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Israel/OPT: Israel has unleashed wave of unlawful attacks on Palestinians in West Bank - new research

A Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance which came under fire while attempting to rescue injured people in the West Bank © Palestinian Red Crescent Society

With the world’s attention largely focused on Gaza, Israeli forces have stepped up use of lethal force with raids on refugee camps and attacks on crowds at demonstrations 

Detailed investigation into Israel’s unlawful killing of 20 Palestinians, including seven children

‘In an instant, my brother was eliminated’ - sister of 15-year-old shot by Israeli forces

‘It is time for the ICC Prosecutor to investigate these killings and the crime of apartheid in its investigation into the situation in Palestine’ - Erika Guevara-Rosas

With the world’s attention largely focused on Gaza during the past four months, Israeli forces have unleashed a brutal wave of violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, carrying out unlawful killings and denying medical assistance to those injured, said Amnesty International today.

Since 7 October, Israeli security forces’ use of unlawful force during law-enforcement operations across the West Bank has been unrelenting, sowing fear and intimidation among entire communities. It has also been used to disperse rallies and protests held in solidarity with Gaza and those demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners and detainees.

Between 7 October and 31 December, 299 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank, according to the UN, a 50% increase compared to the first nine months of 2023, with at least 61 more Palestinians, including 13 children, killed so far in 2024 (as of 29 January). In total, at least 507 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank last year, including at least 81 children, making it the deadliest year for Palestinians since the UN began recording casualties in 2005. 

Amnesty has investigated four illustrative cases where Israeli forces used unlawful lethal force - three in October and one in November - which resulted in the unlawful killing of 20 Palestinians, including seven children. Amnesty researchers interviewed 12 people, ten of these eyewitnesses, including members of the emergency services and local residents, while also verifying 19 videos and four photos related to the incidents. Among other things, Amnesty’s research found that Israeli forces obstructed medical assistance to people with life-threatening wounds and attacked those attempting to assist injured Palestinians, including paramedics. (See below for further details). 

Israel has a well-documented record of using excessive and often lethal force to stifle dissent and enforce its system of apartheid against Palestinians, with such acts almost always committed with impunity. Protests in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza have been held frequently across the occupied West Bank since 7 October, with demonstrations largely peaceful, though some protesters have been seen throwing stones in response to the presence or forceful intervention of the Israeli forces. 

In late November, Amnesty sent requests for information on the four cases it has investigated to the Israeli military’s spokesperson unit and to the Jerusalem District Commander. At the time of publication no response had been received. Amnesty is continuing to investigate other cases of excessive force during Israeli law-enforcement operations, such as repeated raids and attacks in Jenin and Tulkarem in the north of the West Bank.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Global Research, Advocacy and Policy Director, said:

“Under cover of the relentless bombardment and atrocity crimes in Gaza, Israeli forces have unleashed unlawful lethal force against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, carrying out unlawful killings and displaying a chilling disregard for Palestinian lives.

“Amnesty International has long documented unlawful killings by Israeli forces and how they fit into the system of apartheid into which Palestinians are locked.

“These unlawful killings are in blatant violation of international human rights law and are committed with impunity in the context of maintaining Israel’s institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination over Palestinians.

“It is time for the ICC Prosecutor to investigate these killings and the crime of apartheid in its investigation into the situation in Palestine.

“The situation in Palestine and Israel is a litmus test for the legitimacy and reputation of the court. It cannot afford to fail it.”

Raid on Nour Shams refugee camp

In one illustrative case, Israeli military and border police used excessive force during a 30-hour-long raid on Nour Shams refugee camp in the town of Tulkarem which began on 19 October. During the operation Israeli forces killed 13 Palestinians, including six children, and arrested 15 people. Israeli military sources quoted in media reports said that one border police officer was killed and nine were injured after an improvised explosive device was thrown at them. Residents told Amnesty that during the operation Israeli soldiers stormed more than 40 homes, destroying personal belongings and drilling holes in the walls for use by snipers. Water and electricity to the camp were cut off and soldiers used bulldozers to destroy roads, electricity networks and water infrastructure. Among those killed during the raid was Taha Mahamid, 15, who Israeli forces shot in front of his house. Mahamid was unarmed and posed no threat to the soldiers when he was shot, as is clear from witness testimony and videos reviewed by Amnesty. A video filmed by one of his sisters and verified by Amnesty’s shows him walking in the street checking for the presence of soldiers and then collapsing outside his house after the sound of three gunshots can be heard. 

Fatima, Taha Mahamid’s sister, told Amnesty: 

“They did not give him a chance. In an instant, my brother was eliminated. Three bullets were fired without any mercy. The first bullet hit him in the leg. The second - in his stomach. Third, in his eye. There were no confrontations … there was no conflict.”

An eyewitness told Amnesty that when Taha Mahamid’s father, Ibrahim, attempted to carry his injured son to safety, Israeli forces in turn shot him in the back. A verified video filmed by one of Taha’s sisters immediately after the shooting shows Ibrahim lying on the ground next to Taha before limping away. Fatima said, “He raised his hands, showing them [the soldiers] that he had nothing in them. He just wanted to take his son. They shot him with one bullet, and my father fell next to Taha”.

Ibrahim Mahamid suffered serious damage to his internal organs and was taken to intensive care. Neither Taha nor Ibrahim Mahamid posed a threat to security forces or anyone else when they were shot. This unnecessary use of lethal force should be investigated as the possible war crimes of wilful killing and willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.

Approximately 12 hours after Taha Mahamid’s killing, the Israeli military stormed the family home and locked family members - including three young children - in a room for approximately ten hours. Soldiers also drilled holes in the walls of rooms to position snipers overlooking the area. One witness said the soldiers searched the house, beating a member of the family, and one was seen urinating on the doorstep. In videos verified by Amnesty, Israeli military bulldozers can be also seen damaging the narrow streets of the Nour Shams refugee camp. A video posted by the Palestinian Red Crescent shows extensive damage to a road inside the camp, hampering the medical evacuation of people injured during the raid. 

Tulkarem demonstration

Two eyewitnesses have described to Amnesty how, on 13 October, Israeli forces stationed at a military watch tower at one of the main entrances to the West Bank town of Tulkarem and those on the roof of a nearby home opened fire on a crowd of at least 80 unarmed Palestinians peacefully demonstrating in solidarity with Gaza. Two journalists at the scene separately told Amnesty they saw Israeli forces firing tear gas at the crowd and shortly afterwards opening fire at them without warning. The two journalists saw four people shot and injured as they tried to run from the shooting. Minutes later, Israeli forces opened fire in the direction of the journalists despite the fact they were wearing clearly-marked press vests. The journalists hid behind a wall along with three children, remaining there for around two hours as the operation continued. During this time, they witnessed a Palestinian man riding past them on a bike being shot and injured by an Israeli soldier. One of the journalists also saw another demonstrator being shot in the head. She described how the victim was suddenly shot and fell to the ground. He later died from his wounds. 

Attack on medics in Jenin refugee camp

During another Israeli raid inside Jenin refugee camp on 9 November, the Israeli military attacked medical personnel attempting to treat someone with a gunshot wound. As reported by the UN, Israeli forces killed 13 Palestinians during this operation, which lasted 12 hours and involved armed clashes and airstrikes. According to an eyewitness, Israeli forces shot Sabreen Obeidi - a Palestinian Red Crescent paramedic - in the back while she was inside a parked ambulance in the camp. During the same raid, Israeli forces shot at two other Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances which had entered the camp to attend to the injured people. Video footage from a camera installed inside an ambulance shared with Amnesty shows a bullet striking the road approximately two metres in front of the ambulance. The incident shown in the video was also recounted to Amnesty by a paramedic inside the ambulance who said he also saw two other paramedics shot at by a sniper positioned in a building across the street. 

Beitunia prison release crowd

On 27 November, Israeli forces used excessive force against a crowd of Palestinians in Beitunia, near Ramallah. The crowd had gathered to greet prisoners released from Ofer prison as part of the deal between Israel and Hamas during the humanitarian pause in Gaza. Witnesses described to Amnesty how the Israeli military fired live ammunition and rubber-coated bullets at the crowd, and dropped tear gas using drones. Witnesses also reported that Israeli forces deployed a military bulldozer and drove jeeps into the crowd. One eyewitness saw local resident Yassine Al-Asmar shot in the chest. Ambulances were unable to reach Al-Asmar due to Israeli fire. Instead, his friends managed to move him and take him to a hospital in Ramallah, where he was declared dead shortly afterwards. 

Videos verified by Amnesty show some protesters throwing stones and burning tires in the area, as well as at least one person throwing a Molotov cocktail at a bulldozer. Under international law, throwing stones or burning tires do not justify a law-enforcement response involving the use of firearms. International law prohibits the use of lethal force against people who are not posing an imminent threat of death or serious injury. These shootings should be investigated as possible war crimes of willful killing and willfully causing great suffering or serious injury. One of the witnesses said, “They seek to mar our celebration of released prisoners and assert their domination”.

Deliberate obstruction of medics

The obstruction of medical assistance by Israeli forces during operations across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a practice Amnesty has documented for many years and is part of Israel’s system of apartheid. Under international law, Israeli forces are obliged to ensure that anyone injured by their forces is able to access medical treatment. Amnesty has investigated several recent occasions where the Israeli forces hindered or prevented those seriously injured in demonstrations and raids from receiving vital medical assistance. They also shot at Palestinians trying to help, including medics tending to the wounded. 

On 10 October, in Ein Al-Lozeh, a district in Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem, an Israeli border police patrol unit unlawfully killed Ali Abbasi who was unarmed and attempting to pull to safety Abd Al-Rahman Faraj, who had just been shot by the same unit. Confrontations had erupted between Palestinians and Israeli border police in the district, with Palestinians setting off fireworks and Israeli forces firing live ammunition. During these clashes, Abd Al-Rahman Faraj was shot and shortly after Ali Abbasi tried to pull him to safety. An eyewitness, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, told Amnesty they saw Israeli forces shooting Ali Abbasi in the head as he tried to pull Faraj away. The witness said Israeli forces then threatened to shoot people who tried to help the two men and prevented an ambulance from reaching the victims, leaving them bleeding on the ground for more than an hour. The two men were later collected by an Israeli military ambulance. Their bodies have yet to be returned to their families. 

Similarly, during a crackdown on a demonstration in the town of Tulkarem on 13 October, eyewitnesses to the shooting by Israeli forces of a Palestinian man who was riding a bike told Amnesty that the paramedic who attempted to rescue the victim was also shot at by Israeli soldiers as he approached the injured man. One of the two journalists who witnessed the incident told Amnesty that she saw the man on the bike shot in the leg. She said: 

“He was screaming. And then one of the ambulance guys tried to move him and save his life but the Israeli sniper continued shooting. I saw with my own eyes the medical people and the ambulance getting shot at by Israeli snipers.” 

In a third example - an Israeli raid on the Nour Shams refugee camp in the West Bank on 19 October - three eyewitnesses, including a paramedic at the scene, said two ambulances were stopped at the entrance of the camp and prevented from reaching the injured. The witnesses said the residents were forced to transport the wounded to a hospital in private cars. Family members who witnessed the 19 October shooting of Ibrahim Mahamid while he attempted to carry his injured son Taha to safety (as above), told Amnesty that he was prevented from receiving medical assistance for more than an hour. Amnesty also spoke to a paramedic at the scene who confirmed that he’d spent more than an hour trying to reach Mahamid but Israeli forces blocked ambulances at the camp entrance and Mahamid was left to bleed throughout this time.  

International law

International law requires that the sick and wounded and medical personnel be respected and protected. Obstructing access to medical treatment violates the right to health, the right to security of the person, and to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israel is the occupying power and its actions are bound by its obligations under international human rights law. In policing demonstrations and carrying out other law-enforcement functions in the West Bank, including so-called search-and-arrest operations, Israeli forces must fully respect human rights laws and standards.

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