For the past four months, Israel has imposed a full curfew, unprecedented in scope and length, on hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. This curfew constitutes collective punishment, and as such is in contravention of international law.
B’Tselem has found that in many cases IDF soldiers fire live ammunition at civilians who are outside their homes during curfew. Over the past four months, soldiers have killed fifteen Palestinian civilians in these circumstances. Twelve of the dead were under the age of sixteen. Testimonies presented in the report also describe the firing of tear-gas at civilians, both to notify the residents of imposition of curfew and to punish residents who were ostensibly violating curfew.
‘Lethal Curfew’ criticizes the lack of clarity of the procedures for imposing and lifting curfews. The testimonies presented in the report indicate that residents often do not know that a curfew has been imposed. This combination of the use of live fire and the lack of clarity makes leaving the house – even in the most urgent circumstances – life endangering.
Operation Determined Path began on 21 June 2002. During the course of the operation, the army entered all West Bank cities (except Jericho) and imposed a full curfew on the residents. In many instances, the army also placed residents of nearby towns and villages under curfew. Except for short breaks every few days, the curfew is in force around the clock, and is continuing for an unlimited period of time. The IDF has turned curfew, the most extreme method of restriction on movement into a routine, daily measure, thus harming hundreds of thousands of people.
Conduct an in-depth investigation into all cases in which Palestinian civilians not involved in fighting were injured by gunfire, and, where warranted, bring all those responsible for such incidents to trial.
The IDF curfew is illegal. The use of curfew as a routine method of operation, ostensibly to meet security needs, contravenes international law. It also breaches the criteria that the IDF itself established.
The IDF is required to ensure the well-being of the civilian population. Therefore, every IDF action must be proportionate: it must balance security needs and the potential harm to the local population. In the current situation, the needs of the Palestinians are disregarded. The IDF must also examine possible alternative measures that are less harmful to Palestinians. It is unreasonable that, over such a long period of time, the IDF has been unable to find an alternative that involves a lesser infringement of human rights. The sweeping, prolonged curfew on the West Bank reinforces the conclusion that substitute measures were not seriously considered, and that Israel chose the measure that was the cheapest and easiest to implement.
The prolonged curfew impacts every aspect of life in the Occupied Territories, and has resulted in the destruction of economic infrastructure, lost sources of livelihood, malnutrition, stress resulting from families being imprisoned in their homes for long periods of time, and severe harm to the educational, health, and welfare systems. As such, the curfew constitutes collective punishment, which is absolutely prohibited by international law.
The principal and most serious finding presented in the report is the frequent use of live ammunition to enforce the curfew. Sometimes, the soldiers fire without warning. Fifteen Palestinians, twelve of them children under age 16, have been killed by soldiers enforcing the curfew. Dozens of others have been wounded. None of those killed endangered the lives of soldiers. Violation of curfew alone is not a justifiable pretext for opening fire, and firing in such circumstances constitutes excessive use of force The use of gunfire to enforce curfew testifies to the IDF’s shameful disregard for Palestinian lives, and reflects a trigger-happy attitude among soldiers. It constitutes a flagrant breach of international law.
Another grave method used to enforce curfew is the firing of tear-gas canisters. This practice resulted in the death of an infant and injury to residents who were hit by canisters. Others required treatment after inhaling the gas. Even worse, according to testimonies given to B’Tselem, soldiers fired tear gas into a house and into a car to punish the people inside.
Firing at Palestinians who ostensibly violated curfew is even more problematic because of the lack of clarity of the procedures for imposing curfew and of the hours of curfew. The IDF Spokesperson’s office refused to provide B’Tselem with information on the relevant procedures. Testimonies in the report indicate that, contrary to IDF claims, the IDF does not provide information in an orderly manner to the residents regarding the hours of curfew; as a result, the residents are often uncertain if the curfew is in force. Because the army fails to provide the necessary information, residents must often rely on rumors and the movement of people and cars in the street to know whether they are allowed to leave their homes.
Therefore, B’Tselem demands that the defense establishment: