On Thursday 15 May, Israeli forces located near Ofer Prison, west of Ramallah, killed two Palestinian boys, both 17 years old, and injured two other civilians. The two youths, Nadim Nuwwara and Muhammad Salama (Abu Thaher), were both shot in the chest with live bullets and died as a result. Defence for Children International, B’tselem and other organisations published CCTV footage of both incidents.
According to an eye witness, four live bullets were fired that afternoon, injuring four Palestinians. In addition to Nadim and Muhammad Salama (Abu Thaher), Muhammad al-‘Azza was also shot with a live bullet that entered the left side of his chest from a 150-200 metre distance. According to surgeons who operated on Muhammad, the bullet hit his left rib, causing it to divert away from his heart, hit his lungs and exit through his back. Muhammad is still recovering from his injuries in Ramallah Governmental Hospital. The fourth man hit by a live bullet, who wishes to remain anonymous, sustained a minor injury to his arm.
According to medical reports gathered by Al-Haq field researchers and issued by the Palestine Medical Complex, Nadim Nuwwara received a gunshot to the chest that penetrated his abdomen, causing extensive bleeding in the abdominal area, liver injury and extensive bleeding in the chest area. Nadim was announced dead as a result of his injuries at 2:45 pm that day at the Palestine Medical Complex.
With regards to Muhammad Salama (Abu Thaher), medical reports issued by the Palestine Medical Complex indicate that the bullet entered the right side of Muhammad’s back and exited the body from his left parasternal area. Muhammad was admitted to the emergency room at the Palestine Medical Complex at 3:00 pm. Immediately upon arrival, he underwent a thoracotomy in which it was discovered that his heart was damaged. At 3:15 pm, after a failed attempt at resuscitation, Muhammad was announced dead.
Muhammad Abdallah ‘Azza – al-Bireh
On Thursday 15 May at approximately 10:30 am, Muhammad, 15, and his friends left school and set off for Beitunia, west of Ramallah, to participate in an Al-Nakba day demonstration held in front of Ofer prison. The boys arrived at Ofer at approximately 11:30 am where they found around 60 young Palestinian men and women protesting on the street opposite the soldiers.
Israeli soldiers were spotted in two separate locations; one group of around eight soldiers was stationed in a yard behind a one metre high wall on top of a hill overlooking the street on which the protestors were situated. These soldiers were about 50 metres away from the protestors, some of whom were throwing stones in their direction. According to Muhammad, because the soldiers were located on higher ground, the stones could not reach them. The soldiers were indiscriminately firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the protestors but Muhammad recalls that the clashes weren’t heavy, as there were only a few people throwing stones at the soldiers. The other group of Israeli soldiers was located in Ofer prison yard behind cement blocks, at a distance of approximately150-200 metres from the protestors.
Muhammad stood behind some protestors who were throwing stones and watched the scene. He saw two soldiers, one of whom was holding his gun in a manner suggesting that he was ready to shoot. At that point, Muhammad believed that the soldier would fire a rubber bullet or a tear gas canister. However, Muhammad suddenly heard live bullets being fired and then felt a searing pain in his chest and was thrusted backwards. He realised he was bleeding heavily from his chest. A nearby ambulance collected Muhammad and he was transferred to Ramallah Governmental Hospital where he underwent surgery. The doctors told him that he had sustained an injury to the chest from a live bullet. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 9575/2014)
Samer Hisham Nazzal – Ramallah
On 15 May, Samer, 28, was working as a journalist covering the clashes that were taking place in front of Ofer prison between Palestinian protestors and Israeli soldiers. Samer recalls that at approximately 1:40 pm, when there were no stones being thrown at the soldiers, he heard the occasional sound of live bullets being shot. At one point, after hearing the sound of a live bullet being fired, Samer saw a young boy carrying a schoolbag, dressed in black with his face covered by a keffiyeh fall to the ground. The boy put his hand on his chest as he hit the ground. When the shooting stopped, Samer, along with other people located nearby, gathered around the boy to check on him. The boy was carried to an ambulance. Meanwhile, rubber coated bullets were being fired and a paramedic that was helping to carry the boy was hit in the head. Samer later found out that the boy dressed in black was Nadim Nuwwara, who died as a result of his injury. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 9574/2014)
Muhannad Jihad Rabi’ – Bir Zeit
On 15 May, at approximately 12:15 PM, Muhannad, 23, along with a group of his friends and some foreign activists headed to Beitunia to take part in the Al-Nakba day demonstrations in front of Ofer prison. Upon their arrival there were clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli soldiers, in which several protestors were injured.
Towards the end of the clashes, Muhannad heard the sound of live fire. He immediately sprawled on the ground. While he was on the ground himself, Muhannad saw that a young man wearing a green flag was also lying on the ground with his hand over his chest. Muhannad heard him scream once. Seconds later, Muhannad approached him and put his hand over his chest where he was injured. The boy wasn’t bleeding heavily but traces of the bullet were clearly visible, as it had ripped through his shirt. The boy was carried to an ambulance and transferred to hospital. Later, Muhannad learned that the boy, Muhammad Salama (Abu al-Thaher), had died from his injury. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 9576/2014)
Al-Haq condemns the use of live bullets against Palestinian civilians. As the Occupying Power, Israel must conduct its activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) in compliance with its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law. As such, Israeli soldiers must respect the right to life of civilians in the OPT. The use of firearms by the Israeli army can only be justified in self-defence against imminent threat of death, serious injury, or to defend someone else from the imminent risk of death. With respect to the above account, and particularly in light of the CCTV footage of the incident, it is extremely unlikely that there was an imminent threat of death or serious injury to the soldiers. As such, the killing of the two boys meets the criteria of wilful killings. Wilful killing is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and is listed as a war crime by Article 8(2)(a)(i) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Amnesty International’s February 2014 report “Trigger Happy: Israel’s Use of Excessive Force in the West Bank” demonstrates that this is not an isolated case, but is in fact illustrative of a pattern of similar incidents. For example, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), at least 41 Palestinians were killed as a result of the shooting of live ammunition by Israeli soldiers between January 2011 and December 2013 and hundreds of others were injured. Despite this, according to statistics from the Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din, the conviction level for such incidents remains extremely low. Moreover, in most cases soldiers who are accused of offenses relating to the unlawful killing of civilians in the OPT are ultimately convicted of less serious offenses that do not implicate them in the death of the civilians. Furthermore, Amnesty International research concludes that to the best of its knowledge there have not been any cases in which an Israeli soldier or member of the Israeli security forces has been convicted of wilfully causing the death of a Palestinian in the OPT since the first Intifada in 1987.
As such, Al-Haq condemns the current impunity in which Israeli soldiers operate and calls for independent, impartial, prompt and transparent investigations that meet international standards and demonstrate a genuine will to holding those responsible for the killings to account. Palestinians have been petitioning Israeli courts, particularly the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ), for years with generally little positive effect. Studies, analysis and commentaries have consistently exposed the HCJ’s often perverse application of international legal standards. As such, without access to the International Criminal Court or other criminal justice mechanisms, an effective remedy for Israel's internationally unlawful conduct, including violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the OPT, remains out of reach. To that end, the State of Palestine should pursue the ratification of the Rome Statute or seek to reactivate its 2009 self-referral declaration without further delay.