WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2016 – Nearly a year on from a bloody spike in violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) Israeli forces continue to display an appalling disregard for human life by using reckless and unlawful lethal force against Palestinians, Amnesty International said today.
Amnesty International USA joined 15 other organizations in calling for President Obama to launch an investigation and demand that Israel publicly release all evidence in the killing of U.S. citizen Mahmoud Muhammad Ali Shaalan earlier this year. The organizations sent a letter to the president on September 28.
Shaalan was 16 when he was killed on February 26 at Beit El checkpoint, near Ramallah. According to eyewitness testimony provided to Amnesty International, he was shot from a distance by Israeli soldiers after being turned away from the checkpoint. An autopsy corroborated this version of events, but a criminal investigation into the killing has still not been opened. His family have also been denied access to video footage of the killing.
His uncle, Salman Shaalan, said: “It’s been a nightmare for us. All evidence points to him being killed for no reason, so everyone is staying quiet, just hoping it goes away. They’re not investigating, not going to find out what happened.
“What we are faced with today is a fight against the reality that Israel can do anything it wants without being held accountable by anyone. I hope the time for justice is coming.”
“At a time when cameras have documented officer-involved shootings of civilians in the U.S., it is shocking that the White House has yet to publicly demand that Israel release the video footage from its own fatal shooting of U.S. citizen Mahmoud Shaalan,” said Sunjeev Bery, Middle East/North Africa Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA. “It is time for the Obama Administration to publicly demand that Israel release all video footage from the military checkpoint where Israeli soldiers fatally shot a U.S. citizen.”
Additionally, in a memorandum sent to the Israeli authorities on September 14, Amnesty International has detailed 20 cases of apparently unlawful killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces – including the death of Mahmoud Shalaan — seeking clarification about the status of investigations. In at least 15 of the cases, Palestinians were deliberately shot dead despite posing no imminent threat to life in what appear to be extrajudicial executions. The Israeli authorities have not responded to Amnesty International’s concerns.
“Since the escalation of violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories last year, there has been a worrying rise in unlawful killings by Israeli forces, fostered by a culture of impunity,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“The cases of unlawful killings outlined in this memorandum reveal a shocking disregard for human life and pose some serious questions to the Israeli authorities. Those responsible must be brought to justice to ensure this cycle of unlawful killings ends.”
Since October 1, 2015, Israel and the West Bank — including East Jerusalem — have witnessed the most significant wave of violence since the end of the second intifada in 2005. More than 225 Palestinians and three foreign nationals were killed by Israeli forces over the past year, most of them during suspected, attempted or actual attacks against Israeli soldiers, police and civilians. At least 35 Israelis and two foreign nationals were killed in the same period by Palestinian attackers.
In some cases, lethal force may have been the only means of protecting the lives of civilians or members of the security forces. However, as in the cases highlighted in the memorandum, in many instances those killed did not pose an immediate threat to life. This includes the shooting of people who were wounded or fleeing and the shooting of unarmed protesters.
Unlawful killings by Israeli forces are nothing new. In the 2014 report, Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank, Amnesty International documented 19 apparently unlawful killings, including three cases where there was evidence of willful killings, which amount to war crimes.
As violence continues in Israel and the OPT, the families of those unlawfully killed in the past year are left without justice. Of the 20 incidents in the memo, an indictment has been filed against a soldier in only one case. In many cases where there appears to be evidence of an extrajudicial execution, there is not even an open criminal investigation.
Hadeel al-Hashlamoun was 18 when she was shot dead by Israeli forces in Hebron on September 22, 2015. According to a witness she was holding a knife, but was separated from the soldiers by metal barriers. A review by the Israeli army concluded that she could have been detained alive. Amnesty International is not aware of any criminal investigation into her death.
Hadeel’s father, Dr Salah Hashlamoun, said: “I have been going through some serious depression and loss of hope recently, it is now a year since my daughter was killed, the problem is not only that we have not seen any bit of justice but that Israel continues to kill our youth, that the killing is increasing.
“I want to shed light on the case of my daughter again now with the anniversary – not only to have justice for us but maybe to try and slow down the rate of murder which is again on the rise.”
Amnesty International’s research shows that the military justice system consistently fails to deliver justice for Palestinian victims of unlawful killings and their families. The conduct of the Police Internal Investigations Department with regard to allegations of unlawful killings
carried out by the Israel Police also raises serious questions about their ability to carry out impartial and independent investigations.
“Relatives of Israelis killed by Palestinians can count on a state that aggressively pursues the attackers – and often oversteps the bounds of legality in that pursuit. Palestinians, on the other hand, do not have anyone to protect their rights,” said Luther.
“The only way to prevent further unlawful killings is to end the impunity that exists for those who have carried them out in the past. Israel has a duty to thoroughly, impartially and promptly investigate all killings by its security forces, and to keep families fully informed. The Israeli government must urgently reform its investigation systems so that it can fulfil this duty and bring those responsible for extrajudicial executions to justice.”
Follow Sunjeev Bery at @SunjeevBery