Teen’s death highlights Israel abuse of West Bank youth

The death of a teen, shot by an Israeli army officer, underscores the police violence Palestinian youth are facing.

Palestinian teen death
People gather at the al-Kasba family home on the day of Muhammad's funeral [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

Occupied West Bank – In the living room of the al-Kasba family home, a large commemorative poster occupies an entire wall, depicting the portraits of two boys against a faded background of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

It says that Yasser and Samer al-Kasba, 12 and 16, were killed 40 days apart from each other during the first year of the second Intifada.

This is where women have now gathered to mourn the death of their younger brother, Muhammad Hani al-Kasba, 17, shot dead last Friday morning by a senior Israeli army officer near the Qalandia army checkpoint separating Jerusalem from the current seat of the Palestinian government, Ramallah.

“Last week he went to Jerusalem for the first time in many years. He was very happy,” recalled Sami al-Kasba, Muhammad’s father, who works in the canteen of the local UNRWA school. Muhammad had joined him after leaving school two years ago.

The Israeli military issued a statement saying that Israel Shomer, an army commander identified by the media reports to have shot the Palestinian teen, fired warning shots in the air before aiming at the teen.

Two bullets hit his abdomen and face, Dr Assef Jawadeh of the Palestinian Medical Centre in Ramallah told Al Jazeera.

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Qalandia refugee camp is part of the Jerusalem municipality, but because it lies on the West Bank side of the separation wall, many residents have West Bank IDs and can only cross the checkpoint with permits.

Because of his young age, Muhammad wouldn’t have qualified to cross. But near the town of al-Ram, locals say there is a shaky ladder that many climb.

At the beginning of Ramadan, Israeli authorities eased restrictions on movement for Palestinians.

When there is an arrest in the middle of the night, it terrifies the whole family. There's nothing we can do.

by Nasser Mahmoud, Kasba's former math teacher

Earlier this week, however, hundreds of entry permits to Jerusalem were revoked due to a spate of recent attacks, which, since the start of Ramadan, has left two Israelis dead. Two other Palestinians were killed in the same period by Israeli security forces at checkpoints.

Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner told Al Jazeera that the case is undergoing a military police investigation. But an Amnesty International report published last year said these investigations lack transparency and are “neither independent nor impartial”.

Between September 2000 and June 2013, only 16 investigations into cases of alleged excessive force by Israeli military personnel resulted in the indictment of Israeli soldiers. 

The recent closure of a case involving the death of four boys playing football on the beach during the Gaza war last year, without any indictment, sparked an international outcry.

“The use of live ammunition is governed by the Israeli military’s regulations, which stipulate that it must only be employed in cases in which a direct, mortal threat is posed to a soldier,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, the director of the Accountability Programme at Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP).

“However, soldiers using live ammunition in contravention of this rule are protected by systemic impunity within the Israeli military. In 2014, 11 children lost their lives after suffering gunshot wounds, but only one case resulted in an indictment,” he added.

According to data provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 299 minors were injured by live ammunition last year, excluding the summer war.

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In the West Bank, teenagers may face arrest without warning, military courts, and physical violence at the hands of the Israeli forces. According to the DCIP, 500 to 700 children each year are arrested and come into contact with the Israeli military detention system in the West Bank.

Children and minors are reported to suffer the most physical violence during the first 24 to 48 hours in military custody, arrest, and interrogation.

Over half of the arrests take place during raids on homes in the middle of the night. Children are routinely blindfolded and have reported being beaten, insulted, and threatened with rape.

They are often made to sign documents in Hebrew, a language they do not understand.

Sami al-Kasba, Muhammad's father [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]
Sami al-Kasba, Muhammad’s father [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

A 2013 UNICEF report concluded that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.

A recent review found that no significant progress has been made since then.

In a recent submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the voluntary Palestinian lawyers’ association, Military Court Watch, argued that the abuse of minors is part of a “strategy of mass intimidation” that the military is required to adopt in order to secure West Bank settlements.

Israeli children do not come into contact with the military detention system because the settlements are subject to Israeli civil and criminal, rather than military, law.

“For the children in the camp, this is normal,” says Nasser Mahmoud, Kasba’s former math teacher at the Qalandia UNRWA school. “When there is an arrest in the middle of the night, it terrifies the whole family. There’s nothing we can do. We’re used to it.”

Source: Al Jazeera