Palestinians demand answers for PA shooting at student protest

Two high school students were wounded by bullet shrapnel after PA officer in plainclothes shot at their sit-in.

A Protester argues with Palestinian riot police
A protester argues with Palestinian riot police during a demonstration against security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel [File: Mohamad Torokman/Al Jazeera]

Ramallah, Occupied West Bank – Odai Abdeljawad, 17, has been in a state of shock since he was shot and wounded by a Palestinian Authority (PA) security officer in civilian clothing on Tuesday.

Odai and his fellow classmates had been peacefully protesting in front of the education directorate headquarters in the northern occupied West Bank city of Tubas, when a PA officer appeared with a gun and shot live ammunition towards them.

The students, some of whom were inside meeting with officials from the directorate, were demanding the removal of subjects from their matriculation exams due to the general health conditions and the spread of COVID-19. Organised high school student demonstrations and sit-ins were held in front of a number of directorate headquarters in cities across the West Bank, including Tubas, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Tulkarem and Nablus.

Two students were wounded by bullet shrapnel. Odai was injured by four bullets that hit the ground near him, and he was immediately transferred to Al-Turki Hospital in Tubas for treatment.

While their injuries were light and they left the hospital the same day, news of the shooting at a group of students, all under 18, sent shockwaves throughout Tubas and on the Palestinian street.

Social media continues to buzz with the news, as a video of the incident circulates online and more information on what transpired comes to the fore.

According to the Abdeljawad family, the PA officer in plainclothes appeared with an automatic rifle and asked the students to leave.

Odai’s uncle, Mohammad, told Al Jazeera the officer then fired shots into the air, before firing towards the students.

He said the head of police apologised to the parents and meetings were held with the parents. The security officer was suspended and officials announced the launch of an internal investigation with him, which PA officials confirmed to Al Jazeera.

Mohammad said the family are not content with the PA’s response.

“All we want is for the law to take its course, and for whoever shot at our children be held accountable,” Mohammad told Al Jazeera, explaining the family filed an official complaint with the PA’s intelligence department and the statutory watchdog, the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).

The ICHR has demanded the formation of an independent investigation committee for the incident, said the Tubas-based researcher in the commission Yazan Sawafta.

He told Al Jazeera ICHR’s position is that “what happened was the violation of freedom of expression and peaceful protest guaranteed by the Palestinian Basic Law”.

Sawafta, who is in charge of following up on this file by speaking to the students, their families, and PA officials, said, “Shooting in this way is illegal and violates the code of honour of the security services, which bars shooting live ammunition except in cases of extreme necessity.”

He added, “An investigation committee is important to ensure people’s right to hold individuals accountable, and to avoid compromising civil peace in the area.”

Investigation committee

Tubas Governor Younis al-Aas, who is responsible for the security services in the governorate, said what happened was an “individual act” by one of the security forces, an internal investigation is under way, and he will be “subjected to legal action”, but would not disclose details of the procedure.

Al-Aas told Al Jazeera the police leadership and the director of education visited the students and settled the matter with their families, describing what took place as “wrong behaviour”.

He added the security officer tried to disperse the students around him by firing a bullet on the ground and not directly at the students.

On Tuesday evening, a group of students took to Tubas city centre to protest, blocking the main street and igniting tyre fires. The sit-in continued in front of the education directorate the next day to demand that the shooter be held accountable and their right to peaceful protest not be violated.

The families say they are not convinced that what took place was an “individual act”.

Student Omar Mansour attended the protest. His father, Ahmad, believed what happened was part of a more general approach by PA security services to suppress any protests.

“The problem is with the security doctrine, which is adopting repression,” he told Al Jazeera.

Ahmad said the students are experiencing psychological trauma, making them lose trust in national symbols. “How should children feel when they watch the sons of their homeland, who should be protecting them, shooting at them, without any justification?”

In a statement on Tuesday, the Ramallah-based Lawyers for Justice group called for “an immediate investigation into the course of the incident, and that the perpetrator be held accountable”.

This is “a serious attack on children under the age of 18 during a peaceful sit-in during which they were expressing their views”, the group continued, adding that “those involved in the shooting be held accountable”, and warned of the consequences of this incident, which “constitutes an increasing threat to the reality of freedom of opinion and expression in Palestine”.

Political activist Omar Assaf agreed.

Assaf told Al Jazeera he believes the “security services’ violations and suppression of freedoms and any manifestations of protest in the Palestinian street, no matter how small, have become an approach, and not an ‘individual act’.”

Students told local media on Thursday they held further meetings with officials from the education ministry and had received preliminary approval to lessen the subject materials for their exams.

Source: Al Jazeera