights Watch that he was acting on the orders of Fatah leaders in Hebron:
We are given orders on a daily basis on where to fire from and on what settlements to fire. We cannot give advance warning to the [Palestinian] residents because oftentimes we do not know them, and there could be collaborators among them [who will warn the IDF about attacks]. Most of the time, we fire from unfinished buildings or unpopulated areas."157
A thirty-eight-year-old shopkeeper who lived in Palestinian-controlled territory close to the Tel Rumeida settlement explained to Human Rights Watch that he knew some of the gunmen operating in his neighborhood:
Everyone knows the gunmen, there are about four or five [in this neighborhood.] During the day, they walk around here with their guns. ... The ones I know work with the Palestinian Authority, they are PA employees, they usually travel in stolen cars full with guns. All of them are Tanzim, Fatah. ... I used to talk to them, say, `You see what you are doing to our houses, why do you come here?' They would say that they had orders, that it was out of their hands to stop the shooting.158
A resident of the Abu Sneihneh neighborhood explained that a group of young gunmen whom he believed belonged to Fatah had regularly come to his neighborhood to fire at Israeli positions: "The first day about ten armed boys came, it started at the beginning of the clashes. After that, it has been about five or six [gunmen]. They would say that they have come to protect the neighborhood, but from what? They come with their Kalashnikovs, fire a couple of shots and then they go and hide in the neighborhood."159
While these accounts indicate that Fatah members appear responsible for some of the attacks on settlements in Hebron district, it is by no means clear that Fatah or other organized Palestinian organizations are responsible for all, or even most, of the attacks on settlements in Hebron district. Human Rights Watch was unable to establish that all, or even most, of the attacks on settlements had been ordered by Fatah leaders, or other organized Palestinian groups. We cannot exclude the possibility that a significant number of the shooting incidents in Hebron are the acts of private Palestinian individuals not under the direct control or orders of Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, or other organized armed Palestinian groups.
A forty-year-old woman whose house was occupied by IDF soldiers described the Palestinian shooting that came from her neighborhood, and the steps that she and her neighbors had taken to deny Palestinian gunmen access to their neighborhood:
Before the soldiers occupied this house, there was heavy shooting back and forth, sometimes for hours. The Palestinians would shoot from this neighborhood. ... They used to hide between the olive trees, but they would not come into the houses. ... We dared not to go to the windows, we would lie on the floor in the living room in the middle of the house and turn off all the lights.
All of the neighbors agreed to block the road so the gunmen could not come into the neighborhood. We put an old car across the road, and a cement mixer. ... Of course we don't want the gunmen in our neighborhood, the damage happens to our home. The gunmen fire a few shots, but then the [IDF] response is from heavy machine guns and tanks.160
By opening fire from heavily populated civilian areas, Palestinian gunmen endanger the lives of Palestinian civilians, and their action is a serious violation of international humanitarian law. The Palestinian Authority has an obligation to prevent its agents from operating in violation of international humanitarian law norms. International humanitarian law requires the Palestinian Authority to prevent attacks on Israeli civilians by its own agents and by private gun owners, to prevent shooting from heavily populated civilian areas by its agents and private gun owners, and to arrest and prosecute those who carry out such activities. As the cases in this report indicate, the Palestinian Authority is failing to carry out these obligations.
Some Palestinian leaders have at times sought to justify Palestinian attacks on settlers. Ahmed `Abd al-Rahman, a senior aide to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, responded to U.S. concerns about Palestinian attacks on Israeli settlers by rejecting the notion that Israeli settlers were civilians, stating:
The settlers who are living in the occupied territories are an accessory to the Israeli army. If they were civilians they should be in Israel, not in the occupied territories.161
Following a Palestinian attack on a bus transporting school children from the Kfar Darom settlement in Gaza which killed two and wounded nine, the Palestinian Minister of Prisoners' Affairs, Hisham `Abd al-Raziq, stated that the attack had been committed "against people who occupy our land. From our point of view, any action against the occupation is legal."162 Such views, however, are inconsistent with international humanitarian law norms. These state emphatically that civilians are never a legitimate target for military attack.
There is a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference between the Palestinian gunfire directed at Israeli settlements and IDF positions in Hebron, and the IDF response to such gunfire. Palestinian gunfire mainly consists of light automatic weapons fire, while the IDF has a varied and more powerful arsenal that includes light, medium, and heavy machineguns, tank fire, rockets, and helicopter gunships. The use of such heavy weaponry does not necessarily violate international standards. But the use of heavy weaponry increases the destructive potential of the IDF response, and must be used with great care to prevent disproportionate harm to civilians. This response must be proportionate to the threat faced and adequate measures must be taken to minimize the impact of IDF fire on the Palestinian civilian population.163
IDF positions normally respond to Palestinian gunfire with fire from medium-caliber machine guns, occasionally supplemented with antitank missiles. The medium-caliber machine guns normally fire 7.62 mm armor piercing rounds (known to Palestinians as "500 caliber") up to 12.7 mm (.50 caliber, known to Palestinians as "800 caliber") rounds, both of which can easily penetrate concrete, and Human Rights Watch researchers documented cases in Hebron where medium-caliber bullets penetrated as many as three interior walls. IDF gunfire has caused extensive structural damage to hundreds of Palestinian homes in Hebron, and has resulted in civilian casualties. On many occasions, it appears that IDF soldiers responded with widespread gunfire into civilian neighborhoods, hitting dozens of homes at a time. The apparently untargeted nature of IDF gunfire and its civilian toll raises serious concerns that the IDF is firing indiscriminately, in violation of international humanitarian law standards.
As is the case with Israeli settlers, Palestinian civilians have taken precautions to limit the civilian casualties of IDF gunfire, sandbagging windows, relocating sleeping quarters to interior rooms, and rarely venturing outside during the night. But the heavier firepower of the IDF makes it more difficult for Palestinian civilians to protect themselves from indiscriminate gunfire, and has caused significantly more casualties among Palestinian civilians.
Killing of Issam al-Tawil, February 16, 2001
Twenty-nine-year-old Issam al-Tawil was driving home that evening with his parents, his brother, and sister-in-law after attending a mourning service unrelated to the conflict. According to his father, fifty-five-year-old Rashad al-Tawil: "We were about one hundred meters from our house and turned off the [car] lights. Then we stopped until things quieted down. There was shooting from machine guns. The bullet hit the door near the driver, it was either a 500 or 800 [caliber bullet]. It penetrated the door on the driver side [and] hit Issam in the side and went into his body. ... They were shooting at any car driving."164 The family stopped a passing car to bring Issam to the hospital, but he died from his wounds on the way to the hospital.
The same night, the IDF attacked the al-Rayyan collective farm on the outskirts of Hebron, killing two workers and injuring a third in what appears to have been a targeted attack (discussed above). The attack on the al-Rayyan collective farm, with gunfire from at least three directions, was also highly indiscriminate, hitting many homes in the neighborhood and even the luxury al-Mezan hotel, located at least one half kilometer away, which was hosting more than a thousand guests at the time of the attack.
Killing of Arij al-Jabali and Wounding of Ahlam al-Jabali, January 5, 2001
As the two women were gathering the laundry on the roof, Palestinian boys from the neighborhood apparently set off some fireworks. Ahlam recalls: "There were some youths playing with fireworks, they were aiming them at Beit Haggai. They were playing [in the clearing] below the house, firing fireworks from there to Beit Haggai. It was just a few minutes between the fireworks and the heavy shooting from Beit Haggai."165 When the gunfire from the Beit Haggai settlement began, the two girls quickly tried to seek safety in the stairwell of the home, but were soon wounded:
We were chatting and sitting by the roof when the shooting started. I was by the door on the roof and Arij was near the [television] antenna. The shooting was very heavy. Arij and I went inside and hugged each other. ... When we hugged each other, Arij said my name and stared at me. Suddenly, there was a hit, a bullet which came from the left shoulder of Arij, went through her heart and then injured me in the stomach and right side.166
An ambulance took the two wounded girls to the hospital. The doctors tried to save Arij, but the wounds were too severe, according to Dr. Hisham Shaheen: "There was a half centimeter hole in her heart and several two centimeter holes in the left lung. She arrived at the hospital in the last stage and was bleeding severely."167
Colonel `Awni el-Natsheh, the deputy military commander of the Palestinian Authority in Hebron, told Human Rights Watch that the Palestinian mukhabarat had arrested a young Palestinian boy in connection with the case, and that the youngster was being investigated for setting off fireworks in the direction of Beit Haggai, "leading to the death of al-Jabali."168
Wounding of Samir Abu Shakdam, January 2, 2001
Anwar al-Kadi, a thirty-eight-year-old shoemaker, was at home with twenty-one relatives and visitors when the IDF responded to the Palestinian gunfire from his neighborhood at about 5 p.m. and his house came under heavy fire: "The sound of the bullets hitting the walls was very loud. The shooting continued for at least 45 minutes. ... After the heavy shooting, there was a lot of dust, we could barely breathe."170 Because the entrance to the home directly faced the IDF position, the family had to wait until the gunfire had died down to exit their home. A Human Rights Watch visit to the house in February found extensive damage to every room facing the IDF position, with dozens of medium-caliber rounds penetrating the walls on each of the three floors of the home. The family was forced to abandon their heavily damaged home: "Naturally we could not stay in the house because it was too dangerous. I rented another house [and] my brother also rented another house." The family say they did not allow Palestinian gunmen to use their home: "We don't allow any gunmen to come here, and at night we lock all the doors. I don't want my house to be demolished, so I do not want gunmen here."171
Samir Abu Shakhdam, a thirty-year-old shoemaker, lives a few houses away from the home of Anwar al-Khadi. He was at work when the IDF response started on the evening of January 2, and waited until the shooting had stopped before heading home. "I was walking a way that was not exposed to the soldiers, except for about two meters," Samir recalled, "During those two meters, I was shot. The soldiers noticed me walking and shot me." Samir was hit in his upper leg area, and managed to make his way home and call his brothers for help. The IDF soldiers shot at his brothers as they came to evacuate him, but they managed to crawl over and bring him to a crowded ambulance: "The ambulance had received seven injuries, I was number eight." As the ambulance was leaving, it also came under IDF fire, and received at least one shot in the rear mudflap. A civilian car driving nearby was hit with an IDF rocket, causing the car to overturn and wounding the father and son inside.172
Killing of Mu`ath Abu Hadwan and Wounding of Three Others, December 31, 2000
When the IDF fire began, Arit el-Qawasma rapidly moved the children downstairs, but decided to return to the bedroom because she smelled something burning and was afraid the IDF rounds had set the room on fire. Almost as soon as she entered the room, she was hit in the right shoulder and right side of the face by shrapnel. Because of the heavy gunfire, she lay screaming in the bedroom for fifteen minutes before getting the attention of family members who moved her downstairs. As she was being evacuated to the hospital, a large crowd gathered outside.
Among the crowd was eleven-year-old Mu`ath Abu Hadwan, who had been out with his friends playing with a bicycle. When the boys first heard the shooting, they sought shelter in a local mosque and prayed, but when they heard someone was wounded they became curious and decided to go see what happened. Fawzi Faray, a thirty-year-old neighbor, explained what happened:
People said there were some injured Palestinians, so I went to rescue the Palestinians and saw that it was my neighbor [Arit]. I saw that [Arit] was injured; she received fragments in her face, arms and legs. We took the girl to the hospital. ...
There were twenty to thirty children in the street watching and I asked all of them to go home in case the Israelis started shooting again. There was shelling at the time. I saw Mu`ath just stepping back and falling to the ground. Then I fell to the ground to protect myself from the shrapnel. I looked around and saw my neighbor, the old woman, lying down. Then I saw Mu`ath also lying down, there was a lot of blood coming from his head. There had been five or six explosions.
I put my hand on the boy's head and started carrying him. When I was carrying him, a lot of blood spurted out and hit my eyes, so I couldn't see anything, and I tripped and fell.
There was a car parked in the area and I spoke to the driver saying we had an injured boy who needed to go to the hospital. But the man ran away, he couldn't stand the blood. Then we saw another car and stopped it.
We carried another boy, who had been injured inside his house by the shelling, to the hospital. This boy is deaf and mute, his name is Abdullah Abu Mezar, aged about ten or eleven. He was wounded in his arm, head, and foot. He was bleeding a lot from his arm. The shooting continued while we were getting the boys to the hospital.174
An investigation conducted by a military expert on behalf of Amnesty International concluded that Mu`ath Abu Hadwan may have been killed by shrapnel from grenade rounds fired from M203 grenade launchers, which, if used at great distances or in inappropriate circumstances, can be "inaccurate and extremely dangerous anti-personnel weapons."175
In addition to the death of Abu Hadwan and the wounding of two civilians around the al-Qawasma home, a third civilian was injured nearby. Thirteen-year-old Abir Kharami heard about the injuries near the al-Qawasma home, and went to the roof of her house to see what was happening and to bring down the chickens she was raising on the roof. "I took down the first box of chickens," she recalled, "I was carrying down the second box of chickens when I was hit [in] my hand and stomach. ... There was only one shot fired [at me], the house from which the IDF shot belongs to the Abu Munshar family."176
Killing of `Abd al-`Aziz Abu Sneineh, October 23, 2000
We weren't worried because every night armed youth come [to the neighborhood], these kids always shoot at the Jews. But for some reason this boy fired at our home.
The kids who come here and shoot belong to Fatah. You know because Hamas and the other groups don't go out [and show their guns], it is only Fatah who go out. The boy who shot [came] just before 8:45 p.m.177
As the IDF response began, the family retreated to the kitchen in the back of the house. However, the phone began ringing in the front room, and fifty-seven-year-old `Abd al-`Aziz, the head of the family, decided to go answer the phone. When he didn't return, his family began calling his name but got no response. His daughter, twenty-four-year-old Amal Abu Sneineh, went to the front room to check on her father:
The firing was going on, it became extremely heavy when my father went to answer the phone, so strong that the house was shaking. ... When he didn't answer, I came in, I could hear the glass breaking. When I came in, I found him on the floor by the couch. The bullet entered through the window and hit him in the head through the ear. The light was off, I turned on the light and found that the whole floor was covered in his blood and brains were all over the wall, it was horrible, the amount of blood.178
The gunfire at the home continued for another twenty minutes, making it impossible for the family to evacuate their father. The gunfire came from a heavily reinforced IDF position located at the Osama school in Jabal Johar, near the Kiriat Arba settlement, which includes several tanks. Human Rights Watch researchers counted more than sixty medium-caliber bullet craters on the home, as well as dozens of impact craters on nearby homes and on the street.
Wounding of Fatina Fakhoury and Her Infant Son, October 9, 2000
150 The reason for the vulnerability of Tel Rumeida is that its status as a settlement has not yet been determined by the Israeli government, so the settlers have not received permission to construct more permanent structures.
153 Yo'av Limor et al., "Shin Bet arrests Hamas Squad Suspected of Murdering Two Israelis on 8 December," World News Connection, December 14, 2000; Amos Harel, "Drive-by Hamas shooter indicted," Ha'aretz, February 8, 2001.
162 Keith Richburg, "Missile Attacks Stoke Palestinian Defiance," International Herald Tribune, November 22, 2000, cited in B'Tselem, "Illusions of Restraint: Human Rights Violations During the Events in the Occupied Territories, 29 September-2 December 2000" (December 2000).
163 Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions, Art 57 requires that the parties to a conflict "take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects." (emphasis added).
171 Ibid. Although the family was no longer living in the home, el-Kadi continued to operate a small shoe factory in the basement, allowing him to control access to the home and lock up the home when he left for the evening.