Investigation: Israel executed 8 Palestinians in Jenin in past 3 months

Palestinian students lay flowers on the desk of their classmate Bushra, killed by Israeli forces the previous day in Jenin, 23 April 2007. (Raed Abu Baker/MaanImages)

The following is the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq’s intervention to diplomatic representatives regarding the extrajudicial executions of Palestinians in the Jenin area:

Your Excellencies:

As a Palestinian organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq would like to raise its serious concern regarding the ongoing extrajudicial executions of Palestinians. Over the course of the last three months, Al-Haq has documented four incidents, the facts of which are summarised below, involving the extrajudicial executions of eight Palestinians in the Jenin area. The number of incidents, all of which involved disturbingly similar facts, indicates that, far from being isolated acts, the extrajudicial execution of Palestinians continues to be a widespread practice. Indeed, during the last year, Al-Haq has documented numerous other deaths attributable to Israeli extrajudicial executions.

Summary of Facts

On Saturday, 21 April 2007, two white vans containing Israeli undercover squad members parked by the roadside in front of the girls’ school in the Jabal Abu-Their neighbourhood of Jenin city. The two vans, which parked on the same side of the road facing each other, were separated by a distance of 10-15 metres. At approximately 5:00 pm, a small white Peugeot car in which three Palestinian men were travelling drove along the same road. When the car was halfway between the two parked vans, the Israeli squad members in the vans opened fire on the car. They did so without warning or justification. After shooting repeatedly at the car, a number of squad members wearing civilian clothes got out of the parked vans. They approached the car, which was by this time stopped in the middle of the road, and shot at it numerous times. They then returned to the vans, which left the area. All three Palestinians in the car, Muhammad al-Damj, Mahmoud Sarhan and Ahmad ‘Isa, were killed in the attack.

On Tuesday, 17 April 2007, Ashraf Hanaysha, a 25-year-old taxi driver from Qabatiya, left Jenin city in his taxi to go to Qabatiya. He was carrying one passenger, Khaled Saba’na. At approximately 11:00 am, the taxi stopped to pick up a worker near the stone-processing factory located at the southern entrance to the city of Jenin along the Jenin-Nablus road. While the taxi was stopped, it was overtaken by a yellow Volkswagen van with a white roof. Soon afterwards, as the taxi approached al-Shuhada junction, its path was suddenly blocked by the aforementioned van which, having come from the opposite direction, stopped in the middle of the road. Once Ashraf brought the taxi to a halt, a number of Israeli soldiers got out of the van. Two of these soldiers aimed their weapons at the taxi and ordered the occupants to raise their hands. At this point, Ashraf, who was unarmed, opened the driver’s door and slowly got out of the taxi with his hands raised in the air. The two Palestinian passengers also exited the taxi. The soldiers then ordered the three men to lie down, which they did. As soon as Ashraf had lain down on the ground, the Israeli soldiers, without any warning or justification, opened fire on him from a distance of five metres. Ashraf was shot in his head and several other parts of his body. After executing Ashraf, the soldiers dragged his corpse to the side of the road and dumped it near a copse of cypress trees. The soldiers then forced the two other Palestinians inside the van and left the area. The van drove to the road junction leading to the town of ‘Arraba, where the two Palestinians were then released.

At approximately 7:30 am on Wednesday, 28 February 2007, three Palestinian men, Ashraf al-Sa’di, ‘Ala’ Breiki and Muhammad Abu-Na’sa, were driving in a car near the eastern entrance to Jenin refugee camp when they were fired upon by an Israeli undercover squad. In attempting to escape, their car collided with the wall of a house in the refugee camp. Immediately after crashing, and without the occupants being given any warning or opportunity to surrender, the car was repeatedly shot at by at least three armed squad members wearing civilian clothes. One of the Palestinian men, Ashraf al-Sa’di, managed to get out of the car and attempted to escape on foot. While running away he fired in the direction of the squad members with a gun he was carrying. Ashraf was pursued by a member of the Israeli undercover squad who shot him in the back. As a result of being shot, Ashraf fell forward onto the ground; however, he was still alive at this point and was moving. The squad member then shot Ashraf a second time from a distance of approximately four metres and ran to where he was lying. At the same time, another squad member, also dressed in civilian clothes, came running towards Ashraf. Upon reaching Ashraf, who was still lying on the ground, this second individual pointed his gun at Ashraf’s head and shot him from point-blank range. He then fired a number of bullets at Ashraf’s body. With regard to the two other Palestinians who had been in the car, ‘Ala’ Breiki was found dead in the driver’s seat, while Muhammad Abu-Na’sa was found lying dead on the ground beside the car.

At approximately 9:00 am on Wednesday, 21 February 2007, Mahmoud ‘Beid was driving towards Yihiya ‘Ayash square, which is located in the al-Basatin neighbourhood of Jenin city. As he approached the square, Mahmoud suddenly stopped his car in the middle of the road, opened the driver’s door and fired a number of shots in the air. He then lowered his gun and closed the car door. At the same time, a white Volkswagen van came from behind and pulled up alongside his car. The driver and front-seat passenger in the van were wearing civilian clothes. Suddenly, sliding doors on each side of the van opened and several Israeli soldiers, wearing the dark green uniform of the border police, exited the van. One of these soldiers opened the passenger door of Mahmoud ‘Beid’s car and fired a number of shots at Mahmoud. Another soldier then went around to the driver’s side of the car and opened the door. Mahmoud ‘Beid’s body slumped out of the car, his feet remaining inside. The latter soldier then shot Mahmoud from point-blank range. After doing so, the soldier picked up Mahmoud’s weapon from the car. All the soldiers then got inside the Volksawagen van, which left the area to the north.

Legal Analysis

Under international humanitarian law, the Palestinian population of the OPT are regarded as protected persons. Article 4(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines protected persons as, “those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.” Pursuant to its occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, Israel is bound to abide by the principles of international humanitarian law in the OPT.

Protected persons enjoy comprehensive protection of their lives. Article 46 of the Hague Regulations of 1907, considered a part of customary international law, states that, “the lives of persons … must be respected.” Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is built upon this provision of the Hague Regulations, states that, “[p]rotected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons … They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof.” While Article 27 does not specifically mention the right to life, the official commentary to the Fourth Geneva Convention confirms that, “[i]t is nevertheless obvious that this right is implied, for without it there would be no reason for the other rights mentioned.”

There is no legal basis under international humanitarian law for killing protected persons, even those who are suspected of having engaged in or of planning to engage in hostilities against the Occupying Power. Civilians who engage in hostile activity against the Occupying Power retain their civilian status, and only cease to enjoy the protection granted to civilians “for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.” In other words, protected persons only lose their immunity and become a legitimate target for attack while they are taking a direct part in hostilities. In each of the four incidents outlined above, the individuals targeted were not directly participating in hostile activity at the time they were fired upon and killed. Consequently, the Israeli forces clearly failed to respect the fundamental principle of distinction between combatants and civilians.

Under the provisions of international humanitarian law, the Occupying Power must attempt to arrest and detain those who it suspects of engaging in hostilities. Nonetheless, and as is clearly documented, no effort was made to arrest and detain any of the eight Palestinians killed. In each of the four incidents, Israeli forces opened fire on the Palestinians without any warning or justification, indicating a clear intent to kill. Indeed, Ashraf Hanaysha was undeniably under the control of Israeli agents when he was summarily executed. Similarly, Ashraf al-Sa’di, who was lying wounded on the ground, was under the control of Israeli agents when he was summarily executed. Muhammad al-Damj, Mahmoud Sarhan, Ahmad ‘Isa, ‘Ala’ Breiki, Muhammad Abu-Na’sa and Mahmoud ‘Beid were all killed when Israeli forces opened fire on the cars in which they were travelling without providing any warning or giving them the opportunity to surrender. Although Mahmoud ‘Beid fired a number of shots in the air in the moments preceding his killing, in none of the cases were the Israeli forces fired upon first. In consequence, the individuals targeted did not pose any immediate threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers, and so the killings cannot be justified by military necessity.

In addition to violating fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, the extrajudicial executions outlined above violate the right to life enshrined in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, “[t]he right to life enunciated in Article 6 of the [ICCPR] … is the supreme right from which no derogation is permitted even in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.”

Further, such killings bypass the essential safeguards of fair trial as guaranteed in both international human rights and humanitarian law. By denying individuals their right to due process, such Israeli military operations are completely at odds with minimum accepted standards of justice; with senior Israeli military and political figures acting as judge and jury, and Israeli soldiers acting as executioner.

The deliberate and intentional killings of the eight Palestinians in the incidents outlined above contravene international human rights and humanitarian law standards, and amount to the wilful killing of protected persons. Such wilful killings are a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, entailing the individual criminal responsibility of those ordering and carrying out such killings. The legal regime of grave breaches places a duty on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to provide effective penal sanctions for the responsible persons, and to search for such persons and bring them to trial under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

As the Israeli government continues to sanction the extrajudicial executions of Palestinian civilians, despite the clear illegality of such practices, the international community must take meaningful steps to break the culture of Israeli impunity and ensure that fundamental principles of international law are upheld in the OPT. This is all the more important in the wake of the Israeli High Court’s rejection of a petition against the policy of targeted assassinations in December 2006. Accordingly, Al-Haq calls upon:

  • The international community to demand an end to the illegal Israeli practice of extrajudicial killings, and to bring to justice the perpetrators of such killings.
  • The High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to uphold their obligations under Article 1 to ensure the respect of international humanitarian law by holding Israel to its obligations under the Convention.
  • The EU institutions and member states to make effective use of the European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law (2005/C 327/04). Under paragraph 16 (b), (c) and (d) of these guidelines, EU institutions and member states should make general public statements that emphasise the need to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law, make demarches and issue public statements condemning Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law and consider the imposition of restrictive measures or sanctions.


    Shawan Jabarin
    General Director

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