Palestinian killed as report criticises ‘trigger happy’ Israel
RAMALLAH // Israel has killed dozens of Palestinian civilians and injured thousands, Amnesty International said yesterday in a scathing report that calls the incidents war crimes.
The report came on the same day that Israeli forces shot dead a wanted 24-year-old Palestinian man who refused to leave his house in the West Bank town of Bir Zeit.
Amnesty’s report, Trigger-Happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank, describes the Israeli military’s killing of 45 Palestinians, including children, and wounding of 8,000 more in the West Bank over the past three years as “unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal”.
The rights group found that not one of the Palestinians killed since 2011 in the Israeli-occupied territory posed a direct threat to Israel, saying that this amounted to “war crimes”.
Amnesty called on the United States and European Union to suspend arms shipments to Israel until it stops using lethal force — including live fire — on unarmed Palestinians who regularly protest against Israeli occupation.
“The frequency and persistence of arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and police officers — and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators — suggests that it is carried out as a matter of policy,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
He said the report “presents a body of evidence that shows a harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the West Bank”.
Israel rejected Amnesty’s charges, which also accused the military of being “woefully inadequate” in its efforts to investigate the killing of Palestinians by soldiers.
Israel’s military said Amnesty failed to mention “the substantial increase in Palestinian violence initiated over the past year” that included “a sharp increase in rock-hurling incidents, gravely jeopardising the lives of civilians and military personnel”.
In the past year, according to the military, “132 Israelis were injured, almost double the previous year”.
Palestinians welcomed Amnesty’s report, calling it an accurate representation of the Israeli military’s tactics to suppress peaceful measures against its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Occupied by Israel and flooded with hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, these territories claimed by Palestinians as part of their future state.
“The Israelis deliberately try to use violence to suppress our non-violent demonstrations as a tactic to scare us into submission,” said Abdullah Abu Rahmah, 43, a protest organiser in the West Bank hamlet of Bilin.
“Thousands of people have been injured, some of them in a very serious way.”
Mr Abu Rahmah said he saw his cousin Bassam Abu Rahmah die during a protest in 2009 after an Israeli tear-gas canister, fired at close range, struck him in the chest.
“They shot him directly from a distance of 20 metres. They shot him in the chest and he died,” he said, adding that “this is a violation of international law, to fire tear gas directly at people”.
Israel’s military last year closed an investigation into Bassam’s death because of a lack of evidence, even though the incident was captured on camera by three witnesses.
The latest Palestinian civilian to be killed by Israeli forces was Moataz Washaha, who was killed yesterday after Israeli troops bulldozed part of the house he was staying in and fired into the building, witnesses said. Israel said he was wanted for violent acts, but would not specify what they were.
A doctor at Ramallah Hospital said Washaha’s head was split open after being struck by a projectile.
In its report, Amnesty says only one Israeli soldier was convicted of killing a Palestinian civilian since 2011 despite the military killing 45 people — including 22 last year — and wounding more than 8,000. In that case, it was an unidentified staff sergeant who shot dead a Palestinian who was attempting to enter Israel without permission.
Receiving a one-year sentence with a five-month suspension, the sergeant was allowed to remain in the military, the report said.
The report also cited other examples of Israeli troops killing Palestinians, including Samir Awad, 16, whom Israeli soldiers shot in the head during a demonstration against the separation wall in January of last year.
“It’s hard to believe that an unarmed child could be perceived as posing imminent danger to a well-equipped soldier. Israeli forces appear in this and other cases to have recklessly fired bullets at the slightest appearance of a threat,” said Mr Luther.
He added that a “strong message must be sent to Israeli soldiers and police officers that abuses will not go unpunished”.
* With additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press
Updated: February 27, 2014 04:00 AM