Shooting “key instigators” during unarmed protests in Gaza when they’re resting. Opening fire on teenagers attempting to make their way to pray in Jerusalem when they pose no danger.
This is the routine, unjustified and criminal use of live fire against Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces.
An Israeli military document states that snipers are permitted to shoot Palestinians who it determines to be “key instigators” or “key rioters” during Great March of Return protests in Gaza.
The military defines “key instigators” as individuals who “direct or order activities” during the protest, such as “tactical placement” and setting tires on fire.
“Key rioters” are defined as those whose behavior “provide the conditions for which mass breach or infiltration” into Israel from Gaza may occur.
The Israeli military document claims that snipers are permitted to “shoot a key instigator” as he “temporarily moves away from the crowd or rests before continuing his activity.” The document presents such actions as an example of “restraint” and suggests that such precautions reduce the risk of “hitting someone else.”
Israel justifies the use of deadly force against protesters by calling Great March of Return mobilizations – demonstrations in Gaza’s east and north perimeter held on a regular basis since early last year – a “mob” or “violent riot” which poses a threat to the military and its infrastructure or in some instances civilians.
It also states that the Gaza boundary “separates two parties to an armed conflict,” a contention refuted by a UN commission of inquiry which has found that the demonstrations are civilian in nature. Human rights groups say that mass protests along the boundary are a civilian matter of law enforcement governed by the framework of international human rights law.
One such human rights group, Adalah, is demanding that Israel prohibits its use of live fire against protesters.
The concept of “key instigators,” Adalah states, “is neither anchored in international law,” nor was it defined by authorities during hearings at the Israeli high court last year following petitions by rights groups challenging the military’s open-fire orders.
The court “fully adopted the Israeli military’s position” at the time, according to Adalah, ruling that the use of live fire may be permitted only when there is “immediate and imminent danger to Israeli forces or civilians.”
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed during Great March of Return protests, among them 44 children, and nearly 8,500 injured by live fire.
The independent human rights experts tapped by the UN to probe Israel’s use of force against the Great March of Return investigated all protest fatalities occurring between the launch of the demonstrations on 30 March 2018 through the end of that year.
The commission of inquiry noted only one incident on 14 May 2018 “that may have amounted to ‘direct participation in hostilities’” and another incident on 12 October that year “that may have constituted an ‘imminent threat to life or serious injury’ to Israeli security forces.”
In all other cases, the commission found, “the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators was unlawful.”
Suhad Bishara, an attorney with Adalah, stated that the “key instigator” idea was “created retroactively in order to justify the shootings of people who posed no real and immediate danger to Israeli soldiers or civilians.”
She added that the military’s attempt to justify the use of live fire against unarmed demonstrators “results from a total disregard for human life.”
Israel’s disregard for Palestinian lives is not limited to Gaza and was exemplified in the recent killing of a teenage boy as he attempted to reach Jerusalem to pray at al-Aqsa mosque with his family on the last Friday of Ramadan.
During Ramadan Israel partly lifts restrictions that prevent Palestinians in the West Bank from freely accessing holy sites in Jerusalem. Even with restrictions partly lifted, Palestinians must travel through military checkpoints and males between the ages of 16 and 30 were banned from entering Jerusalem during Ramadan this year.
On 31 May, that ban caused Luai Ghaith to drop off his nephew and 15-year-old son Abdallah near Israel’s wall so that they could climb over it and meet their family members who permitted to cross through the checkpoint on the other side.
After Abdallah and his cousin climbed over barbed wire and reached a buffer path between the barbed wire and the wall, the cousin saw an Israeli Border Police officer.
“He jumped back over the [barbed] wire and shouted to Abdallah to flee. At that point, Border Police officers fired two 0.22-caliber bullets at Abdallah, one of which hit him in the chest,” according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.
“Abdallah managed to leap back over the concertina [wire] and run several meters away before collapsing.”
Luai Ghaith told B’Tselem that his son “was so excited to be going to pray at al-Aqsa on the last Friday of Ramadan. The Israeli police officer who shot him doesn’t know any of that.”
At the same location, around an hour before Abdallah was fatally wounded, Border Police officers shot and injured a 20-year-old Palestinian attempting to reach Jerusalem to pray.
“There can be no justification for this type of gunfire, with its predictably fatal consequences,” B’Tselem states. “It shows just how little the lives of Palestinians count in the eyes of both the officers in the field and the entire chain of command that allows such actions to take place.”
Neither Abdallah nor the man shot shortly before him posed any danger to the Border Police officers who fired at them, according to B’Tselem: “This is not a case of mortal danger, or in fact of any danger at all.”
No one will be held accountable for Abdallah’s death, nor will the family receive any compensation as Israel has “passed legislation conveniently barring Palestinians from any viable option of suing the state for damages.”
More than 70 Palestinians have died by Israeli fire so far this year.
“The fact that the predictable and deadly outcome of this egregious conduct is met by public indifference and that the conduct receives the full backing of all official bodies demonstrates just how little worth is accorded Palestinian lives,” according to B’Tselem.