During the Nabka Day protests last May 15, two Palestinian youths, Muhammad Abu Thahr, 15, and Nadim Nuwara, 17, were shot in the chest in the town of Beitunia near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. Both adolescents died as a result of the injuries they suffered. Although the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claim that only rubber bullets had been used against those protesting, observers claim that live ammunition was used against the youths.
Nabka is how Palestinians call the “catastrophe” they suffered upon Israel’s creation on May 14, 1948. The event led to the displacement of around 750,000 Palestinians, which today number five million refugees according to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) figures.
Although the IDF has promised to launch an investigation, these investigations never result in the actual punishment of those guilty. As stated by Haaretz, “The awful moral failure underlying this incident requires the IDF to take a thorough account of itself, not only regarding the moral norms it inculcates in its soldiers, but also regarding military discipline.”
This last incident is just one more of many similar ones where the Israel military fired and killed unarmed Palestinians. B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights has described in the past the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields by forcing them to carry-out life-threatening military tasks, in violation of an Israeli High Court of Justice injunction against this procedure.
In a report entitled Trigger happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank published in February 2014, Amnesty International describes increasing bloodshed and widespread abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as a result of the Israeli forces use of unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal force against Palestinians.
Amnesty international states that in all cases it investigated, Palestinians killed by the Israeli soldiers didn’t appear to have been posing a direct and immediate threat to the life of the soldiers. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Director for Human Rights Watch said, “The willful killing of civilians by Israel security forces as part of the occupation is a war crime.”
As stated by Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, “The frequency and persistence of arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and police officers –and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators- suggest that it is carried out as a matter of policy.”
Investigations carried out by the IDF against perpetrators are ineffective. “The current Israeli system has proved woefully inadequate. It is neither independent nor impartial and completely lacks transparency. The authorities must conduct prompt, thorough and independent investigations into all suspected instances of arbitrary and abusive use of force, especially when resulting in loss of life or serious injury,” said Philip Luther.
Although the IDF claims that its troops fired rubber bullets during the incident involving the two Palestinian youths, they were apparently killed when they were relatively far away from the troops, which could be one more evidence that live ammunition was used. The belated release of footage taken by CNN shows one member of a group of Israeli border policemen firing at the Palestinians.
The Palestinians interpret Israel’s actions as an attempt to destroy any possibility of lasting Palestinian unity, and as further hindrance to the peace process. “The shot fired at the youths represented the mercy killing of the peace process,” said General Adnan Admiri, spokesman for the Palestinian security forces.
The actions of the Israeli security forces against the Palestinian youths have also been sharply criticized by Haaretz, which in an editorial stated, “The moral deterioration falls under the responsibility of all Israel’s governments since 1967, and especially the current pro-settlement, anti-peace government. The story of the Beitunia shooting sums up the crime of occupation, which has turned the IDF from the people’s army, whose task is to protect the state’s citizens, into a hothouse of violence, where soldiers and policemen shoot Palestinians as though they were ducks at a shooting range.”
Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.