Israeli “investigation” whitewashes West Bank execution

On 2 February 2009, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported the findings of an “investigation” into an incident in which, that morning, “a Palestinian gunman opened fire at an [Israeli army] Patrol Force near the Community Yatir [sic], south of Hebron.” As a result of the investigation, the Israeli military Central Command “assumes” that the “terrorist,” who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers, “was intending to execute a terror attack against Israeli civilians.”

After a full field investigation, Al-Haq has determined serious factual inaccuracies and false assumptions in the Israeli authorities’ version of events, and reports the following findings:

On the morning of Monday, 2 February 2009, an infantry unit of the Israeli occupying forces was deployed to Janba, southeast of Yatta in the Hebron district of the southern West Bank. Between 7:30 and 8:00am, the Israeli soldiers stopped a total of three vehicles on a dirt road in the Marah al-Tabaka area of Janba. This road is close to the West Bank’s southern border with Israel, and is used by Palestinian merchants who travel to Israel to sell their goods. Two of the three vehicles were returning from Israel, while the other was traveling towards Israel from Yatta. The Israeli soldiers had not set up a visible “flying” checkpoint on the road, but rather each time a vehicle arrived, the soldiers jumped out from positions of hiding off to the side of the road, ordered the drivers to turn off their engines, took the IDs of those in the vehicles, and forced them to wait at the side of the road. By the time the three vehicles had been stopped, a total of 11 Palestinians were being kept by the Israeli soldiers at the side of the road.

At approximately 8:45am, a fourth vehicle arrived along the road, coming from Yatta, containing only the driver, Taysir Shihda Manasra, 28, from Bani Neim. Although the first three vehicles were still blocking the road, they were not yet visible to Manasra because of a bend in the road. The Palestinian witnesses, being guarded by soldier “A,” were at the side of the road, on the bend, and could see Manasra’s car approaching. Further back up the road, the rest of the Israeli soldiers were hiding again, and two of them jumped out (one from each side of the road) to ambush Manasra in a similar manner to the other vehicles. He was already passing them by the time they emerged and called on him to stop. It is not clear whether Manasra noticed the soldiers or not, as he did not stop immediately, driving for another 10 meters, before seeing soldier A emerge from the side of the road at the bend, 25 meters in front of him. Manasra stopped immediately as the soldier fired five shots into the air. A total of five Israeli soldiers then opened fire on the car, without warning or justification: soldier A, from the front; the two soldiers who had initially called on Manasra to stop, from behind; and another two soldiers who had been hiding in line with where Manasra stopped his car, from the side.

Corroborated witness reports confirmed that no shots came from the car, and that the barrage of shooting at the car continued for approximately 15 minutes, with hundreds of bullets fired. Medical reports later showed that Manasra was hit and killed by four bullets: one to the face, one to the back, one to the left arm, and the fourth to the left leg. Manasra’s body was left on the road outside his car until approximately 2:00pm. He was then placed on a stretcher by four Israeli soldiers who repeatedly kicked the body as they brought it to a military ambulance.

Shortly after the victim had been killed, a number of Israeli officials arrived, including a military police unit as well as an apparently senior officer who arrived in a helicopter, spoke to the soldiers present about what had happened, and left after 10 minutes. At approximately 10:00am, a remote-controlled robot was brought by the Israeli forces to open the doors of the car and remove Manasra’s body from the car.

Between 11:00am and 2:00pm, the Palestinian witnesses were taken one by one to a military jeep close to where they were still being kept at the side of the road, and interviewed by Israeli military police officers. Each one was asked whether Manasra had shot at the Israeli soldiers, and each one responded in the negative. However, when one of the military police investigators asked soldier A what had happened, the soldier claimed that Manasra had fired 30 shots at him with a pistol from inside the car. Witnesses reported that no gun was found on Manasra’s body or in his car when searched by the Israeli soldiers.

After the body was removed, the Palestinian witnesses were all brought to the nearby Israeli military checkpoint at Lasifer, and held there from 3:00pm to 5:00pm before being released.

The findings above demonstrate that Taysir Manasra was summarily executed by the Israeli occupying forces, amounting to an extrajudicial killing in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law. It also constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as a willful killing. Having stopped his car, Manasra was under the control of the Israeli soldiers, yet they made no attempt to question or arrest him for any alleged offense before opening fire. The “assumption” on the part of the Israeli authorities that Manasra intended to carry out an attack on Israeli civilians is disingenuous and unfounded in fact. There is no evidence that Manasra had any weapon, and the Israeli military is fully aware of the fact that the road in question is regularly used by Palestinian workers and merchants to enter Israel, which Manasra did every day. Any assumptions or suspicions as to the victim’s intentions certainly provide no basis in law for the arbitrary deprivation of his inalienable and inviolable right to life.

Al-Haq emphasizes its concern over the lack of impartiality and diligence in the Israeli authorities’ “investigation,” the findings of which were reported on the same day as the incident occurred, and calls for a full and independent investigation into the incident by the Israeli authorities. Al-Haq further reiterates its condemnation of the systematic impunity with which the Israeli occupying forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are allowed to persistently violate the right to life of Palestinians.

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