Israel’s impunity culture: War crimes, intimidation and oppression

Palestinian children continue to suffer high levels of violence and intimidation from Israeli forces.

Israel claims to open investigations into incidents involving injury and violence against children, writes Parker [AFP/Getty Images]

Fakher Zayed, a 47-year-old Palestinian man from the occupied West Bank city of Beitunia, lives just down the road from Israel’s Ofer military prison, an area where demonstrations by Palestinians are common. On May 15, as Palestinian youth and Israeli forces clashed in front of his home, he witnessed Israeli forces shoot and kill two Palestinian teens with live ammunition. The fatal shootings were also captured by his security cameras attached to the building.

Upon its release, the security camera footage depicting the killings of Nadeem Nawarah, 17, and Mohammad Abu Daher, 16, went viral, prompting the Obama administration to call on Israeli officials to “conduct a prompt and transparent investigation”. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights declared the killings may amount to “extrajudicial executions” or “willful killings” under international law, and Human Rights Watch recently found that the killings constitute an apparent war crime.

Despite these allegations of war crimes, as well as widespread criticism of the Israeli military’s use of excessive force against civilians, Israeli authorities have yet to commit to a serious and transparent investigation. Instead, a month after the fatal shootings, the authorities have directed their efforts toward discrediting the victims’ families and intimidating eyewitnesses.

Intimidation and arbitrary detention

On June 17 at 4:20 pm, around 20 heavily-armed Israeli soldiers arrived outside Fakher’s home in four military jeeps. Instead of questioning Fakher as an eyewitness or investigating the fatal shootings, the soldiers took his ID card, forced him into a jeep and brought him to Ofer military prison where he was placed in a room and surrounded by several Israeli army officers. There, they intimidated him and his family, threatening that the Israeli army would “crush” him. They demanded the cameras that captured the fatal shootings be removed within 24 hours. After being arbitrarily detained for approximately one hour, he was returned home.

Israeli officials have repeatedly claimed that no live ammunition was fired on May 15, and that Israeli forces only deployed rubber-coated metal bullets and teargas. Video footage, eyewitness testimonies and forensic evidence overwhelmingly suggest that this is not true. An autopsy conducted last month on the body of Nadeem Nawarah at al-Quds University’s Institute of Forensic Medicine in Abu Dis determined that a live bullet was the cause of his death.

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After reviewing all the evidence of the May 15 shootings, Human Rights Watch found that the “video footage, photographs, witness statements, and medical records indicate” that Nadeem and Mohammad “posed no imminent threat to the forces at the time” they were shot.

In the weeks since the fatal shootings Israeli forces have increasingly resorted to the use of excessive force, recklessly firing live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets at civilians, including children. The killings of Nadeem and Mohammad have been followed by weeks of escalating violence resulting in injuries to over a dozen other children.

In Gaza on May 23, Mohammad, 16, was shot by Israeli soldiers as he and his brothers gathered hay 150 metres (492 feet) from the border fence. As he ran to protect his younger brothers, a live bullet entered through his right shoulder and severed his spinal cord, paralysing him from the waist down.

In Hebron in the West Bank, Yazan, 15, lost an eye after he was struck by a rubber-coated metal bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. He had been running errands for his mother on May 30 when he found himself caught in clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinian civilians.

Following the June 12 disappearance of three Israeli teens studying in the occupied West Bank and the recent discovery of their bodies near the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, the Israeli military has pursued a policy of collective punishment across the Occupied Palestinian Territory that has significantly impacted children. West Bank homes have been raided, freedom of movement severely restricted and deaths and injuries rising as residents clash with soldiers. DCI-Palestine sources say that Palestinian children are among the hundreds of people arrested since the Israeli teens were reported missing.

Two Palestinian children were injured by shrapnel on the evening of June 15 when the Israeli army bombed the front door of their Hebron home, according to news reports. The army conducted a raid and arrested a male family member.

Mohammad Dudeen, 15, was killed by a single live bullet after dozens of Israeli soldiers descended on his home village of Dura, near the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

While Israel claims to open investigations into incidents involving injury and violence against children, impunity reigns for Israeli soldier violence against Palestinians. Investigations are neither transparent nor independent, and rarely result in an Israeli soldier being held criminally responsible or accountable.

The harassment and intimidation that Fakher Zayed has recently been subjected to is nothing more than evidence of the oppression and control inherent in Israel’s prolonged occupation of the Palestinian population.

The war crimes that Israel stands accused of will not end as long as the Israeli government perpetuates a violent military occupation that allows inequality and injustice to flourish. Israel’s recent actions, including attempts to discredit victims’ families and eyewitnesses, deliberately targeting civilians and pursuing a policy of collective punishment, epitomise the repression and systematic violations of human rights inherent in Israel’s unjust occupation.

Israel’s occupation sanctions oppression and forbids justice at every turn. Israeli authorities must end its policy of collective punishment and ensure that Palestinian civilians are protected and not targets of violence.

Brad Parker is a staff attorney and international advocacy officer at Defense for Children International Palestine, an independent child-rights organization dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Follow DCI-Palestine on Twitter and Facebook

Follow Brad Parker on Twitter: @baparkr