Sixteen-year-old Abd al-Rahman Ahmad al-Dabbagh had asked one of his friends to take his photo during a protest near the boundary between Gaza and Israel earlier this month.
A few minutes later, there was an explosion. The teenager was directly hit by a flare bomb fired by an Israeli soldier, killing him instantly, an investigation by the human rights group Al-Haq has found.
“Abd al-Rahman was then seen lying on the ground, with his head on fire,” Al-Haq’s report on the incident states. “His shocked friends ran to help him, but the Israeli soldiers pointed their weapons at them, and stated, ‘whoever will dare and try to approach will suffer the same fate as him.’”
The youth is one of 21 Palestinians who have been killed while demonstrating near the so-called buffer zone inside Gaza during the past year.
The demonstrations have occurred on a weekly basis since October, which witnessed the beginning of a new phase of confrontation – often deadly – between Palestinians and Israeli forces.
Uprising and repression
The ongoing wave of protest and violence first came to the fore after Israel’s unchecked assaults and incursions in occupied East Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound last September. The epicenter of confrontation soon moved to Hebron, another West Bank city where Israel expands its settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods.
Deadly incidents have since occurred at checkpoints and settlements throughout the West Bank, where for decades Israel has imposed a belligerent military occupation to expand its settler-colonial enterprise and brutally stamp out Palestinian resistance to it.
In response, Israel has swelled the number of Palestinians in its prisons over the past year, including child detainees and those held without charge or trial. It has imposed sweeping closure of areas of the West Bank and other collective punishment measures such as revenge home demolitions targeting the families of Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis.
This is on top of the profound repression that is a daily reality for Palestinians living under Israel’s suffocating rule.
Israel has also withheld the bodies of dozens of alleged Palestinian attackers, preventing families from giving their loved ones a dignified burial or carrying out autopsies which would yield information that could be used in court.
When they have transferred bodies for burial, in some cases Israeli authorities imposed severe restrictions on when and where funerals can be held, and the number of people allowed to attend.
250 Palestinians killed
Thirty-five Israelis and two other foreign nationals were slain during the same period, according to Amnesty International. They include a girl stabbed to death in her settlement home, and four Israelis who were shot dead allegedly by two cousins from Hebron who opened fire on an upscale square in Tel Aviv.
Some Israelis also died by friendly fire.
Additionally, an Eritrean refugee died after he was shot and beaten by a mob of Israelis, some of them uniformed, who mistook him for an attacker following the fatal shooting of a soldier at a bus station.
A Sudanese man was shot and fatally wounded after allegedly stabbing a soldier.
Many of those Palestinians killed were slain during demonstrations or army raids on West Bank refugee camps, towns and cities. But the majority – more than 150, according to Amnesty – were killed during the course of “alleged, attempted, or actual attacks … against Israeli soldiers, police and civilians.”
Those Palestinians slain in the course of alleged attacks, in addition to those killed during protests or army raids and airstrikes, have been overwhelmingly young. Defense for Children International – Palestine says that more than 50 boys and girls are among those killed in the West Bank alone, meaning that at least one in every five Palestinians killed since October was a child.
New phase of resistance
The events of the past year represent a new phase of resistance to the occupation, without leadership or party organization.
Youth protesters, born after the signing of the moribund Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinian leadership in the 1990s, have rejected the status quo of the Palestinian Authority and its tactical collaboration with Israel to arrest those who defy the occupation. Student leaders loyal to the party of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas have been among those killed during demonstrations.
Meanwhile, Palestinian attackers acted alone, or in small groups, and independent of command from armed factions. Their weapons were mainly kitchen knives and cars; in only a small fraction of the incidents did Palestinians open fire on Israelis.
Some of those who were armed with guns were members of the Palestinian Authority security forces.
In one case, an explosive was planted on a bus in Jerusalem, injuring 20. The suspected bomber, a 19-year-old from a Bethlehem refugee camp, died of injuries he sustained in the blast.
However, many of those slain during what Israel claims were attacks were not attempting any attack at all when they were killed, in some cases even by Israel’s own admission.
Amnesty points to a “pattern of unlawful killings carried out by Israeli forces” beginning with the 22 September 2015 slaying of Hadil Hashlamoun, 18, at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
“These unlawful killings included cases … where Israeli forces used intentional lethal force against Palestinians who were not, or were no longer, posing an imminent threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers, police or civilians,” Amnesty states.
The human rights group has raised with the Israeli government 20 cases “of evidently unlawful killings of Palestinians, including 15 possible extrajudicial executions, carried out by Israeli forces” over the past year.
The cases include that of Hashlamoun, whose death Amnesty says “should be investigated as a possible extrajudicial execution.”
Other cases that Amnesty says should be investigated as such include the 26 October 2015 killing of Saad Muhammad Yousif al-Atrash, 20, who Israeli police said had attempted a stabbing. An eyewitness contradicted this claim, telling Amnesty that the youth was stopped by a soldier and asked to produce his ID. As he was reaching into his pocket to remove his card, he was shot by another soldier behind him.
Witnesses said that the youth was denied medical treatment for 40 minutes.
“It is a basic duty under international law to provide medical aid to the wounded, and failure to do so – especially intentional failure – violates the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment,” according to Amnesty. “As such, failure to provide medical aid should be investigated as a criminal offense.”
Medical care of wounded Palestinians has been denied or actively prevented in numerous deadly incidents over the past year. Video of one incident shows two badly injured Palestinians bleeding to death as a wounded Israeli soldier receives treatment.
In another incident, eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that Maram Salih Hassan Abu Ismail, 23, appeared to have been alive for half an hour after she and her 16-year-old brother were shot while attempting to cross the Qalandiya military checkpoint in April.
“Israeli forces did not provide any medical help and prevented a Palestinian ambulance from accessing the scene,” Amnesty states.
Abu Ismail and her brother, Ibrahim Taha, 16, both died from their wounds.
US citizen possibly executed
Though it has closed a probe into their slayings, Israel has repeatedly renewed a gag order on security camera footage showing the killing of Abu Ismail and Taha, just as it refuses to release footage from the scene of the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Mahmoud Shaalan, a dual Palestinian-American citizen.
As it did in the case of the brother and sister slain at Qalandiya checkpoint, Israel claimed that Shaalan had tried to stab soldiers when he was killed in a Ramallah-area village in February.
But an eyewitness testified to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem that Shaalan had attempted to cross a checkpoint and was turned away by soldiers.
“As he was walking away from the soldiers, one soldier shot Mahmoud Muhammad Ali Shaalan from some distance away with around three bullets. He immediately fell to the ground, and the soldier then approached and shot him twice more, according to the witness,” Amnesty states.
An autopsy found that no bullets had been fired from close range, throwing into question Israel’s claim that the boy was attempting to stab soldiers when he was killed.
Amnesty says that the case should be investigated as a potential extrajudicial execution.
Fifteen human rights, civil liberties, Palestine solidarity and church groups are calling on the Obama administration investigate the incident.
Only one indictment
Video has surfaced showing several other incidents of what Amnesty describes as apparent unlawful killing, including:
- The fatal shooting of 72-year-old Tharwat al-Sharawi as she was driving a car at a slow enough speed for soldiers to jump out of the way before they sprayed bullets at it;
- The slaying of 19-year-old Fadi Alloun as he was chased by a mob of Israelis calling for his death;
- The close-range shooting of Mahdi al-Muhtasib, 23, as he was lying on the ground, writhing in pain;
- The shooting death of Bashar Masalha, 22, shot by a volunteer policeman at the urging of bystanders after he killed an American tourist in Jaffa.
Yet, as Amnesty notes, only one Israeli soldier has been indicted in relation to the killings of dozens of Palestinians in the past year.
While Israel has refused to publish its open fire regulations in full, witness testimony given during the Azarya trial suggests that soldiers routinely shoot at the heads of injured Palestinians.
Since the year 2000, in only a handful of cases were soldiers prosecuted for manslaughter in relation to the slaying of Palestinians, according to the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz.
Al-Haq notes that “Since 1987, no Israeli soldier or commander has been convicted of willfully causing the death of a Palestinian in the [occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip].”
So long as the weapons and dollars keep flowing to the military, and the Israeli government enjoys the impunity afforded by its powerful allies, human rights groups will continue their grim work of recording the names of Palestinian victims and the circumstances of their violent and unjustified deaths.
Author’s note: this post was updated after initial publication to include mention of the coalition calling on the Obama administration to investigate the killing of Mahmoud Shaalan
- Abd al-Rahman al-Dabbagh
- Gaza buffer zone
- Amnesty International
- extrajudicial executions
- Palestinian Authority
- Hadil Hashlamoun
- Maram Salih Hassan Abu Ismail
- Ibrahim Salih Hassan Taha
- Saad Muhammad Yousif al-Atrash
- Mahmoud Shaalan
- Tharwat al-Sharawi
- Fadi Alloun
- Mahdi al-Muhtasib
- Bashar Masalha
- Elor Azarya
- Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif