On 21 February, Israeli forces shot a human rights defender in the head and a journalist in the face with rubber-coated bullets following the suppression of a peaceful demonstration in the old city of Hebron. The demonstration was in commemoration of the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre which occurred 20 years ago. It also called for the reopening of Al-Shuhada’ Street and to lift the closure of downtown Hebron. Fifteen Palestinians were injured with rubber-coated bullets while tens suffered from suffocation due to tear gas inhalation and a further five were arrested by Israeli border police and soldiers.
Mousa Mahmoud Abu Hashash – Doura – Hebron
Mousa, 59, works as a fieldworker at B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. On Friday, 21 February, Mousa was in Hebron to document the demonstration mentioned above and which was organized by the Hebron Defense Committee.
At approximately 12:30 pm, the peaceful demonstration departed from al-Sheikh Ali al-Bakka’ Mosque heading towards one of the eastern entrances in Al-Shuhada’ Street located in the old city. Israeli soldiers were dispersed around the area of the gate. Upon the demonstrators’ arrival, tens of Israeli border police and soldiers forcefully pushed those demonstrators who neared the gate while others fell on the street. The forces also threw sound and tear gas canisters at the demonstrators which forced them to withdraw.
Mousa witnessed the arrest of three young Palestinians by the soldiers. One of the men arrested, Badi’, 42, was dragged by the soldiers to the gate. After the demonstrators dispersed, some young Palestinians began to throw stones at the Israeli forces present in the area. Mousa was capturing the events on video. Mousa recalls that the forces began to fire rubber-coated bullets just before 2:00 pm.
At approximately 2:10 pm, Mousa headed north towards Bab al-Zawya square. As he was crossing the road heading north of the square, he observed the presence of Israeli forces approximately 40 metres away. Mousa heard a gunshot and then felt a strike on the left side of his head that shook him and caused him to bleed. There was a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance nearby. The paramedics carried him into the ambulance and took him to Hebron Governmental Hospital where he was examined. The results showed that Mousa had received a shot by a rubber-coated bullet to his head. He was released from hospital on the same day. While covering the events that day, Mousa had been wearing a dark blue jacket which had the B’Tselem logo clearly visible on the back. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 9384/2014)
Abd-al-Ghani Muhammad Al-Natshe – Hebron
At approximately 5:30 pm, the clashes had calmed down in the area. Abd-al-Ghani, 34, who is a press photographer, was documenting the incidents following the demonstration. He was wearing a bulletproof vest with the word “Press” written clearly on its back. He was also wearing a helmet on his head and a mask to protect him from the tear gas.
At that time, the soldiers fired tear gas and smoke canisters while they retreated towards al-Shuhada’ Street. Some soldiers remained on the street surrounding the eastern entrance. Abd-al-Ghani removed his mask and was setting up his equipment to broadcast the aftermath of the clashes live on Al-Mayadin TV channel. As soon as he removed the mask, he heard gunshots and felt something hit his left eyebrow, thrusting him backwards. He realized that his face was covered with blood. He could not see with his left eye and his eyeglasses were shattered. Abd-al-Ghani recalls that at the time he sustained the injury there were no clashes taking place between the soldiers and the people.
An ambulance transferred Abd-al-Ghani to a hospital. His cornea was damaged and as a result he would not be able to see with his injured eye for a week. He was released on the same night. While at the hospital, he received calls from the Israeli Civil Administration apologizing for what had happened. He was told that it was probably a mistake. According to Abd-al-Ghani, it would have been impossible for the soldiers not to have noticed the “Press” sign on his back, particularly because he was standing as close as 20 meters in proximity from the soldiers. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 9385/2014)
Al-Haq condemns the disproportionate use of force applied by the Israeli forces against the peaceful demonstrators in Hebron. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly as enshrined in Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), places a responsibility on Israel to refrain from using unnecessary and disproportionate force against demonstrators. More specifically, Israel is under a duty to protect, and not to attack, human rights defenders. The Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly in 1998 provides that human rights defenders are entitled to several forms of protection. These include the right to seek the protection and realization of human rights at national and international levels, to conduct human rights work individually and in association with others and to meet or assemble peacefully.
In addition, according to customary international humanitarian law, civilian journalists engaged in professional missions in areas of armed conflict must be respected and protected as long as they are not taking direct part in hostilities. The law of armed conflict also provides that protected persons are entitled in all circumstances to be humanely treated and shall be protected against all acts of violence and threats. The Occupying power must safeguard the inviolable rights of protected persons and prevent the implementation of harmful measures for the maintenance and restoration of law and order.