An investigation into a recent Israeli invasion of a Palestinian refugee camp has found there was no justification for the use of lethal force. The raid two weeks ago caused the death of a UN worker not involved in confrontations as well as two other young men.
The Ramallah-based human rights organization Al-Haq last week concluded its investigation into raid, during which 18 Palestinians were injured, by Israeli occupation forces in Qalandiya refugee camp near Ramallah on 26 August.
Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians broke out after a unit of approximately 40 soldiers carried out an arrest in Qalandiya. The soldiers’ behavior in the crowded refugee camp increased the risk of injury or death for civilians, the rights group found.
Such raids have led in the past to the deaths of innocent civilians and reveal a total disregard for the safety of the Palestinian civilian population, according to Al-Haq.
I summarize the main findings of Al-Haq’s investigation below.
Raid into Qalandiya refugee camp
Al-Haq’s investigation found that the use of lethal force by Israeli soldiers was not justified by the camp residents’ throwing of objects at armored Israeli vehicles during the clashes in Qalandiya.
The organization calls for an independent and impartial investigation into the conduct during the raid as well as the planning of the raid itself, and calls for those found responsible to be held to account.
Approximately 40 Israeli soldiers raided Qalandiya refugee camp at 5:15am to arrest 24-year-old Yousef al-Khatib on 26 August. However, al-Khatib escaped to the roof of his neighbor’s house.
Al-Khatib’s 27-year-old brother Omar met the soldiers at the entrance of the house, and they took him to his bedroom for questioning. The soldiers started beating Omar after he told them that Yousef wasn’t in the house and that he didn’t know where he was. The soldiers beat Omar all over his body with their hands, feet and the butts of their guns, increasing the intensity of the beating when Omar denied any knowledge of Yousef’s whereabouts.
Omar was taken to the hallway of the house where he saw four undercover soldiers changing into military uniform. The officer in charge told Omar to go with the soldiers to the second floor. Omar walked at gunpoint in front of the soldiers with his hands handcuffed behind his back. On the second floor, Omar’s 10-year-old sister Mayar was crying. Some of the soldiers searched Mayar and her sister’s room. The rest of the group took Omar to the third floor.
On the third floor, the four-year-old daughter of Omar’s brother Hatem begged the soldiers not to shoot her. Hatem, his wife, the children and two sisters were ordered to go downstairs where they are then locked in a room on the first floor. The soldiers continued to move around the house.
At around 7:00am, seven soldiers violently dragged a blindfolded Omar outside where they pushed and insulted him. Omar was taken to a storage room in the neighbor’s house where Yousef was held by Israeli soldiers. Yousef lay on the ground, bleeding from his nose, and seemed very exhausted. Yousef was forced to stand up, but he could only stand on one foot. Omar noticed that Yousef suffered from pain in the other leg. Yousef was also unable to move one of his hands. He had been harshly beaten by the soldiers.
The officer in charge asked Omar to confirm Yousef’s identity. When Omar denied it was Yousef — hoping that his brother would be released — the soldiers became angry. They pushed Omar and he fell on the ground. Before dragging Omar outside the storage room, soldiers violently hit him on his back, head and shoulders with the butts of their rifles. Omar hears the screams of his brother inside the storage room and shouts of “Yousef, Yousef.”
The soldiers continued to beat Omar until he was back in his house. One soldier beat Omar with an electrical wire. Omar’s 19-year-old sister Shorouq collapsed from fear and the children began to scream. Omar sufferd from severe pain due to the beatings and the tight handcuffs around his wrists.
At around 7:10am, Omar was taken outside, blindfolded, barefoot and in his pajamas. A soldier beat Omar with a fire extinguisher during the ride in a military jeep to Adam Military Base opposite al-Ram town. Omar arrived back home at around 8:00am where he found that the soldiers had vandalized the house.
Clashes after incursion
Shortly after the incursion, the camp came to life as people prepared to go to school and work. The residents were alerted to the presence of the Israeli forces inside the camp. Youth began to throw stones at the soldiers. For about half an hour, the Israeli forces respond with intermittent use of tear gas and stun grenades.
Around 6:10am, soldiers began firing live bullets across the lanes in the camp. An initial medical report issued by Ramallah Hospital said that three people were killed and approximately 18 persons were injured by live fire. Nineteen-year-old Ali Manasrah was shot in his leg; he arrived at Ramallah Hospital as the first person wounded during the clashes.
Mohammad Noah al-Araj was hit by a bullet in his right thigh while watching the events from the roof of his house. Youth throwing stones near the house backed away when al-Araj’s father asked them to leave the area so that he could take his injured son away. Then a military jeep arrived and stopped in front of the house, preventing the youth from leaving. One hour later — after the soldiers withdrew — al-Araj could finally be taken to the hospital.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Younis Jamal Mohammad Abu Jahjouh could be seen on a roof about 50 meters from Qalandiya Grand Mosque. Jahjouh was visible to the military jeeps stationed 20 meters away in the street below. Jahjouh was part of a group throwing stones; the soldiers respond with heavy fire. At 6:15am, Jahjouh was hit in the chest by a bullet. Soldiers continued their heavy firing while he is carried down on a staircase. Jahjouh was pronounced dead at around 9:30am at Ramallah Hospital.
As more people were hurt and rumors began to circulate that people were killed, the youth of the camp reacted with more intensity. Many took to the roofs of their houses and started throwing stones, bricks, wooden sheets, metal and debris at the military jeeps. The soldiers, along with the military enforcement sent to the camp, responded with heavy use of live fire.
The killing of an UNRWA staff member
At about 6:50am, 34-year-old father of four Rubeen Zayid was on his way to work as a guard for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
He turned back because of the heavy use of tear gas by the soldiers. Mohammad Mtair saw Rubin and a number of workers near Yousef al-Khatib’s house at around 7:00am. Youth told Zayid and Mtair that Israeli snipers were in position and heavy live fire was used in the next street. Zayid and others passed the information on to pupils who want to use the road.
Zayid, Mtair and some others walked towards the al-Khatib house around 7:10am. Thirty meters past the house, the last of the military jeeps that stormed the house left the area. Walking at some distance in the same direction as the jeeps, they reached the crossing which leads to the main road without hearing the firing. Here, at approximately 7:15am, they heard live fire which left Rubin hit in the chest. Eyewitnesses say that soldiers were standing out of sight from Zayid, about 30 meters away. Zayid was pronounced dead at Ramallah hospital shortly after his arrival.
The third Palestinian who was killed during the clashes is 19-year-old Jihad Mansour Harbi Aslan. At around 7:00am, Aslan was injured by a bullet in the palm of his hand while he was standing on a roof about 100 meters away from the Qalandiya Grand Mosque. He was one of a group which threw stones at soldiers and jeeps standing 20 meters away in the street below. After the youth began to leave the area and Aslan was shot by a bullet in the chest. Aslan was pronounced dead at 10:30am in Ramallah Hospital.