Israel/OPT: Six Palestinians killed within 24 hours, some deaths may involve war crimes

The deaths of six Palestinians within just 24 hours is a horrific demonstration of the unnecessary or excessive force deployed by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), Amnesty International said today.

Between 10pm on Monday 17 September and 8pm on Tuesday 18 September, Israeli forces killed four Palestinian men in the Gaza Strip using live ammunition . Within the same period, two more died as a result of the actions of Israeli forces in the West Bank, one after being beaten during the process of arrest and another shot dead in a busy street in East Jerusalem.

“The shocking fact that five Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli authorities and one died in their custody in just 24 hours is a chilling demonstration of the utter disregard for right to life. Several of these incidents appear to involve deliberate and wilful killing of unarmed civilians and may amount to war crimes,” said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“It is the fact that such crimes are rarely, if ever, punished that allows unlawful killings and other violations of the right to life to continue in shameless disregard of international law. These incidents are not new in the OPT and are likely to continue unless this cycle of impunity is broken.”

On Monday 17 September two Palestinian men were killed during an Israeli air strike that targeted them on the southern Gaza Strip. Gaza’s health ministry identified them as Naji Jamil Abu Assi, 18, and Alaa Ziyad Abu Assi, 21. The Israeli military has claimed that the men were targeted because they approached the Gaza-Israel boundary fence and placed a “suspicious object” nearby.

Information that Amnesty International collected confirms that the two men were unarmed and that there were no indications that they posed any imminent threat that justified using lethal force against them. The reason for their presence at the site remains unclear.

On Tuesday 18 September, Israeli soldiers shot and killed two other Palestinian men in the Gaza Strip. Gaza’s health ministry identified the men as Mohammad Ahmad Abu Naji, 34, and Ahmad Mohammad Muhsin Omar, 20. They were participating in the ongoing protests against Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and in support of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, known as the “Great March of Return”, which began in March 2018. Israeli forces shot the two men in the chest with live bullets despite them not posing any immediate or serious threat.

Since 30 March, more than 180 Palestinians, including at least 29 children, have been killed and over 17,000 others injured in the Israeli military response to the “Great March of Return” protests held along the Israel-Gaza fence. Amnesty International has not documented any instances where protesters posed an imminent threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers and snipers, who have been located behind the fence, protected by military equipment, sand hills, drones and military vehicles.

Also on Tuesday, another Palestinian, Mohammed al-Khatib al-Rimawi, 24, died after he was brutally beaten by Israeli forces as they were arresting him at his home in the village of Beit Rima in the West Bank district of Ramallah.

His family told Amnesty International that around 40 Israeli soldiers arrived in a civilian minibus and that 15 of them burst into the family home in a pre-dawn raid on Tuesday, assaulting Mohammad while he was still lying in bed. The Israeli forces severely beat Mohammad and carried him away while unconscious. The family was informed of his death a few hours later, at around 9am, through a phone call from the Palestinian authorities. An autopsy is expected to take place on Thursday 20 September in presence of the victim’s lawyers.

On the same day, another young Palestinian man, Mohammed Yousef Sha’aban Elayyan, 26, from Qalandia refugee camp near Jerusalem, was shot dead by Israeli police near the Damascus Gate of the Old City in East Jerusalem. Israeli police alleged that the shooting occurred to prevent a stabbing attempt on the start of the Jewish fasting day of Yom Kippur. No Israelis were reported injured in the incident.

Israeli police issued a statement saying the Palestinian man ran towards a Jewish man near Jerusalem’s Old City and knocked him to the ground, then ran away while waving a sharp object at officers who opened fire on him.

Israeli police released security camera footage that they said showed the incident from multiple angles, including images of Mohammed moving towards the Israeli forces with a sharp object before he was shot dead. It is not clear that the Israeli forces had no choice but to use lethal force.  

“Israel has a duty to immediately launch an independent, thorough and transparent investigation into each of these incidents and all other incidents which may involve the use of unnecessary or excessive force, torture and other ill-treatment against Palestinian civilians. We call on the Israeli authorities to hold those found responsible for these grave violations to account through fair trials. Until this happens we will not see an end to Israeli forces’ random and apparently senseless killing and violence,” said Saleh Higazi.

“The international community must also take concrete steps to stop the delivery and trade of arms and military equipment to Israel. A failure to do so fuels serious human rights violations against millions of men, women and children suffering the consequences of 50 years of military occupation, including 11 years of blockade in the Gaza strip.”