By EA Noirin, Northern West Bank
Our local contact in the Red Crescent Society (part of the Red Cross) told us about the killing of two young men from Qaryut, 20 km south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, in March this year. Qaryut, a village of 2,400 people, is surrounded by Israeli settlements and outposts; these have taken up large tracts of village land, despite that being judged illegal under international law. Settlers recently attacked the village during the olive harvest and they continue to have the protection of the Israeli army.
A report from B’Tselem (an Israeli human rights organisation) quoted an Israeli army spokesperson who said that the two 17-year-olds, Labib and Mohammad, were shot dead by soldiers after they assaulted a resident of the settlement with clubs. The settler sustained light injuries.
In a recent meeting with the families of the teenagers, we were told that both were in their final year of school. Labib hoped to study art and Mohammed engineering. Their parents told us that “the preliminary medical report confirmed that the boys died from multiple bullet wounds, one being shot through the top of the head and the other through the mouth. The report concluded that there were 40 minutes between their deaths, and that tyre marks on the bodies indicated that a vehicle had been driven over them.”
The army came to search the house a number of times in the weeks after the killings. The children needed psychosocial support, which was provided by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). One mother related that “the children are still afraid to be out alone and worry that the army will come to the house at any time.” There has been no official investigation into the killings, so it continues to be difficult for the families to get closure.
The information available suggests a disproportionate level of violence perpetrated against the teenagers. According to Articles 3 and 11 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Israel has ratified, everybody has a right to life (3) and those accused of crimes are deemed innocent until proven guilty (11). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has reported that in the first ten months of 2016, 83 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and 188 injured; seven Israelis were killed by Palestinians.
In 2015, Al-Haq (a Palestinian human rights organisation) linked the escalation of violence to Israel’s relaxation of its policing regulations, resulting in Israeli forces choosing to shoot Palestinians at close proximity in preference to safely disabling handheld objects and subduing alleged attackers.
Shortly after Labib and Mohammed died their fathers’ Israeli work permits were revoked, resulting in greatly reduced family incomes – they now rely on limited part-time work in Palestine. The practice of revoking the permits of family members working in Israel is widespread across the West Bank, with Palestinians considering it a common form of collective punishment. Earlier this year the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticised this type of behaviour, which he said violates international humanitarian law.
According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, punishing people for crimes they did not commit can indeed amount to collective punishment. As an occupying power, Israel is bound by the Convention, including Article 33, which expressly prohibits collective punishment against civilians (or ‘protected persons’).
This case represents a worrying trend, suggesting that the deaths of some Palestinians occur in the course of normal operations by the Israeli army or border police. The Israeli army does have to maintain order when clashes occur, but the use of a lethal force in cases where an alternative approach may contain the situation appears to be a clear violation of a Palestinian’s right to life. Organisations like Amnesty International have asked why there is no obligation on the Israeli authorities to carry out comprehensive and transparent investigations.
Labib’s and Mohammed’s parents show deep love, courage and strength when they conclude, “We want our nine remaining children to grow to be strong and to have sumud [the Arabic word for steadfastness or resilience], and we want them to believe in a hope for a better future.”
Their final words to us were: “We call on you to ask your governments to work together to bring an end the occupation of Palestine, so that the killings and imprisonments can stop and so that we can be free to live in peace.”