Israeli security forces accused of being 'trigger-happy' in West Bank

Nabi Saleh demonstrations.
Nabi Saleh demonstrations. © Amnesty International
  • Report shows ‘harrowing pattern of unlawful killings’ - Phil Luther
  • 22 documented cases of Palestinian civilians killed last year
  • More than 8,000 Palestinians seriously wounded in last three years, including 1,500 children

Israel’s security forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life in their killing of more than 40 Palestinians - including children - in the occupied West Bank over the past three years, with the rate of killings increasing significantly last year.

The findings - published today (27 February) in a new 85-page Amnesty International report, Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank - show that there has been mounting bloodshed and human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as a result of the Israeli forces’ use of unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal force against Palestinians since January 2011.

Amnesty documented the killings of 22 Palestinian civilians in the West Bank last year, of which at least 14 were in the context of protests - including protests against the longstanding occupation itself as well as against Israel’s security fence/wall, house demolitions and evictions, Israeli military checkpoints, and roads reserved for use by Israeli settlers from which Palestinians are excluded.

Most killings have been of young adults under the age of 25, at least four of whom were children. According to UN figures, more West Bank Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces last year (27) than the total number killed in 2011 (ten) and 2012 (eight) combined, with peaceful protesters, civilian bystanders, human rights activists and journalists among those killed or injured.

In all cases examined by Amnesty, Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers did not appear to be posing a direct and immediate threat to life. Several victims were shot in the back suggesting that they were targeted as they tried to flee and posed no genuine threat to the lives of members of Israeli forces or others. In several cases, well-armoured Israeli forces have resorted to lethal means to crack down on stone-throwing protesters causing needless loss of life. There is evidence that some individuals were victims of wilful killings, which would amount to war crimes.

In the last three years at least 261 Palestinians, including 67 children, have been seriously injured by live ammunition fired by Israeli forces in the West Bank. Since January 2011, an astonishing number of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank - more than 8,000, including 1,500 children - have been shot and seriously wounded by other means, including rubber-coated metal bullets and the reckless use of tear gas. In some cases, victims have also died as a result of their use.

Amnesty is calling on the Israeli authorities to instruct their forces to refrain from lethal force - including the use of live fire and rubber-coated bullets - except when strictly necessary to protect lives. It is also urging the USA, the European Union and the rest of the international community to suspend all transfers of munitions, weapons and other equipment to Israel.  

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther 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.

“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.

“The staggering numbers of wounded provide a sobering reminder of the relentless daily danger faced by Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank.

“If the Israeli authorities wish to prove to the world they are committed to democratic principles and international human rights standards, unlawful killings and unnecessary use of force must stop now.”

Amnesty’s report also points out that more than a year later, the findings of investigations by the Israeli authorities into a number of suspected unlawful killings have yet to be revealed.  

Philip Luther added:

“The current Israeli system has proved woefully inadequate. It is neither independent nor impartial and completely lacks transparency.”

Case study: 16-year-old boy killed for protesting

Samir Awad, a 16-year-old boy from Bodrus, near Ramallah, was shot dead near his school on 15 January 2013 where he had sat an examination earlier that day. While attempting to stage a protest with friends against Israel’s security fence/wall which cuts through their village, he was hit by three bullets in the back of the head, leg, and shoulder as he ran away from Israeli soldiers who had ambushed his group. Witnesses said the boy was directly targeted as he ran away.

Malik Murar, 16, Samir’s friend who witnessed his killing, told Amnesty:

“They shot him first in the leg, yet he managed to run away … how far can an injured child run? They could have easily arrested him … instead they shot him in the back with live ammunition.”

Amnesty believes Samir’s killing may amount to extrajudicial execution or a wilful killing, which is considered a war crime under international law. Philip Luther said:

“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.”

Under international law, the police and soldiers enforcing the law must always exercise restraint and never use arbitrary force. The security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force if there is an imminent risk to their lives or the lives of others. Israel has repeatedly refused to make public the rules and regulations governing the use of force by the army and police in the OPT.

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Trigger-happy: Israel's use of excessive force in the West Bank