Israel 'must not be allowed to continue its rampage against Palestinians'
The Israeli security forces have used repeated, unwarranted and excessive force against Palestinian protesters in occupied East Jerusalem Amnesty International said today as it called on United Nations Security Council members to convene an open session.
The call follows four days of violence in which 840 Palestinians have been injured. At least 21 Israeli police officers and seven Israeli civilians were also injured, according to Israeli police.
Amnesty is also calling on the Israeli authorities to immediately halt forced evictions in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and end the ongoing forced displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem.
In the latest escalation, Palestinian armed groups have today fired rockets and missiles into Israel injuring at least one Israeli and there have been reports of several people killed in Gaza from retaliatory attacks by Israel. Amnesty calls on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and take all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians.
Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said:
“The latest violence brings into sharp focus Israel’s sustained campaign to expand illegal Israeli settlements and step-up forced evictions of Palestinian residents - such as those in Sheikh Jarrah - to make way for Israeli settlers. These forced evictions are part of a continuing pattern in Sheikh Jarrah, they flagrantly violate international law and would amount to war crimes.
“Israel must not be allowed to continue its rampage against Palestinians who are simply defending their right to exist and protesting against their forced displacement.
“As an immediate step we call on the United Nations Security Council members to convene an open session and for the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process to brief member states.”
Eyewitness testimonies – as well as videos and photographs taken by Amnesty’s researchers on the ground in East Jerusalem – show how Israeli forces have repeatedly deployed disproportionate and unlawful force to disperse protesters during violent raids on al-Aqsa mosque and have carried out unprovoked attacks on peaceful demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah.
Unlawful use of force
Tensions reached boiling point on Friday, when more than 170 Palestinians were injured as Israeli forces stormed the al-Aqsa mosque compound dispersing worshippers along with protesters, firing firing 40mm kinetic impact projectiles (KIPs) and concussion grenades into crowds gathered there for prayers on the last Friday of Ramadan.
A Palestinian journalist present at the scene described how Israeli forces went on the rampage firing projectiles and tear gas. He also said they stormed the clinic at the mosque and beat protesters. He told Amnesty International:
“I’ve been covering events taking place in Jerusalem for the past 10 years… and I’ve never been this scared in my life. Everyone was a target, I want to say that the shooting was random, but that would be a lie. They knew exactly who and where they were aiming their bullets and grenades at. Most of the people were targeted in their upper bodies (eyes, face, and chest).”
Today more than 300 Palestinian protesters were injured when Israeli forces stormed the al-Aqsa compound for the second time. A Red Crescent spokesperson told Amnesty that the violence led to the hospitalisation of at least 250 Palestinians, with seven in a critical condition.
One eyewitness said Israeli forces began breaking windows and firing tear gas and stun grenades, leaving many people inside struggling to breathe. A witness told Amnesty:
“They kept moving in pushing people into al-Aqsa mosque, locking [the doors] with metal chains… and then breaking a window to throw in tear gas at people literally locked up with not much room to breathe or get medical assistance… on top of it they started to shoot rubber bullets at worshippers inside.”
Over the past week Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood have held nightly demonstrations in response to the imminent threat of forced eviction. Amnesty has documented arbitrary arrests of peaceful demonstrators, the use of excessive force, arbitrary use of sound and stun grenades as well as the arbitrary spraying of maloderant (skunk) water canons at demonstrators and homes in Sheikh Jarrah.
Four Palestinian families in the neighbourhood are under imminent threat of forced eviction after a Jerusalem court rejected their appeal against an eviction order. Nahalat Shimon International, a settler company, has filed lawsuits to seize the homes of dozens of families in Sheikh Jarrah using inherently discriminatory laws.
Yesterday, Amnesty researchers witnessed an unprovoked attack by Israeli forces against a group of peaceful demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah. Israeli forces arrived shortly before iftar, the evening Ramadan meal. After the meal peaceful protesters formed a circle and began chanting against the imminent plans to evict Palestinian families from their homes. The demonstrators were at least 10 metres away from the Israeli forces who were stationed by a nearby Israeli settlers’ home. A short while later Israeli forces launched a coordinated attack to disperse the crowd of Palestinian protesters. Israeli forces on horseback began to sprint towards the crowd. One man limping in pain said he was trampled on by police horses as he tried to run away from the area. Residents were pushed into the walls of their homes and five men were arbitrarily arrested.
Israeli forces began to shove and hit the group -including an Amnesty researcher observing the protest. At around 10pm they brought the skunk water canons and sound grenades and began to arbitrarily fire at demonstrators.
Nabil el-Kurd, one of the residents under threat of forced eviction in Sheikh Jarrah, told Amnesty:
“Sheikh Jarrah is sending a message to the whole world, including the US Congress, the UK Parliament, the French Parliament, the EU Parliament, the International Criminal Court, that what is happening to us is a war crime. It is not just an eviction, but a war crime. Remember that. I do not know why the entire world is watching what is happening and letting Israel get away with it.”