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20 April 2018: Wilful Killing of Four Palestinians, including a Child, and Injury of 252 Protesters in Fourth Great Return March Week

Saturday, 21 April 2018 14:05
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Palestinians participate in fourth week of protests as part of the Great Return March, Gaza Strip, 20 April 2018. Photo: Al-Haq 2018. For the fourth week, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip gathered to protest as part of the Great Return March, on Friday, 20 April 2018. As in the past three weeks,[1] the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) used excessive force, including lethal force, to suppress peaceful Palestinian assemblies of thousands of civilian protesters, including women and children, firing live ammunition and tear gas canisters at the crowds and in open spaces. On 20 April 2018, the IOF killed four Palestinian protesters, including a 14-year-old child, while they posed no imminent threat to the IOF, and injured 252 protesters, including 184 by live ammunition. Among the injured, 41 were children and six were women. In addition, field medical staff treated hundreds of cases of suffocation from tear gas inhalation.

In the North Gaza Governorate, the IOF were positioned behind the fence on sand hills that were elevated above ground level in the Talat Abu Safiya area, east of Jabaliya, from where they fired live ammunition at 24-year-old Ahmad Nabil Abu ‘Aqel, a resident of Jabaliya Refugee Camp, who was shot by a live bullet in the head from behind at around 11:15 am, on Friday, 20 April 2018. Upon his serious injury, Ahmad Abu ‘Aqel was taken to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, where doctors pronounced his death some two hours after his arrival. Ahmad Abu ‘Aqel was shot while sitting on a sand hill some 150 metres from the fence with his back to the IOF, to the east. Ahmad Abu ‘Aqel had been injured by the IOF during a demonstration on 8 December 2017 in the east of Jabaliya, in protest against the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its decision to relocate the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He has walked on crutches ever since.

Ahmad Nabi Abu ‘Aqel, killed by the IOF on 20 April 2018, lying injured next to crutches he has had to use since 8 December 2018, following his injury by the IOF. Photo: Yasser Qudih.

Then, around 2:30 pm, the IOF killed Ahmad Rashad Al-Athamna, 25, a resident of Beit Hanoun, by shooting him with a live bullet that entered his upper left shoulder from the back side and exited from his chest above the heart. Ahmad Al-Athamna was participating in the same peaceful protest, standing about 200 metres from the fence. Also in the same area, the IOF killed 14-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ayub, born 9 February 2004, a resident of Al-Falouja area in Jabaliya.  Muhammad Ayub was shot by a live bullet in the head from behind, while he participated in the same peaceful protest some 100 metres from the fence. He was pronounced dead at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza around 6:30 pm that day. Overall, 62 Palestinian protesters were injured by the IOF in the North Gaza Governorate on 20 April, including nine women and children. Of the total, 35 or more than half were injured by live ammunition, while the remaining were injured by tear gas canisters and tens of cases of suffocation from tear gas inhalation were treated by field medical staff.

In the Khan Younis Governorate, the IOF shot live fire towards peaceful Palestinian protesters gathered east of Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis. Around 6:00 pm, the IOF killed Sa’d Abed Al-Majid Abu Taha, 31, a resident of Al-Qarara, while protesting about 100 metres form the fence, with a live bullet shot to his neck, leading to his immediate death. In the same location, the IOF injured 45 protesters, including three children, 39 of them by live ammunition.

In the Rafah Governorate, the IOF also used excessive force, including lethal force, against peaceful Palestinian protesters east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where hundreds were gathered near the fence, leading to the injury of 37 protesters, including 36 by live ammunition, among them ten children. Seven were seriously injured in the upper parts of their body. In the Central Governorate, east of Al-Breij Refugee Camp, the IOF positioned behind the fence shot live fire and rubber bullets and fired tear gas canisters towards hundreds of peaceful protesters, injuring 53 Palestinians, including five children, 41 of them by live ammunition. In the Gaza Governorate, the IOF was also positioned behind the fence, from where they fired towards thousands of peaceful protesters east of Gaza, injuring 55, including 14 children and four women, 33 of them injured by live ammunition, while the remaining injuries were from tear gas canisters and tear gas inhalation.

On 20 April, the IOF also continued to intentionally target medical staff and journalists,[2] injuring Muhammad Hassan Al-Sawalhi, 40, a journalist working with the Gaza Media Center, who was injured by shrapnel from a live bullet in the right hand after the bullet hit his camera while he was covering Great Return March protests in Gaza. In addition, a tear gas canister was fired in the same area over a radio car belonging to Manara Media Company, while tear gas canisters were also fired near a medical point in Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis, where the wounded were being treated.

Legal Analysis

For the fourth week in a row, the IOF disregarded widespread international condemnation of its conduct, including by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC),[3] and violently suppressed Great Return March protests in the Gaza Strip. On 20 April, Israel once again violated Palestinians’ right of peaceful assembly[4] and expression,[5] their right to life,[6] to freedom from ill-treatment,[7] and their status as protected persons under international humanitarian law.[8] The IOF continue to deliberately violate the United Nations (UN) Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, which proscribe the intentional lethal use of firearms unless “strictly unavoidable in order to protect life”.[9] No considerations of necessity or proportionality warranted the use of force, notably lethal force, to target protesters exercising their right of peaceful assembly.

On Friday, 20 April, the IOF once again resorted to excessive force, including lethal force, to suppress peaceful Palestinian protests in all parts of the Gaza Strip. 252 Palestinians were injured altogether, most of them by live ammunition. The IOF’s excessive use of lethal force led to the killing of four Palestinians on 20 April, including a child, all shot by live ammunition while peacefully protesting between 100 and 200 metres away from the fence, clearly posing no imminent threat to life that may justify resort to lethal force.

According to Al-Haq’s preliminary documentation, at least three of the four killed had suffered bullet shots from behind, with their backs turned to the IOF. Muhammad Ibrahim Ayub, 14, and Ahmad Nabil Abu ‘Aqel, 24, were both shot by a live bullet in the back of the head, while Ahmad Rashad Al-Athamna, 25, was shot by a live bullet, which entered from behind his upper left shoulder and exited from his chest. Sa’d Abed Al-Majid Abu Taha, 31, was shot by a live bullet in the neck. All four of them were shot in the upper parts of their bodies, a practice previously documented, indicating intent and a shoot-to-kill policy.[10]

In addition, the shooting of Palestinians with their backs turned to the IOF has also been previously documented in the case of Abd Al-Fattah Abd Al-Nabi and Ahmad Omar Arafa, who were shot from behind as they were running away from the fence on 30 March 2018, their backs turned to the IOF.[11] Al-Haq once again recalls that the apparent shooting of Muhammad Ibrahim Ayub, 14, Ahmad Nabil Abu ‘Aqel, 24, and Ahmad Rashad Al-Athamna, 25, eliminates any necessity to shoot in defence of life, with the shooting breaching the principle of necessity and violating the right to life.[12]

Since 30 March 2018, Al-Haq has documented the killing of 39 Palestinians by the IOF in the Gaza Strip, 32 of them while peacefully participating in Great Return March protests, during which over 3,650 Palestinians have now been injured.[13] Al-Haq condemns Israel’s longstanding impunity in the face of systematic human rights violations and echoes the calls made by UN human rights experts for an independent international investigation into the killing of Palestinians by the IOF since 30 March 2018.[14]

Al-Haq further calls on the ICC to open an investigation into the situation in Palestine and to examine all cases where international crimes are alleged to have been committed, including war crimes of wilful killing[15] and of wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health,[16] including those perpetrated by members of the IOF during the Great Return March.

Finally, Al-Haq calls upon the UN and third States to take meaningful and decisive action to ensure the protection of the occupied Palestinian people as they continue to legitimately demand the realisation of their inalienable rights by participating in the Great Return March, which is expected to continue until 15 May 2018, when Palestinians commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. Only through accountability will Israel’s widespread and systematic violations of the rights of the Palestinian people be finally brought to an end.


[1] For previous documentation by Al-Haq, see: Al-Haq, “30 March: 15 Palestinians Killed, More than a Thousand Injured, as IOF Violently Suppress Palestinian Protestors in the Gaza Strip” (31 March 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1206-30-march-15-palestinians-killed-more-than-a-thousand-injured-as-iof-violently-suppress-palestinian-protestors-in-the-gaza-strip. Al-Haq, “6 April 2018: 9 Palestinian Protestors Killed, Another by an Israeli Airstrike, Hundreds Injured in the Gaza Strip” (9 April 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1212-6-april-2018-9-palestinian-protestors-killed-another-by-an-israeli-airstrike-hundreds-injured-in-the-gaza-strip-. Al-Haq, “13 April: Palestinian Determination to Peaceful Protest Continues to be met with Excessive Use of Force by the IOF” (19 April 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1216-13-april-palestinian-determination-to-peaceful-protest-continues-to-be-met-with-excessive-use-of-force-by-the-iof.

[2] Al-Haq, “Israel Deliberately Injures and Maims Palestinian Civilians, Prevents Evacuation of Wounded, and Denies Access to Vital Healthcare Facilities Outside the Gaza Strip” (18 April 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/documentation/weekly-focuses/1215-israel-deliberately-injures-and-maims-palestinian-civilians-prevents-evacuation-of-wounded-and-denies-access-to-vital-healthcare-facilities-outside-the-gaza-strip. Al-Haq, “Israeli Occupying Forces Target Journalists Covering Gaza Protests, Killing One and Injuring Others” (12 April 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/documentation/weekly-focuses/1214-israeli-occupying-forces-target-journalists-covering-gaza-protests-killing-one-and-injuring-others.

[3] International Criminal Court (ICC), “Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, regarding the worsening situation in Gaza” (8 April 2018), available at: https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/item.aspx?name=180408-otp-stat.

[4] Article 21, ICCPR.

[5] Article 19, ICCPR.

[6] Article 6, ICCPR.

[7] Article 7, ICCPR.

[8]Article 4, Fourth Geneva Convention.

[9] Principle 9, UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (1990). Article 3, UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (1979). See also Al-Haq, “Israeli Occupying Forces Target Journalists Covering Gaza Protests, Killing One and Injuring Others” (12 April 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/documentation/weekly-focuses/1214-israeli-occupying-forces-target-journalists-covering-gaza-protests-killing-one-and-injuring-others.

[10] Al-Haq, “30 March: 15 Palestinians Killed, More than a Thousand Injured, as IOF Violently Suppress Palestinian Protestors in the Gaza Strip” (31 March 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1206-30-march-15-palestinians-killed-more-than-a-thousand-injured-as-iof-violently-suppress-palestinian-protestors-in-the-gaza-strip.

[11] Al-Haq, “Gaza: Documenting Wilful Killings and Injuries during the Great Return March” (11 April 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/documentation/weekly-focuses/1213-gaza-documenting-wilful-killings-and-injuries-during-the-great-return-march.

[12] Article 6, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

[13] Al-Haq, “13 April: Palestinian Determination to Peaceful Protest Continues to be met with Excessive Use of Force by the IOF” (19 April 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1216-13-april-palestinian-determination-to-peaceful-protest-continues-to-be-met-with-excessive-use-of-force-by-the-iof.

[14] OHCHR, “UN human rights experts condemn killings of Palestinians near Gaza fence by Israeli security forces” (17 April 2018), available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22950&LangID=E.

[15] Article 8(2)(a)(i), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

[16] Article 8(2)(a)(iii), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

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