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A deadly week for Palestinians

Human Rights

Grief: how many more Palestinians will lose their lives before Israeli soldiers are held to account? © Ella David

This has been a deadly week for Palestinians living under occupation. In a 24-hour period from last Monday to Tuesday, three Palestinians from the West Bank were killed in separate incidents by Israeli military forces, and three residents of the Gaza Strip were killed by Israeli airstrikes.  

Saji Darwish, 18, from Beitin, a village east of the West Bank city of Ramallah, was a student at Bir Zeit University. Reports on the circumstances of his killing are contradictory. Was he throwing stones at Israeli cars near the illegal Israeli settlement of Givat Asaf? Or was he simply tending his goats on land belonging to the residents of Beitin that Monday evening?

In any case, Darwish was fatally shot in the head.  

According to B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – the army called the attack ‘an ambush to catch stone-throwers’.  

Earlier that day, at the Allenby Bridge border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank, Jordanian judge Raed Zeitar, 38, a Palestinian from Nablus with Jordanian citizenship, was travelling back to the West Bank city to visit his sick daughter.  

Again, reports are contradictory. The Israeli army stated that ‘a Palestinian attempted to seize an Israeli soldier’s weapon at the Allenby crossing with Jordan. Israeli soldiers opened fire and a hit was identified’. However, witness Mohammed Zayd explained to Ma’an News Agency that Zeitar did not try to seize the soldier’s gun, but instead the Israeli soldier pushed Zeitar to the floor, and Zeitar shoved the soldier. The cause of the struggle between Zeitar and the soldier is not clear.  

In any case, Zeitar was killed by three bullets to the chest.

That same day, Fida’ Mohyeeddeen Majadla, 23 years old, became the third victim.  Soldiers fired bullets at his car not far from al-Kafriyyat checkpoint, south of the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem. He died instantly after being shot in the head and chest.  The passenger in the car, Ibrahim Shokry, was wounded. Soldiers closed the checkpoint, preventing a Palestinian ambulance from retrieving Majadla's body. The motive for the killing is unknown.

In any case, Majadla was mortally injured.

The next morning, three members of the resistance group Islamic Jihad were killed in Gaza. Ma’an reported that they tried to ‘stop the progress of Israeli military vehicles which were approaching the area’. Israeli army officials claimed that ‘the airstrikes occurred after mortar shells were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel’.

In any case, three more Palestinians died.  

As if on cue, these deaths closely follow the release of Amnesty International’s February 2014 report, Trigger Happy – Israel’s Use of Excessive Force in the West Bank.  

UN figures show that between January 2011 and December 2013, 45 Palestinians were killed by live ammunition. In 2013, 25 Palestinians were killed, an increase of 1.5 times more than 2011 and 2012 combined. In the same time period, approximately 261 Palestinians, including 67 children, were seriously injured by live ammunition, and an additional 8,000, including 1,500 children, were wounded by rubber-coated metal bullets, teargas canisters and inhalation.  

‘The staggering numbers of wounded provide a sobering reminder of the relentless daily danger faced by Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank,’ says Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director of Amnesty International.

The human rights organization’s report details the deaths of 22 Palestinians, including four children. Fourteen of the victims were killed while participating in demonstrations.  

Palestinians were still reeling from the killing of Muataz Washaha, 24, two weeks ago in the village of Birzeit near Ramallah. Refusing to hand himself over to Israeli soldiers to be detained possibly for months or years, he barricaded himself in his house. Following an hours-long stand-off, soldiers knocked down part of the house and opened fire.  

A witness said that Washaha had not fired any shots before or after the house was partially demolished. An Israeli military statement said that Washaha was wanted for ‘suspected terror activity’.  

In any case, another young Palestinian lost his life.

The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms for Law Enforcement Officials state that ‘the intentional use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives’.

In Gaza, Israeli air strikes over the last few days have seen the worst escalation of violence since Israel’s Operation Pillar of Cloud air offensive over the Strip in 2012. Islamic Jihad is currently abiding by the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. Israeli officials deny that a ceasefire has been agreed.

As the situation in the West Bank deteriorates due to the Separation Wall, the increasing number of illegal Israeli settlements, demolitions, evictions, checkpoints, and restrictions of movement of Palestinians, it seems that more people are resisting oppression and more demonstrations are taking place. Undoubtedly, more Palestinians will be killed and injured.

Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization, explains that ‘most cases of violent crimes against Palestinians not only go unpunished – but often are completely ignored by the authorities’. Ninety-four per cent of criminal investigations by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against soldiers suspected of criminal violent activity against Palestinians and their property are closed without any indictments.  

The Trigger Happy report concludes: ‘As long as Israeli soldiers and police are not held to account for abusing their powers and continuing such serious abuses, the pattern of unlawful killings of protesters will continue, and Palestinians will be denied their right to peaceful protest without fear of injury or death’.

Here are just a few of the names of the usually faceless victims: Oday Darwish, Majd Lahlouh, Mahmoud Adel Fares al-Titi, Saleh Amarin, Amna Qdaih, Samir Awad, Lubna Hanash, Naji Belbesi, Amer Nassar, Karim Abu Sbeih… how many more will there be?

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