As a Palestinian human rights organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq is deeply disturbed by the excessive and disproportionate use of force employed by Israeli Border Police in the village of Nilin last week, resulting in the willful killing of two Palestinian children. Nilin has become a flashpoint for the excessive use of force by Israeli military forces against Palestinian civilians, and Israeli and international human rights activists demonstrating against the illegal construction of the Annexation Wall inside the OPT.
On Tuesday, 29 July 2008, at approximately 6pm, a peaceful demonstration consisting of roughly 50 children and 50 elderly Palestinians left the center of Nilin village and began walking towards the intended demonstration site near the Annexation Wall. The organizers deliberately decided to hold the protest at 6pm because they knew that Israeli soldiers and construction workers would not be present, and it would therefore be relatively safe to allow children and the elderly to demonstrate. Upon the group’s arrival, an Israeli Border Police vehicle rapidly deployed to the site. The demonstration’s organizers quickly began to lead the children and elderly to safety. Ahmad Husam Musa, a 10-year-old child, hid in an olive grove. A member of the Israeli Border Police saw Ahmad Musa, left the Border Police vehicle, aimed his rifle and fired a live bullet. Shot from a distance of 50 meters, the bullet entered Ahmad Musa’s forehead and exited through the back of his skull. While two of the demonstration’s organizers attempted to carry Ahmad Musa to safety, they were fired upon by the Border Police. They succeeded in carrying the child to safety, but he was already dead.
On Wednesday, 30 July 2008, at approximately 6:30pm, Israeli Border Police clashed with young demonstrators from the village of Nilin. These demonstrators had just attended Ahmad Musa’s funeral. Israeli Border Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Palestinian protestors threw stones. Seventeen-year-old Yousef Amira, who was among the demonstrators, hid between two houses in Nilin and watched the clashes with a few other young men. They were approximately 150 meters away from the clashes. A Border Police jeep entered the village from the east, drove towards them, and then performed a u-turn. As the jeep turned, bullets were fired at the group. Two rubber-coated steel bullets penetrated Yousef Amira’s head. He was taken to the Ramallah hospital where he was pronounced brain dead upon arrival, but was kept on life support. On Monday, 4 August 2008 he was pronounced dead.
Israel, the Occupying Power, is authorized to take measures to restore public order and safety. In responding to the demonstrators with lethal force, however, Israeli Border Police violated the fundamental international humanitarian law principles of distinction between combatants and civilians, proportionality in attack, and military necessity. Furthermore, they failed to meet the requirements incumbent upon them under international law for the legitimate use of force in policing operations. While maintaining public order may necessitate the use of lethal force, the UN Human Rights Committee has emphasized, in relation to right to life, that the law must “strictly control and limit the circumstances in which a person may be deprived of his life.” The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (The Code) provides further interpretive authority on the requirements international law imposes on governments in relation to the use of force in policing operations. The Code indicates that law enforcement officials may use force “only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty” and where it is “proportionate to the legitimate objective to be achieved.” The Code asserts that killing is an illegitimate objective and that “every effort should be made to exclude the use of fire arms, especially against children.”
Al-Haq’s investigation reveals that neither of the children killed by Israeli Border Police in Nilin participated in stone throwing or other acts of civil disobedience when they were shot; rather, both boys were hiding. The boys were not armed and did not threaten the lives of the Border Police. Therefore, they were not legitimate objects of attack.
The intent to kill is manifest in the circumstances surrounding Ahmad Musa’s death in which live ammunition was fired at the boy’s head from a close range of 50 meters. While in Yousef Amira’s case Border Police employed rubber-coated steel bullets — ostensibly intended to inflict superficial injuries in policing contexts — the boy’s death shows that they can be easily used to lethal effect. The degree of injury sustained from a rubber bullet depends on its type, accuracy, the distance from which it is fired, and the part of the body it hits. In Yousef Amira’s case Israeli forces aimed for the head. Moreover, the type of rubber bullets used by the Border Police in this case, rubber-coated with a metal core, make them more dangerous than other forms of rubber bullets. Accordingly, the circumstances in which both boys were arbitrarily deprived of their lives amount to willful killing, defined as a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, Israel’s rules of engagement have promoted the arbitrary deprivation of life in that the regulations allow soldiers to open fire on Palestinian civilians even where their life is not threatened. Hence, the death of both of these children resulted from Israel’s refusal to reconcile its rules of engagement with its international law obligations.
International law also requires impartial and independent investigations when there is prima facie evidence or credible allegations of unlawful killings. Despite the facts as presented above, an investigation by Israeli military authorities into Ahmad Musa’s death resulted merely in the house arrest of a Border Policeman for five days. Israel has not yet seen fit to launch an investigation into Yousef Amira’s death. The failure to hold the Border Police officers in question criminally accountable for the willful killing of these two children is reflective of Israel’s policy since 2000 to not automatically launch independent, impartial investigations into Palestinian civilian deaths. The result, if not the intention, of this policy, is the cultivation of culture of rampant impunity amongst Israeli military forces. In this light, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention are legally obliged under Article 147 to search for and prosecute the officers responsible for the willful killings of Ahmad Musa and Yousef Amira.
- An open letter: Father to father, Bassam Aramin (7 August 2008)
- Israeli forces mortally wound Nilin teenager after funeral, Flashpoints (1 August 2008)
- Transcript: Israeli military kill 10-year-old in Nilin, Flashpoints (30 July 2008)
- Palestinian ‘Che’ blindfolded and shot, IPS (27 July 2008)
- Palestinian village takes on Israeli military, IPS (8 July 2008)