On 29 March 2017, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) shot and killed Seham Nimer, a 49-year old resident of Ras al-Khamis, in front of Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem.
Seham is the mother of Mustafa Nimer, who was shot and killed by the IOF on 5 September 2016 in Shufat refugee camp. The IOF had claimed that they opened fire believing that Mustafa's cousin, Ali Nimer, was planning a car ramming attack. The IOF quickly retracted the claim when video evidence and eyewitness testimony proved that Mustafa posed no threat to the forces and stated that his killing was a mistake. Despite this admission, the IOF responsible for Mustafa's death were not investigated or prosecuted. Instead, Mustafa's cousin, Ali, was arrested and charged with negligent homicide on the basis that his reckless driving caused the soldiers to fire at the vehicle leading to Mustafa's death. Ali recently signed a plea deal admitting to the crime.
Reeling from her son’s death, Seham was suffering from depression and undergoing psychological treatment. She is the first woman to be killed by the IOF this year and yet another example of Israel’s excessive use of force, resulting in complete disregard for Palestinians’ right to life.
According to eyewitness testimony collected by Al-Haq, at around 4pm on 29 March 2017, Seham and her daughter, Zahra (17 years old), were seen arguing loudly near Damascus Gate. Zahra was attempting to pull her mother away from Damascus Gate and into the walls of the Old City, yelling,“Mother, for God’s sake, let us leave!” Zahra was finally able to wrestle her mother into the Old City and onto a small side street, five meters away from Damascus Gate.
After approximately ten minutes, the situation appeared to have calmed down, but Seham managed to escape her daughter’s grip, and quickly approached a checkpoint at the entrance of Damascus Gate. Five members of the IOF were stationed behind metal barriers at the checkpoint. Seham walked up to the metal barrier, raised a pair of scissors in her hand and started screaming, “You killed my son!” The member of the IOF closest to Seham immediately fired two bullets at Seham, one hitting her in the chest and the other in the hip. At no point did the IOF attempt to restrain Seham before firing the lethal shots. Seham immediately fell to the ground. The IOF tried to shoot at Seham while she laid motionless on the ground, but bystanders intervened and stopped them, as it appeared that she had been killed. Five minutes later, Israeli paramedics appeared on the scene. The IOF then proceeded to attack people in the Damascus Gate area, pushing and kicking them and throwing sound bombs and tear gas at the crowds to clear the area.
Seham’s husband, Talal Nimer, said he had received a phone call from his daughter Zahra pleading with him to rush to Damascus Gate, telling him that her mother bought a pair of scissors with which she intended to do something but that Zahra was able to restrain her. As soon as Talal arrived at Damascus Gate, it was sealed off and he learned that the IOF had killed his wife.
Israeli police then arrested Seham’s husband, Talal, and her daughters, Manar (19 years old) and Zahra, and took them in for interrogation at al-Maskobiyeh prison. The interrogation lasted nearly six hours.
The case of Seham Nimer is not only representative of Israel’s occupation more generally, as well as the shoot-to-kill policy that it has regularly employed since October of 2015, it also reveals how Israel’s occupation has served to destroy Palestinian family life, pushing the Palestinian population to the edges of despair.
Israel regularly uses excessive force against Palestinians, often killing or seriously injuring individuals when lesser measures could be taken. Israel’s unlawful killing of Palestinians violates the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which state: “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” Therefore, Israeli law enforcement officials must apply non-violent means before resorting to force and firearms. As Occupying Power, Israel is obliged to uphold these restrictions on the use of force and firearms and to preserve and respect the right to life of the occupied Palestinian population.
Al-Haq highlights that there are countless cases of Palestinians killed over the last two years who did not pose an imminent threat to the lives of the IOF at the time of killing. According to the eyewitness testimony, it is clear that the IOF could have attempted to restrain Seham before firing the deadly shots. Accordingly, Israel must ensure prompt, impartial, independent, effective, and transparent investigations into the killing of Seham among other Palestinians killed and hold all perpetrators accountable.
Due to Israel’s continued failure to carry out such investigations and to respect the right to life of Palestinians, the international community must take effective steps to ensure the protection of the occupied Palestinian population.