Israeli forces fire at Palestinians during a protest to commemorate 71 years since the Nakba on 15 May 2019
Israeli snipers who participated in the internationally-condemned crackdown on Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip have boasted of their actions in interviews with Haaretz.
“I kept the casing of every round I fired,” said one former sniper from the Golani infantry brigade. “I have them in my room. So I don’t have to make an estimate – I know: 52 definite hits.”
Asked how this compared to others from his battalion, Eden (not his real name) replied: “From the point of view of hits, I have the most. In my battalion they would say: ‘Look, here comes the killer’.”
“You have to understand that before we showed up, knees were the hardest thing to rack up. There was a story about one sniper who had 11 knees all told, and people thought no one could outdo him. And then I brought in seven-eight knees in one day. Within a few hours, I almost broke his record.”
According to Haaretz, of dozens of snipers approached by the newspaper, six – all of them now discharged from the military – agreed to be interviewed.
Eden boasted of breaking the “knee record” during the demonstration on 14 May 2018.
“On that day, our pair had the largest number of hits, 42 in all. My locator wasn’t supposed to shoot, but I gave him a break, because we were getting close to the end of our stint, and he didn’t have knees,” he told Haaretz.
“In the end you want to leave with the feeling that you did something, that you weren’t a sniper during exercises only. So, after I had a few hits, I suggested to him that we switch. He got around 28 knees there, I’d say.”
During Great Return March protests, the Israeli military authorised snipers to target so-called “main inciters”, a category which Haaretz noted is defined by “quite vague” criteria.
A Golani sniper squad commander claimed: “It’s not so complicated to figure out who’s organizing and firing up [the other protesters]. You identify him, for example, by the fact that he has his back to you and is facing the crowd. In many cases, he’s also holding a megaphone.”
The snipers spoken to by the paper explained how the chain of command worked during the protests. “For every sniper there was a commander at a junior level [a non-com], like me, and also a senior commander – a company commander or a deputy company commander,” said ‘Amir’.
“The superior officer would request authorisation to fire from the sector’s brigade commander. He would get on the radio to him and ask: ‘Can I add another knee for this afternoon?’”
Another sniper, ‘Daniel’, said procedures were more flexible in practice. “In general, you had to request authorisation for shooting from your superior officer and he requested authorisation from the company commander or the battalion commander.”
“If it worked like it’s supposed to, it could take less than 10 seconds. The commanders were not particularly stingy with shooting authorisations. They would trust you when you said you had identified a justifiable target.”
A woman from al-Araqib Bedouin village can be seen gesturing towards Israeli bulldozers on 4 April 2019
Israeli occupation authorities yesterday demolished all Palestinian homes in the Palestinian Bedouin village of Al-Araqeeb in the Negev for the 176th time.
The village was first levelled in July 2010, and every time the residents of Al-Araqeeb rebuild their tents and small homes, occupation forces return to raze them, sometime several times in a month.
Al-Araqeeb’s houses, which are inhabited by over 20 Palestinian families, are built of wood, plastic, and corrugated iron.
Located in the Negev (Naqab) desert, the village is one of 51 “unrecognised” Arab villages in the area and is constantly targeted for demolition ahead of plans to Judaise the Negev by building homes for new Jewish communities. Israeli bulldozers, which Bedouins are charged for, have demolished everything, from the trees to the water tanks, but Bedouin residents have tried to rebuild it every time.
Bedouins in the Negev must abide by the same laws as Jewish Israeli citizens. They pay taxes but do not enjoy the same rights and services as Jews in Israel and the state has repeatedly refused to connect the towns to the national grid, water supplies, and other vital amenities.
In its ruling, the court said the villagers had “broken into state-owned land” by rebuilding their demolished homes.
On Thursday evening, Israeli forces invaded the village of Al-Arqah, west of Jenin, and abducted three young men near the Annexation Wall. They also fired tear gas in the village, causing numerous cases of inhalation.
According to local Palestinian news agency Wafa, the Israeli occupation forces abducted the youths: Yazan Rasim Yahya, Qutaiba Musa Waked, and the freed prisoner Basil Nizar Waked, while they were near the Annexation wall constructed by Israel on the village lands.
The sources pointed out that clashes erupted with the Israeli forces when they invaded the village near the wall of annexation, during which the soldiers fired tear gas canisters, causing numerous cases of tear gas inhalation.
During the nightly invasion of various parts of the West Bank on Thursday, Israeli forces abducted a number of Palestinians who were asleep in bed, and re-arrested one man who had served 18 years. The Israeli authorities played a cruel trick on the man by releasing him, letting him walk out the prison gates where his fiance was waiting to have their wedding ceremony after 18 years of waiting, then re-arresting him just outside the gate.
The Israeli occupation forces re-arrested the prisoner Randi Issa Adel Odeh (39 years), at the moment of his release, from the gate of the desert Negev detention center.
The captive, Odeh, from Shuafat, was first abducted on 7/3/2002, and the Occupation Court in Jerusalem had sentenced him to 18 years in prison.
His long-waiting fiance, Alaa Abu Dawoud from Nablus, had planned their wedding for today, Thursday. But just as he reached the prison gates to his freedom, the authorities grabbed him and threw him back in prison for “investigation” without any charges. His 18-year term had ended, he was not charged with any new crime (nor could he have committed any, having been behind bars for so long), but the Israeli authorities decided to put him back behind bars with no charges.
Also today, Israeli forces detained this morning 11 Palestinians, including former prisoners, from several areas in the occupied West Bank, said the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS).
Israeli soldiers detained seven former prisoners from areas in Hebron, one recently released after serving 18 years in prison for resisting the occupation and another released last year after serving 17 years in prison.
Israeli forces abducted two young men from Jenin Governorate. The Palestinian Wafa News Agency reported that the occupation forces arrested the two young men, Sayyid Ibrahim al-Sayyid from Jenin, and Muhammad Imran Sabah from the town of Burqin, after they raided the homes of their families.
In addition, one Palestinian was abducted from Burin in the Nablus district and one from Faraa refugee camp in Tubas.
This week, PCHR documented 228 violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL) by Israeli occupation forces (IOF) and settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory. IOF continued to use excessive force against the peaceful protests organized against Trump’s Peace Plan for the Middle East known as the “Deal of Century” that violates the rights of the Palestinian people and is in conflict with the United Nations (UN) resolutions and international law. Meanwhile, settlers backed up by IOF continued to seize more civilian property and attack civilians and their property.
I. IOF Shooting and Violation of Right to Bodily Integrity: in excessive use of force against protests in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, IOF injured 148 Palestinian civilians, including 5 children and a paramedic. 139 of them were injured during IOF’s suppression of protesters on al-‘Urmah Mountain in Nablus while 7 were wounded, including 3 children; one with a disability who was wounded with a rubber bullet in the lower jaw, during protests against the Deal of Century in the West Bank. Meanwhile, a civilian was wounded in Jenin and a school student was wounded inside his school in occupied East Jerusalem.
In the Gaza Strip, 5 shootings by IOF were reported against the agricultural lands in the southern and central Gaza Strip while 3 shootings were reported against the Palestinian fishing boats off the northern Gaza Strip shore.
II. IOF Incursions and Arrests of Palestinian Civilians: IOF carried out 127 incursions into the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem. Those incursions included raids of civilian houses and shootings, enticing fear among civilians, and attacking many of them. During this week’s incursions, 86 Palestinians were arrested, including 15 children and a journalist, and IOF confiscated money claiming it is illegal funds. Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, IOF conducted a limited incursion in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip and arrested 2 civilians from Khan Younis despite having businessperson permits while traveling via Beit Hanoun “Erez” Crossing.
III. Settlement Expansion Activities and Settlers’ Attacks: PCHR documented 12 IOF operations, including demolitions, land razing, and demolition notices: A house demolished, another notified of demolition, 2 others given notices to stop construction work, and a parking lot demolished in Bethlehem; 2 tinplate houses; 2 barracks used as livestock barns. Also, a road was demolished in Hebron; 5 houses destroyed, including 4 self-demolished, in occupied East Jerusalem; and agricultural lands razed in Nablus.
PCHR also documented 7 settler-attacks: cars, stores and a shepherd attacked in Nablus; olive trees cut and damaged in Ramallah; civilians attacked on al-‘Urmah Mountain in Nablus; 56 olive trees uprooted in Salfit; and barbed wires placed around a 12-dunam land in Hebron.
IV. Israeli Closure Policy and Restrictions on Movement: on Sunday, 01 March 2020 on the eve of the Israeli elections, the Israeli authorities imposed a comprehensive security cordon on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
On Thursday morning, 27 February 2020, the Israeli authorities reopened the crossings of Beit Hanoun “Erez” and Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) border and allowed Palestinian fishermen to sail within a fishing area ranging from 6 to 15 nautical miles following 2 days of closure.
This comes in a time when the Gaza Strip still suffers the worst closure in the History of the Israeli occupation of the oPt as it has entered the 14th consecutive year, without any improvement to the movement of persons and goods, humanitarian conditions and bearing catastrophic consequences on all aspects of life. Furthermore, IOF uses Erez Crossing that is designated for movement of individuals as an ambush to arrest Palestinians who obtain permits to exit via Israel. This week, IOF arrested 2 businesspersons from Khan Younis while traveling via Erez Crossing.
Meanwhile, IOF continued to divide the West Bank into separate cantons with key roads blocked by the Israeli occupation since the Second Intifada and with temporary and permanent checkpoints, where civilian movement is restricted and they are subject to arrest. This week, IOF arrested 4 Palestinians at temporary military checkpoints.
I. Violation of the Right to Life and to Bodily Integrity
a. Excessive Use of Force against Protests in the West Bank/Peaceful Demonstrations Condemning Trump’s Peace Plan
IOF suppressed peaceful protests that took part in the West Bank, including occupied Jerusalem, condemning the U.S President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace Plan known as “Deal of the Century” that was declared on 28 January 2020. In most of the protests, Palestinians gathered near seam zones and chanted national slogans as some of them threw stones at IOF. IOF responded with live and rubber bullets, sound bombs and tear gas canisters, which resulted in several injuries. This week, PCHR documented (6) protests in which (7) civilians, including 3 children; one of them suffers from mental disabilities, were injured. Moreover, dozens of civilians suffocated due to tear gas inhalation.
On Friday, 28 February 2020, IOF suppressed several protests in the West Bank. The protests were as follows:1. A protest took part at eastern entrance to Kufur Qaddoum village, northeast of Qalqilia. IOF fired rubber and sponge-tipped bullets, sound bombs and tear gas canisters at the protestors. Six civilians, including 2 children, were wounded. (The names of the wounded civilians are available at PCHR)2. A protest took part from the center of Bil’in and Budrus villages, west of Ramallah into the annexation wall in Abu Laimoun area. Many civilians suffocated due to tear gas inhalation.3. A protest took part the annexation wall gate established at western area of western al-‘Erqah village, west of Jenin. Many civilians suffocated due to tear gas inhalation and they received medical treatment on the field. IOF arrested 3 civilians, including a child, namely: Amir Yusuf Mohammed Yahiya (21), Nour Ibrahim Mohammed Yahiya (22), from al-‘Erqah village, and Ahmed Husam al-Jammal (14), from Jenin refugee camp.4. A protest took part at northern crossing established at lands of Qalqilia. IOF fired rubber bullets, sound bombs and tear gas canisters. Ra’ed ‘Ali Nufal (14), a child with disabilities, was shot with a rubber bullet in the lower jaw. IOF chased Ra’ed who suffers from a mental disorder, and three of his brothers. The soldiers detained the child for minutes and then released him after they recognized his condition.
At approximately 14:00 on Saturday, 29 February 2020, IOF stationed at the northern entrance established at Kufur Qaddoum village, north of Qalqilia, suppressed a protest in which dozens of civilians participated in it. Clashes erupted in the area in which IOF fired rubber bullets, sound bombs and tear gas canisters. As a result, a 23-year-old civilian was shot with a rubber bullet in his right leg.
Upon calls launched by Israeli settlers on their websites to raid al-Urmah Mount, south of beta village, southeast of Nablus, at approximately 07:00 on Friday, 28 February 2020, residents of Beta village, called for residents of nearby villages for overnight set-in in al-Urmah Mount. Hundreds of civilians responded to the calls and headed to the mount and stayed all night there.
At approximately 05:45 on the same Friday, IOF reinforced with a large number of military SUVs surrounded al-Urmah Mount and suppressed the residents by firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. Clashes erupted in the area and continued until 17:00 on the same day. As a result, 135 civilians sustained various wounds. Nine civilians, including a child and a volunteer paramedic at Palestine Red Crescent Society, were shot with live and rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. They were transferred to Hospitals in Nablus while others received medical treatment on the field.
On Friday, 28 February 2020, a peaceful protest took place in Hebron in which hundreds of Palestinian residents and foreign peace activists participated in the 26th anniversary of al-Ibrahimi Mosque massacre committed by Israeli extremist settler “Baruch Goldstein” on 25 February 1994 against Palestinian worshippers in al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. The attack resulted in the killing of 29 Palestinian civilians. Participants took off ‘Ali Mosque into Hebron’s Old City. When the protestors arrived at al-Shuhada’a entrance, which closed, they raised Palestinian flags at the gate and chanted national slogans against Trump’s peace plan. In the meantime, huge Israeli forces arrived at area, pushed the participants and ordered them to leave the place. Few minutes later, Israeli soldiers fired several sound bombs between the participants, which forced them to leave the area. No casualties were reported.
At approximately 15:00 on Friday, 28 February 2020, dozens of Palestinian young men took part at al-‘Aoudah refugee camp in Khuza’ah village, east of Khan Younis without any official calls for protests. Some of the protestors approached the border fence, raised Palestinian flags, and threw stones at IOF stationed along the border fence. IOF responded with live bullets and tear gas canisters at the protestors. As a result, a number of civilians suffocated due to tear gas inhalation.
At approximately 10:00 on Saturday, 29 February 2020, dozens of residents from Tubas organized a voluntary work to implant olive trees in al-‘Aqabah area in northern valley in which Israeli settlers attempt to confiscate the lands and by kicking farmers out for years and uprooting trees. When the protestors arrived at the above mentioned lands and began repairing the stone chains and implanting olive seedlings. In the meantime, large Israeli forces arrived at the area and ordered the civilians to leave the land, claiming that it is a closed military zone. When civilians refused to leave their lands, the soldiers violently attacked them, forcibly pushed them, and fired tear gas canisters at them. As a result, many civilians suffocated due to tear gas inhalation. They received medical treatment in the field.
b. Shooting and other Violations of the Right to Life and Bodily Integrity
At approximately 01:20 on Thursday, 27 February 2020, IOF stationed at the entrance to “Halmish” settlement established on al-Nabi Saleh’s lands, northwest of Ramallah, established a military checkpoint at the above mentioned settlement’s intersection and heavily beaten Qusai Thiab al-Tamimi (22), from Deir Netham village, northwest of the city, when he crossed the checkpoint. As a result, Qusai sustained minor bruises throughout his body.
At approximately 07:00 on the same Thursday, IOF moved into Jenin and stationed in al-Zahra’a neighborhood, adjacent to Jenin refugee camp, to carry out arrests campaign in the city. A number of civilians gathered and threw stones at IOF’s vehicles and the latter responded with rubber bullets. As a result, an 18-year-old young man, from Jenin refugee camp, was shot with a rubber bullet in the foot. IOF also arrested Abdullah Husein Bali (20) and Omer Husain Jad’oun (20).
At approximately 10:30on the same Thursday, IOF soldiers stationed along the border fence, east of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, opened fire at agricultural lands. No casualties were reported.
At approximately 21:20, IOF soldiers stationed along the border fence, east of al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza Strip, opened fire at agricultural lands. No casualties were reported.
At approximately 06:30 on Friday, 28 February 2020, IOF gunboats stationed in northwest of Beit Lahia in northern Gaza Strip, heavily opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats sailing within 3 nautical miles and chased them. This attack continued sporadically until 09:00 on the same day. As a result, fishermen panicked and were forced to sail back to the shore fearing for their lives. No casualties were reported.
At approximately 14:00 on the same Friday, dozens of Palestinian young men gathered at the entrance to al-Fawar refugee camp, south of Hebron, where IOF established a military watchtower there. The young men threw stones at Israeli soldiers stationed at the military watchtower. In the meantime, a number of Israeli infantry units arrived at the area, chased the young men in the road leading to the camp, and fired tear gas canisters at them. As a result, a number of young men suffocated due to tear gas inhalation. The soldiers deployed in agricultural lands and arrested 3 young men and took them via a military vehicle to the military watchtower. The arrestees were identified as: Iyad Fawzi al-Wawi (22), Yazid Walid al-Najjar (19) and Wujoud Mohammed Hadib (20).
At approximately 23:30, a number of Palestinian young men protested at the main entrance to Shu’fat refugee camp, northeast of occupied East Jerusalem. They burnt tires and threw stones and empty bottles at IOF vehicles stationed at the military watchtower established near the above mentioned entrance. Because of clashes that erupted in the area, a military vehicle caught fire. A large Israeli force immediately raided the camp and fired live and rubber bullets, sound bombs and tear gas canisters at the protestors. As a result, dozens of civilians suffocated due to tear gas inhalation.
At approximately 15:00 on Saturday, 29 February 2020, a number of Palestinian young men gathered at the western entrance to al-‘Aroub refugee camp, north of Hebron, which connects the Bypass Road (60) where IOF established a temporary checkpoint. The young men threw stones at the soldiers and closed the road with iron barriers. The soldiers chased the stone-throwers and fired sound bombs and tear gas canisters at them. As a result, a number of civilians suffocated due to tear gas inhalation. Clashes continued until 17:30 on the same day and IOF completely closed the camp.
At approximately 09:20 on Sunday, 01 March 2020, IOF stationed along the border fence, east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip, opened fire and fired tear gas canisters at agricultural lands in eastern al-Fukhari village, adjacent to the border fence. No casualties were reported.
At approximately 13:00, IOF stationed along the border fence, east of Rafah, opened fire at agricultural lands and Palestinian shepherds, east of al-Shoka village, adjacent to the border fence. No casualties were reported.
At approximately 05:50 on Tuesday, 03 March 2020, IOF gunboats stationed in northwest of Beit Lahia in northern Gaza Strip, chased and heavily opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats sailing within 2 nautical miles. Fishermen panicked and were forced to sail back to the shore fearing for their lives. No casualties were reported.
At approximately 07:20, IOF stationed along the border fence, east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip opened fire and fired tear gas canisters at agricultural lands and Palestinian shepherds, east of al-Qararah village, adjacent to the border fence. No casualties were reported.
At approximately 10:15, an Israeli special force raided the schools street in al-‘Isawiyah village, northeast of occupied East Jerusalem, and stationed in the vicinity of al-‘Isawiyah Secondary School for Boys, while students were having their lunch break in the school’s yard. The soldiers attacked the school gates and fired rubber bullets at students. As a result, Mohammed ‘Awni ‘Atiyah (15) was shot with a rubber bullet in the left hand. He was referred to a medical health center for medical treatment.
Mohammed Abu al-Humus, Member of al-‘‘Isawiyah Follow-up Committee said that IOF deliberately targeted students while they were at the school yard for lunch break and near street venders adjacent to the school gate. Abu al-Humus added that IOF soldiers stepped out of their vehicles when students went out for a break, walked adjacent to the school gate, and fired rubber bullets. He also said that about 300 students in the secondary school are aged between 15 – 18 years.
At approximately 05:15 on Wednesday, 04 March 2020, IOF gunboats stationed in northwest of Beit Lahia in northern Gaza Strip opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats sailing within 2 nautical miles and fired flare bombs in sky. Fishermen panicked and were forced to sail back to the shore fearing for their lives. No casualties were reported.
II. Incursions and Arrests
Thursday, 27 February 2020:
At approximately 01:00, IOF moved into Ras al-‘Amoud neighborhood, east of occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City. They raided and searched Isma’el Amer al-Halawani’s (14) house and arrested him.
Around the same time, IOF moved into Kafrdan village, west of Jenin. They raided and searched Mohammed Ahmed Shafiq Abed’s (21) house and arrested him.
Around the same time, IOF moved into Qalqila. They raided and searched several houses and arrested (4) civilians: Rami Mahmoud Snaina (35), Ali Mahmoud Hilali al-Badawi (30), Mohammed Ameen Sha’ath (35), and his brother Mohannad (25).
Around the same time, IOF reinforced with several military vehicles, moved into Hebron. They raided and searched Natheir Ashraf Qfaisha’s (17) house and arrested him.
At approximately 02:00, IOF moved into Qarawat Bani Hassan village. They raided and searched Othman Mahmoud Othman Assi’s (36) house and arrested him.
At approximately 03:00, IOF moved into al-Obaideya village, east of Bethlehem. They raided and searched Saqer Jawad Rabay’a’s (27) house and arrested him.
At approximately 03:00, IOF reinforced with several military vehicles, moved into Deir Samit village, southwest of Hebron. They raided and searched Khader Abdul Basit al-Horoub’s (23) house and arrested him.
Around the same time, IOF reinforced with several military vehicles, moved into Surief, west of Hebron. They raided and searched Shaher Adel al-Heih’s (37) house and arrested him.
At approximately 13:15, IOF arrested Mohammed Abdul Aziz Mohammed Salim (15), from ‘Azoun village, east of Qalqilia, after referring to the Israeli Intelligence Services’ office in Qalqila.
At approximately 16:00, IOF stationed at King Faisal’s Street, one of al-Aqsa Mosque’s Gates, in the occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City, arrested Yousef Abdul Mo’ti Hazeina (20). IOF took Yousef to one of the investigation centers in the city.
In the evening hours, IOF stationed at a temporary military checkpoint on Nablus way in Ramallah, arrested the journalist Mohammed Abdullah Bani Mefleh (24), from Beita village, southeast of Nablus. IOF claimed that Mohammed who is an editor in “Quds.com” website, allegedly inciting against the IOF on social media.
IOF carried out (9) incursions in Sebastia, northwest of Nablus; al-Shoyoukh, Sourif, and al-Burj villages in Hebron; Qubya, Na’leen, Badrs, Nabi Saleh, and Deir Nizam villages in Ramallah. No arrests were reported.
Friday, 28 February 2020:
At approximately 02:00, IOF moved into Tulkarem refugee camp. They raided and searched Omar Hamdan Dahbour’s (29) house and arrested him.
At approximately 02:30, IOF reinforced with several military vehicles, moved into Sa’eer village, east of Hebron. They raided and searched two houses and arrested Mohannad Jamal Mousa Shalalda (30) and Mo’ath Ahmed Mohammed Shalalda (27).
At approximately 09:00, IOF stationed at a temporary military checkpoint on the entrance of the occupied East Jerusalem, arrested Mohammed Jebril al-Taweel (25) from Silwan, south of Jerusalem’s Old City. IOF severely beaten him then took him to the investigation center.
At approximately 17:00, IOF stationed at Damascus Gate arrested Mohammed Jebril al-Taweel (25) from Silwan village after severely beating him while he was in the area, he was taken to an investigation centre.
At approximately 19:25, IOF stationed near “Alon Moreh” settlement, northeast of Nablus, arrested two civilians including a child. The arrestees are Kareem Salim al-Saqqa (17) and, Mohammad Ahmed a;-Ahwal (19), from ‘Askar refugee camp. IOF claimed that the arrestees were in possession of a Molotov cocktail.
At approximately 20:00, IOF moved into al-‘Isawiyah village, northeast of occupied East Jerusalem. They raided and searched Mohammed Mousa Mostafa’s (21) house and arrested him.
At approximately 23:00, IOF moved into Qalandia refugee camp, north of occupied East Jerusalem. They raided and searched Samad Ahmed Afana’s (18) house and arrested him.
IOF carried out (5) incursions in ‘Atouf village, southeast of Tubas; ‘Azoun and Kufur Qaddoum villages in Qalqilia; Bani Na’eem and al-Hadab villages in Hebron. No arrests were reported.
Saturday, 29 February 2020:
At approximately 02:15, IOF moved into Beita village, southeast of Nablus. They raided and searched several houses and arrested Suhaib Hawash Jaber Dawoud (18) and Mahdi Salim Adaili (20).
At approximately 04:00, IOF arrested Mohammed Abu ‘Arrabi (15), while present in al-Mosrara neighborhood, in the central occupied East Jerusalem, and took him to one of the investigation centers in the city.
IOF carried out (15) incursions in Anbata, Deir al-Ghsoun, Bal’a, and Kafr al-Lubbad villages in Tulkarem; ‘Azoun in Qalqilia; al-Jalazoun refugee camp, Beitin, Dura al-Qar’a, Um Safa, Ein Yabroud, and Birzeit in Ramallah; Beit Ummer, al-Majd, and Deir Razih villages in Hebron. No arrests were reported.
Sunday, 01 March 2020:
At approximately 01:30, IOF moved into al-Owja village, north of Jericho. They raided and searched Bajes Abdul Sattar Sa’ayda’s (25) house and arrested him.
Around the same time, IOF moved into al-Qirmi neighborhood, in the occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City. They raided and searched Rasheed Mahmoud al-Rashq’s (22) house and arrested him.
At approximately 02:00, IOF moved into Jenin. They raided and searched two houses in al-Kharouba neighborhood, west of the city, belonging to Abdullah Hussain al-‘Abbadi (56) and Issam al-Ghazzawi (21), and arrested them.
At approximately 03:00, IOF moved into Ras al-‘Amoud neighborhood, east of the occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City. They raided and searched Mohammed Naji Abdeen’s (16) house and arrested him.
At approximately 03:30, IOF reinforced with several military vehicles, moved into al-Beira. They raided and searched Hussam Ra’ed ‘Ataiwi’s (19) house in al-Shorafa neighborhood, and arrested him.
At approximately 04:00, IOF moved into Silwan neighborhood, south of the occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City. They raided and searched Jawdat Sadeq Abu Snaina’s (58) house, and handed him a summons to refer to the Israeli Intelligence Services at “al-Maskoubeya” investigation center in the West Jerusalem.
At approximately 06:00, IOF moved into Sayda village, north of Tulkarem. They raided and searched Fayez Ahmed Shalha’s (30) house and arrested him.
Around the same time, IOF moved into Silwan village south of occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City. They raided and searched Amer Nimir al-Mohtaseb’s (22) house and arrested him.
At approximately 13:00, IOF stormed Emad Awni Abu Shamseya’s (46) house in Tal al-Ramida neighborhood in the central Hebron. IOF raided, searched the house and banned the exit of the family from the house, claiming that “Ramat Yishai” settlement has been under shootings. No arrests were reported.
At approximately 16:00, IOF arrested (3) children while present in the main street of Hibla village, south of Qalqilia, claiming that they were throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers. The arrestees are: Abdul Aziz Wafa Houtri (15), Omar Amjad Nazzal (15), and Anas Ma’moun Shreim (15).
IOF carried out (8) incursions in Ateen; al-Nazla al-Wosta, al-Sharqeya, and al-Gharbeya in Tulkarem; Sa’er, al-Tabaqa, and Deir Samit villages in Hebron; Jayous, and Asala villages east of Qalqilia. No arrests were reported.
III. Settlement Expansion and Settler Violence in the West Bank
a. Demolition and Confiscation of Civilian Property for Settlement Expansion Activities
At approximately 08:00 on Thursday, 27 February 2020, IOF demolished a residential house and a vehicles parking in al-Walajah village, northwest of Bethlehem, under the pretext of non-licensing. ‘Abed al-Qader Abu Hammad said that a large force of IOF accompanied with military construction vehicles raided his house in Khelet al-Hour area and demolished it. Abu Hammad clarified that he build his 80-square-meter house for his daughter to live in it with her husband and their 2 children because of their difficult and bad economic condition. Abu Hammad pointed out that he will re-build his house and will not obey the municipality orders that aim at confiscating his land for settlement purposes. It should be noted that IOF headed to Khelet al-Samak area and demolished Saleh Khalifa’s vehicles parking (35 m2) before their withdrawal.
At approximately 09:00, IOF backed by military construction vehicles and accompanied with Israeli Civil Administration officers moved into Masafer Yatta in southern Hebron. IOF demolished 2 houses built of tin plates and bricks in al-Zakeez and al-Mofaqrah areas, under the pretext of non-licensing. The demolished houses belong to: 1) Ahmed Mahmoud al-Hawamdah: a 40-square-meter under-construction house built of tin plates and bricks in al-Mofaqarah area, sheltering Ahmed and his wife.2) Mohamed Hasan Abu ‘Arram: a 50-square-meter house built of tin plates and bricks in al-Zakeez area, sheltering Mohamed and his family comprising of 11 persons.It should be noted that Israeli authorities handed Ahmed and Mohamed 96-hour demolition notices upon Article 4, of Military order No. (1797), issued in 2018, on the “removal” of a new structure. This order includes both uncompleted structures and structures completed within the last six months. This military order is one of the most dangerous orders issued by the Israeli authorities, targeting thousands of houses and facilities under the pretext of non- licensing. Palestinian civilians are deprived of their rights to legal defense of their facilities or houses. The Israeli authorities began to implement this order and obtained powers and legal support from the Israeli Supreme Court, which rejected all petitions and appeals filed by human rights organizations and granted powers to the civil administration to implement this order.
At approximately 11:00, IOF backed military construction vehicles and accompanied with the Israeli Civil Administration officers moved into Safi village in al-Masafer area, south of Hebron. The military construction vehicles demolished two 80-square-meter barracks used for breeding livestock, under the pretext of non-licensing in Area C. The demolished barracks belong to ‘Izzat ‘Abdullah ‘Ali Zain and Kayid ‘Ali Zain. It should be noted that Israeli authorities handed them 96-hour demolition notices upon Military order No. (1797).
On the same day, Mohamed ‘Abed al-Salam al-Bashiti (26) implemented the Israeli Municipality order and self-demolished his house in Sho’fat village, north of occupied East Jerusalem, under the pretext of non-licensing. Al-Bashiti said that the Israeli Court issued few days ago a decision to self-demolish his house and gave him until 28 February 2020. Al-Bashiti clarified that he was forced to implement the municipality order to avoid paying demolition costs and fines. Al-Bashiti pointed out that he is fighting a struggle in the Israeli courts since March 2019 to stop the demolition of his 126-square-meter house. Al-Bashiti said that the demolition caused material damage to the nearby houses.
On Thursday, 27 February 2020, Maher Na’im Ramadan implemented the Israeli Municipality order and self-demolished the rest of his house walls in Silwan village in occupied East Jerusalem, noting that he self-demolished his house 10 months ago under the pretext of non-licensing. Ramadan said that his house was built 15 years ago, comprising of 3 rooms and their facilities. Years ago, IOF imposed a fine of NIS 40,000 on him and he paid it. In May 2019, Israeli Court issued a demolition decision against his house and ordered him to self-demolish it or the municipality will do so and impose a fine of NIS 70,000 on him. Ramadan clarified that the municipality staff came back and raided his house in January 2020. They ordered him to demolish all walls or the municipality will impose a new construction fine on him.
On Sunday, 01 March 2020, Israeli bulldozers levelled agricultural lands in al-Nijma area, east of Qasrah village and “Majdolim“ settlement, which is established on Palestinian lands, for settlement expansion.
At approximately 09:00 on Tuesday, 03 March 2020, Israeli bulldozers demolished a house in Hizmah village, northeast of occupied East Jerusalem, under the pretext of non-licensing. Mayor of Hizma Village Municipality, Musallam Abu Helo, said that the Israeli municipality bulldozers raided Rami Subaieh al-Khatib’s 200-square-meter house and demolished it, noting that it sheltered 8 persons.
Around the same time, IOF backed by military construction vehicles and accompanied with the Israeli Civil Administration officers moved into al-Masafer area in southern Hebron. The military construction vehicles levelled the main and the only road in Sha’b al-Botum area, leading to al-Masafer area villages. It should be noted that the Israeli authorities closed this road several times with sand berms, but Palestinian civilians managed to re-open it. This road serves the residents of (al-Fakit, Janba, al-Markaz, al-Halawa, al-Rakeez, al-Taban, Moghair, al-‘Abied, al-Touba, and al-Safi villages). The Israeli authorities considered these villages as closed military zones.
On Tuesday, 03 March 2020, Israeli authorities notified Ahmed Mahmoud Sawad to demolish his house in Bakoush area in Nahaleen village, west of Bethlehem, in addition to stopping construction works in 2 other houses belonging to ‘Adel Rateb Najajrah and Raied Mahmoud Sawad under the pretext of non-licensing, according to Mayor of Nahaleen Village Municipality, Hani Fanoun. In addition, Fanoun pointed out that IOF lately escalated their arbitrary measures against the residents of Bakoush area, which considers the only area for urban sprawl. Fanoun added that few days ago, IOF seized 2 concrete mixers and forced a Palestinian civilian to stop construction works in his house.
At approximately 06:00 on Wednesday, 04 March 2020, Eyad Fataftah self-demolished a part of his house in al-Mukaber Mount area, south of occupied East Jerusalem, under the pretext of non-licensing. Fataftah said that his 110-square-meter re-constructed house shelters 5 persons. He clarified that the Israeli Court issued a precautionary order to stop demolition until issuing the final decision by the court. Fataftah added that he attempted to prevent the municipality staff from demolishing his house and gave them the court’s precautionary order, but they beat him. Furthermore, the municipality bulldozers demolished the house walls and floors.
At approximately 10:00, Ihab ‘Alqam implemented the Israeli Municipality order and self-demolished his 2-story-house in Sho’fat camp, north of occupied East Jerusalem, under the pretext of non-licensing. ‘Alqam said that he was forced to self-demolish his house after receiving a phone call from the Israeli municipality and police, ordering him to implement the demolition order within 6 hours or he will pay high fines. ‘Alqam clarified that he rented a bulldozer and demolished his 160-square-meter house.
b. Israeli Settler Violence
At approximately 23:50 on Thursday, 27 February 2020, while Palestinian vehicles travelling on Hawarah main street, south east of Nablus, 2 vehicles with Israeli registration plates stopped. Meanwhile, at least 5 settlers, 2 of them carrying riffles, stepped out of the vehicles, opened fire in the air and other settlers attacked Palestinian vehicles parked in front of shops. As a result, Palestinians vehicles and shops sustained material damage. (PCHR keeps the names of affected persons)
At approximately 10:30 on Sunday, 01 March 2020, a group of Israeli settlers, from “Ish Kodesh “ settlement, which is established in the southern side of Qasrah village in Nablus, attacked and threw stones at ‘Abed al-Majeed Tawfiq Hasan in al-Marrah area while breeding livestock. Meanwhile, a group of Palestinian young men gathered and confronted settlers with stones. Clashes erupted between both of them, so IOF intervened to protect the settlers and fired tear gas canisters. As a result, many Palestinians suffocated due to tear gas inhalation and received treatment on the spot.
On the same day, Israeli settlers, from ‘‘Adi ‘Ad” settlement, cut and damaged olive trees in al-Seder area, northeast of Ramallah, under IOF protection. Nash’at al-Na’san (39) said that at approximately 18:00, he saw at least 20 settlers approached barbed wires surrounding the trees in al-Seder area and cut them. The settlers managed to enter agricultural lands, damaged 200 olive trees and flee towards the settlement. The damaged trees belong to Hussain Sa’ied al-Na’san.
At approximately 09:30 on Monday, 02 March 2020, Israeli settlers, under IOF protection, moved into al-‘Arma Mount, southeast of Bita village, southeast of Nablus. Israeli settlers seek to seize this mount. Clashes erupted between the settlers and Palestinians, who set up a tent in the mount to prevent settlers from seizing it. Meanwhile, IOF fired live and rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at Palestinians who confronted them. As a result, 4 Palestinians were shot with rubber bullets; 3 of them in their limbs while the forth one in his back. They were then taken to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus for treatment. Moreover, many civilians suffocated due to tear gas inhalation and received treatment on the spot.
At approximately 11:00 on Monday, 02 March 2020, Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian lands in Kafur al-Deek village, west of Salfit. They broke Tayseer Ya’qoub ‘Abed al-Latif Najy’s twigs of 12 olive trees planted 6 years ago. Nine olive trees were completely damaged while 3 others were partially damaged in Banat al-Ber area, west of the village. Tayseer Najy said that: “ at approximately 11:00 on Monday, 02 March 2020, I headed to my plot of land in Banat al-Ber area as usual to check the plants and establish retaining walls. I found a group of settlers sitting near my land, but I did not talk with them. When I arrived at my land, I found around 12 olive trees were broken. I also noticed footprints indicating that someone entered the land and damaged the trees. I immediately headed to the settlers and verbal altercation erupted between us. The settlers were armed, so I left them because they threatened me. I phoned my sons to tell them about what happened. My 24-year-old son came to the area and the settlers attacked him and threatened him to open fire at him, so we withdrew.”
Around the same time, settlers, from “Brochhin“ settlement, attacked Palestinian lands in Burqeen village, west of Salfit. They uprooted and stole Yousef Mahmoud ‘Abed al-Latif Sabra’s 44 olive trees. They also broke the twigs of 20 other trees belonging to Jamal ‘Othman Salama.
On Monday, 02 March 2020, Israeli settlers cut dozens of olive trees in Hosan village, west of Bethlehem. These trees belong to Mohamed ‘Abed al-Kareem Hamamrah and Hamza Saleem Hamamrah. Head of Hosan Village Council, Mohamed Sabateen, said that the settlers came, from “Betar Illit“settlement, which is established on Palestinian lands in western Bethlehem, noting that this was not the 1st time they attacked Palestinians lands. Sabateen added that the Israeli authorities turn a blind eye to these attacks. It should be noted that during the past days, a serious escalation was noticed in uprooting at least 800 trees by settlers in Bethlehem.
At approximately 08:00 on Wednesday, 04 March 2020, dozens of settlers, under IOF protection, moved into al-Hathouna area, north of Beit Ummer village, north of Hebron. The settlers placed barbed wires around 12 dunams planted with olive and forest trees. These lands belong to Saqer ‘Aqab Abu ‘Isha and his siblings. When Abu ‘Isha family asked the settlers about what is happening in their land, they ordered them to refer to the Construction and Organization Department in “Gush Etizon” settlement. It should be noted that 20 years ago, the settlers attempted to seize Abu ‘Isha dunams, so the family headed to the Israeli Court and proved their ownership. In August 2019, the setters returned to seize the dunams, but in vain.
Full document available at PCHR (Palestinian Center for Human Rights)
The Palestinian Minister of Health Mai Kayleh announced on Thursday evening that 7 Palestinian citizens have been confirmed as infected with the Corona virus.
Kayleh explained, in a press conference held Thursday evening in the headquarters of the Governorate of Bethlehem, in the presence of Governor Kamel Hamid and the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Rola Ma’ayah, that the ministry’s crews worked to take samples from 20 people in a hotel in Bethlehem, in which a Greek delegation had been staying between February 23 and 27th.
The delegation then returned to Greece. The ministry worked to determine who they had contact with, and samples were taken from all contacts for laboratory testing . Positive results were confirmed for seven residents, showing they were infected with the Corona virus.
She continued, “Since the morning hours we have taken the necessary measures and issued instructions to citizens to deal with the emergency situation in the governorates of Bethlehem, Jericho and Al Aghwar.”
Since the announcement, the streets of Bethlehem were virtually deserted, with most people remaining inside and tour groups cancelled.
Kayleh stressed the necessity of all media institutions to abide by the data and circulars issued by the ministry and not to spread any news that does not come out of the official authorities.
It called on citizens to adhere to all prevention instructions and to follow the instructions issued by the Ministry.
I know exactly how many knees I’ve hit, says Eden, who completed his service in the Israel Defense Forces as a sniper in its Golani infantry brigade six months ago. For much of the time, he was stationed along the border with the Gaza Strip. His assignment: to repulse Palestinian demonstrators who approached the fence.
“I kept the casing of every round I fired,” he says. “I have them in my room. So I don’t have to make an estimate – I know: 52 definite hits.”
But there are also “non-definite” hits, right?
“There were incidents when the bullet didn’t stop and also hit the knee of someone behind [the one I aimed at]. Those are mistakes that happen.”
Is 52 a lot?
“I haven’t really thought about it. It’s not hundreds of liquidations like in the movie ‘American Sniper’: We’re talking about knees. I’m not making light of it, I shot a human being, but still …”
Where do you stand in comparison to others who served in your battalion?
“From the point of view of hits, I have the most. In my battalion they would say: ‘Look, here comes the killer.’ When I came back from the field, they would ask, ‘Well, how many today?’ You have to understand that before we showed up, knees were the hardest thing to rack up. There was a story about one sniper who had 11 knees all told, and people thought no on could outdo him. And then I brought in seven-eight knees in one day. Within a few hours, I almost broke his record.”
Seeing is believing
The mass demonstrations on Israel’s border with the Strip border began on Land Day, in March 2018, and continued on a weekly basis until this past January. These ongoing confrontations, in protest of Israel’s siege of Gaza, exacted the lives of 215 demonstrators, while 7,996 were wounded by live ammunition, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Despite the large number of casualties, the grim protests and responses along the fence continued unabated for nearly two years, until it was decided to reduce the frequency to once a month. Yet even in real time, the violent Friday afternoon ritual provoked little public interest in Israel. Similarly, the international condemnations – from allegations of the use of disproportionate force to accusations that Israel was perpetrating massacres – faded like so much froth on the waves.
Shedding light on this very recent slice of history entails talking to snipers: After all, they were the dominant and most significant force in suppressing the demonstrations at the fence. Their targets ranged from young Palestinians who were trying to infiltrate into Israel or who threw Molotov cocktails at soldiers, to prominent, unarmed protesters who were considered to be major inciters. Both categories drew the same response: live ammunition fired at the legs.
Of the dozens of snipers that we approached, six (all of them discharged from the IDF) agreed to be interviewed and to describe what reality looks like through their gun sights. Five are from infantry brigades – two each from Golani and Givati, one from Kfir – plus one from the Duvdevan counter-terrorism unit. The names of all of them have been changed. They are not out to “break the silence” or to atone for their deeds, only to relate what happened from their point of view. In Eden’s case, even the fact that he also killed a protester by mistake doesn’t rattle him. “I believe I was on the right side and that I did the right thing,” he insists, “because if not for us, the terrorists would try to cross the fence. It’s obvious to you that there is a reason that you’re there.”
Eden says he broke the “knee record” in the demonstration that took place on the day the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was inaugurated, on May 14, 2018. He did it jointly: Snipers usually work in pairs – together with a locator, who is also a sniper by training, and whose task is to give his partner precise data (distance from the target, wind direction, etc.).
Eden: “On that day, our pair had the largest number of hits, 42 in all. My locator wasn’t supposed to shoot, but I gave him a break, because we were getting close to the end of our stint, and he didn’t have knees. In the end you want to leave with the feeling that you did something, that you weren’t a sniper during exercises only. So, after I had a few hits, I suggested to him that we switch. He got around 28 knees there, I’d say.”
Eden clearly recalls his first knee. His target was a demonstrator standing on coils of concertina wire about 20 meters away. “In that period [early during the protests], you were allowed to shoot a major inciter only if he was standing still,” he says. “That means, even if he was walking around calmly, shooting was prohibited, so we wouldn’t miss and waste ammunition. In any event, that inciter is on the barbed wire, I’m with the weapon right at the fence, and there’s still no authorization to open fire. At one stage he stands opposite me, looks at me, provokes me, gives me a look of ‘Let’s see you try.’ Then the authorization comes. Standing above me is the battalion commander, to my left is his deputy, to the right the company commander – soldiers all around me, the whole world and their wife are watching me in my first go. Very stressful. I remember the view of the knee in the crosshairs, bursting open.”
“Roy,” who served as a sniper in the Givati Brigade until his discharge a year and a half ago, says the hit he remembers most vividly is the one that drew the largest audience. “There was pressure, because the battalion commander had showed up, and everyone was on our case. There was a Palestinian who looked like he was about 20, who didn’t stop moving around. Pink shirt, gray pants. What they do is run-run-run, and then end up in the concertina wire. He was really good at it. In that situation you can finish him off or hit someone behind him. I clearly remember being worried about missing his leg – and then feeling relief that I made a precise hit.”
Relief is also how Itay, a former Haredi who was a sniper in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion (the ultra-Orthodox equivalent of the Nahal brigade). “I saw a guy who was about to light a Molotov cocktail. In a case like that you don’t do calculations. I got on the radio, described the target and got an ‘authorized.’ The pressure is insane. Everything you learned and trained for is distilled into that moment. You get yourself together, remind yourself to breathe and then, boom. I shot at the knee and he fell. I made sure everything was all right – that I hit the right place.”
Is that sort of confirmation part of the protocol?
Itay: “The directive is to keep watching after shooting to see whether the goal was achieved. You only report a hit after an additional look. To look afterward is the easy part, or more correctly, it’s the part that brings relief. Because in this specific case, the terrorist was less than 100 meters from my buddies, and it could have ended badly.”
And after you look a second time and you see the actual wound, is it still easy?
“You are not meant to see massive bleeding, because in the region of the knee and bones there aren’t a lot of capillaries. If you see blood, that’s not a good sign, because you probably hit too high. The regular scenario is supposed to be that you hit, break a bone – in the best case, break the kneecap – within a minute an ambulance comes to evacuate him, and after a week he gets a disability pension.”
But Shlomi, a sniper from Duvdevan, says hitting the kneecap is also not desirable: “The objective is to cause the inciter minimal damage, so he will stop doing what he’s doing. So I, at least, would try to aim at a fattier place, in the muscle region.”
Can you be that precise?
Shomi: “Yes, because the Ruger [a type of rifle used mainly at demonstrations] is intended for use at 100, 150 meters. From that distance, you see the leg even with the eye, and with a telescopic lens that enlarges to the power of 10, you can actually see the tendons.”
Guys with megaphones
Who is considered a major inciter at these demonstrations? The criteria are quite vague. “A major inciter is a major inciter,” Amir asserts simply. The commander of a Golani sniper squad who saw action during the first wave of disturbances along the fence, he explains that “it’s not so complicated to figure out who’s organizing and firing up [the other protesters]. You identify him, for example, by the fact that he has his back to you and is facing the crowd. In many cases, he’s also holding a megaphone.”
Itay’s impression is that “major inciters are, for example, people who stand around in the back, arranging things. They are not necessarily a target, but to let them know that we see what they’re doing, I would shoot in the air around them. You know, the one who arms others is not a concrete threat to me, at least not directly, but he makes things happen. So to hit him is a problem, but also not to hit him is a problem. That’s why the moment he gets tired of activating others and starts to take an active part in the chaos, he’ll be the first one we hit, because he’s the most important in terms of the group around him. He’s the key to stopping the flare-up.”
He adds, “You don’t hit those who whip up the crowd because of what they’re doing. It doesn’t come from an emotional place of ‘He’s the one who’s causing the uprising, so let’s take him down.’ This isn’t a war, it’s a Friday afternoon D.O. [disruption of order]. The goal is not to take down as many as possible, but to make this thing stop as quickly as possible.”
According to IDF protocol, a minor is not to be classified as a major inciter. According to Eden, “There are borderline ages, and so you don’t go there.”
Is it really possible to tell the difference between a lean man and a well-built teenager, in the heat of a demonstration? “You try to understand according to their body language,” Amir says. “The way he holds the stone, whether it looks like he’s been dragged into the situation or is leading it. These demonstrations are a little like a youth movement, from their point of view. Even if you don’t know their precise ‘ranks,’ you can tell by the charisma who the group leader is.”
Roy maintains that, “in 99.9 percent of the cases, the identification is precise. There are a lot of images of the target, and a lot of crosshairs focused on it. A drone above, lookouts, the sniper, his commanders. It’s not just one, two or even three people who are watching him, so there will be no doubt.”
Shlomi is a little less certain: “Sometimes it really is hard to tell the difference [between minors and adults]. You look at facial features, height, body mass. Clothing is also a certain index. The younger ones are usually wearing T-shirts. But listen, a 16-year-old can cause you harm, too. If he presents a threat, the age parameter is not necessarily relevant.”
Itay agrees: “The goal is not to hit minors, but a Molotov cocktail is a Molotov cocktail, and the bottle doesn’t know whether the person holding it is a man of 20, a teenager of 14 or a kid of 8.”
Amir recalls experiencing a similar dilemma. “For example, there was a boy whose behavior justified a hit, but we estimated that he was 12 and we deliberately didn’t hit him – not only because of how it would look in the media, but because of our own substantive considerations. We decided we would really scare him and we hit the person next to him. It was not urgent for us. He’ll be here the next week, too.”
No ‘shooting and crying’
It’s been 53 years since publication of “The Seventh Day,” a collection of testimonies from soldiers who came from kibbutzim that gave expression to their emotional distress after seeing combat in the Six-Day War. It is a seminal text in the way it depicts Israel as a society of people who “shoot and cry.” More than half a century later, the lament of soldiers returning from the battlefield is still being heard, but at least according to the voices quoted here, their ideological and moral foundations have turned inside out. The soul-searching over the cost in blood has been replaced by criticism of the army’s weakness and the feeling that it is shackling its fighters.
“I’ve seen inciters who got across the fence and I couldn’t do a thing,” Roy says. “They would jump over it and provoke us, and then go back. Of course, you don’t get authorization to shoot them. Why? Because, once they are within Israel proper, they’re not considered hostile if they’re not holding a knife or a rifle. The restraints on us are shameful. You have to understand: Even if there’s a 20-year-old across from me who’s inciting others and setting tires on fire, I only have a second to hit him, otherwise he’ll disappear. But the moment he’s in my sights, I must first inform the company commander, who informs the battalion commander, who speaks to the brigade commander, who speaks with the division commander. There were some ridiculous cases. During that time, the target has already moved or gone into hiding.”
Amir depicts the chain of command in this way: “For every sniper there was a commander at a junior level [a non-com], like me, and also a senior commander – a company commander or a deputy company commander. The superior officer would request authorization to fire from the sector’s brigade commander. He would get on the radio to him and ask: ‘Can I add another knee for this afternoon?’”
The impression gleaned by Daniel, a lone soldier who immigrated from the United States and served in the Givati Brigade, is that the procedures were more flexible than that. “Like everything in the IDF, it wasn’t completely clear, at least not in my time. But in general, you had to request authorization for shooting from your superior officer and he requested authorization from the company commander or the battalion commander. If it worked like it’s supposed to, it could take less than 10 seconds. The commanders were not particularly stingy with shooting authorizations. They would trust you when you said you had identified a justifiable target.”
According to Eden, the threads of the command chain have loosened over time. “If you look back at the first demonstrations, four or five years ago, before the wave of the past two years, you’ll find that it was very hard to get authorization. Back then they said that every knee was a really big deal. In the period when the protests really heated up, it became easier to get a green light. In my time it came from the level of battalion commander or company commander, depending on the situation.”
Did the requirement to get authorization for every sniper shot from the brigade commander have an impact on the number of Palestinian casualties? The data indicate that the number of those killed fell sharply only after the transition to the Ruger, about a year after the weekly disturbances erupted. The Ruger is considered less lethal than other rifles. Eden, a veteran of the Gaza sector, says he used M24 and Barak (HTR-2000) rifles: “With the Barak, if you shoot someone in the knee, you don’t incapacitate him – you detach his leg. He could die from loss of blood.”
Last July, after 16 months of confrontations at the Gaza fence, the IDF revised its guidelines for snipers in an attempt to reduce the number of fatalities. One senior officer explained the changes in a report by the Kan Broadcasting Corporation’s military correspondent, Carmela Menashe: “At first we told them to shoot at the leg. We saw that you could be killed like that, so we told them to shoot below the knee. Afterward, we made the order more precise and instructed them to shoot at the ankle.”
Eden confirms this. “There was a stage when the order really was to aim at the ankle,” he notes. “I didn’t like that change. Believe in your snipers. To me it felt like they were trying to make our life harder for no reason.”
Eden: “Because it’s clear that the surface of the body between the knee and the sole of the foot is much larger than that of the ankle and the sole. It’s the difference between grabbing 40 centimeters [16 inches] and grabbing 10 centimeters.”
Roy, who completed his service before the instructions were updated, says he usually aimed lower in any case. “During my time you were allowed to shoot anywhere from the knee down, but I aimed at the ankle, so as not to hit higher, God forbid, or all hell would break loose. I preferred it that way. I didn’t have pity on the inciters, but that I knew I wouldn’t be backed up by the army. I didn’t want to be a second Elor Azaria [the so-called Hebron shooter, who served a jail term after being convicted of killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant]. I gave less thought to the target and more to myself and my family, so they wouldn’t have to go through the same thing Elor’s family did.”
Amir adds: “If you mistakenly hit the main artery of the thigh instead of the ankle, then either you intended to make a mistake or you shouldn’t be a sniper. There are snipers, not many, who ‘choose’ to make mistakes [and aim higher]. Still, the numbers aren’t high. [In comparison,] there are days when you collect 40 knees in the whole sector. Those are the proportions.”
In Amir’s view, the discussion over where to shoot – thigh, knee or ankle – misses the point. “Let me tell you a story. One day there was a big to-do, real chaos. A soldier of mine wanted to take down a major inciter who met all the criteria. He requested authorization, but the company commander refused, because the guy was too close to an ambulance. The slightest deviation, even if he had just hit the headlight, and there would have been a media report that the IDF shot at an ambulance. My soldier heard the refusal, but fired anyway. He hit the ankle, like you’re supposed to, a precision shot, surgical. So on the one hand he violated an order, but on the other hand he fulfilled his mission.” (The soldier was later disciplined and assigned to menial labor.)
And you understand his thinking?
Amir: “Obviously. For a soldier like that, that shot is his meaning, his self-definition. These are kids of 18, mostly from a pretty poor socioeconomic background. The fact that you put them through a sniper’s course doesn’t mean you turned them into mature, sensible people. On the contrary, you turned them into a machine, you made them think small, you reduced their possibilities of choice, diminished their humanity and their personality. The moment you turn someone into a sniper – that is his essence. So now you want to take that away from him, too? This might sound radical, because I’m a commander, but there’s a place inside me that says, ‘Hey, you disappointed me, true, but you came out a man, you proved that the function [of sniper] works.’”
Amir, who majored in theater in high school and calls himself a “boy scout from the north,” describes another case of deviating from the rules that occurred in his company.
“Even when there is no demonstration and everything seems calm, they rush you to the fence with the patrol when shepherds approach it. You have to understand, these are not innocent shepherds, they work for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in order to drive you crazy. They cross the line to get a response from you. Will you take a vehicle and go threaten him? By the time you get there he’s gone. Will you shoot into the air? He couldn’t care less. And because of that nonsense you don’t sleep and a whole company becomes the shepherd’s puppets,” Amir says.
“One day, one of the noncoms said to me, ‘Enough, we can’t go on like this, let’s take down one of his sheep, it’s worth a few thousand.’ Think about what leads a soldier, a musician from a good high school, the last kind of guy you’d say is out for blood, to get on the radio with the lookout and say, ‘Do you see a sheep, to the north? You’re going to see it fall.’ After that, the shepherd didn’t return. What’s the conclusion? The deterrence worked.”
Amir says that those two incidents must be understood in light of the nature of his battalion’s activity on the Gaza border. “Even before the demonstrations started, we were in an ambush that lasted two months straight,” he relates. “We observed a squad that managed to improvise a bomb and stick it on the fence. There was some sort of defect with it, the device didn’t explode, and we had intelligence that they were coming to pick it up. But it went on and on. Every day they approach it, and even when the squad leader was standing right above the bomb, we didn’t have authorization to shoot. Why? Only because of the media sensitivity. As long as he wasn’t actually holding the device, it was impossible to prove beyond a doubt that he had anything to do with it – so then go figure what kind of narrative Hamas will build around that. Think how frustrating that is for the soldiers. We lay there in the rain for two months and did nothing.”
And the frustration justifies rebelling under other circumstances?
Amir: “No, but that case illustrates the paradox of the rules of engagement. A terrorist who deserves to die is standing opposite me, but because we have to justify ourselves to Haaretz or to the BBC, he gets out of it without a scratch. Cowardice is created that trickles down. So instead you go and take out knees in demonstrations. Not only does that not have an effect, these people also don’t deserve to lose their knees. I really identify with what [former IDF Chief of Staff] Ehud Barak once said – that if he were a Palestinian he would have become a terrorist. It only resonated for me when I was in the territories. You look at small kids crying when you pummel their father, and you say to yourself: Hey, I wouldn’t expect anything else from them.”
Are there snipers who have found it difficult to get on with their life after their discharge? Tuly Flint, a mental health officer in the reserves and a clinical social worker who specializes in trauma, has treated snipers who took part in curbing demonstrations in Gaza during the past two years. Snipers, he says, manifest singular characteristics when it comes to post-traumatic stress.
“If I am one of 30 soldiers who is in the area and fires a volley, I don’t necessarily know that I did the killing,” he says, whereas the sniper knows when he’s hit his target. “The second trait derives from the fact that the sniper is required not to turn his gaze. Through the telescopic lens, he sees the person he’s shooting and the impact of the hit, and that can fixate the picture in his memory.”
Flint describes a sniper from an elite unit who aimed at a demonstrator’s knee but hit too high, and the demonstrator died from loss of blood. “That soldier, a sniper who was very dedicated to his mission, describes watching the demonstrator bleed to death. He can’t forget the man’s screaming not to be left alone. He also remembers vividly the evacuation [of the body], and the women who wept over him. From then on, that’s all he thinks about and all he dreams about. He says, ‘I wasn’t sent to defend the state, I was sent to murder.’ Thoughts of the girlfriend of the person he killed also continue haunting him. The result is that he breaks off with his own girlfriend of two years. ‘I don’t deserve to have one,’ he says.”
Daniel has sharp memories of his buddies after they made an exact hit. “People look sick or shocked. The meaning of it doesn’t hit home at that instant. A second ago I shot someone, and a minute later, I’m eating matza with chocolate? What the hell is going on here?”
He adds: “There are awful, dreadful stories about soldiers who aimed at a demonstrator and hit someone else. I know someone who took aim at one of the leaders of a demonstration, who was standing on a box and urging the people to keep marching ahead. The soldier aimed at his leg, but at the last moment the man moved and the bullet missed him. Instead, he hit a little girl, who was killed on the spot. That soldier is a wreck today. He is being watched 24/7, so he won’t commit suicide.”
Snipers burdened with experiences like that are the minority. For his part, Amir says the kind of feelings most snipers have are completely different, reminiscent of the world of sports. “The arena of the disturbances is like a sports arena, a situation you can sell tickets for,” he says. “Group versus group, with a line down the middle and an audience of fans on both sides. You can totally tell a story of a sports encounter here.”
On the front line, he continues, “are the inciters: They mark the starting line from which people burst out in sprints, alone or in groups. Everything is coordinated and planned in advance. There are these pits in the terrain [for hiding], and this lets them play with us. They can run 100 meters without my being able to take off their foot. They are also skilled at zigzagging. Two of them pop up, they hide, one throws a stone so the other one can move forward. They use diversionary tactics on you. It’s a kind of game, you know.”
What is the purpose of the game?
Amir: “To get points. If they succeeded in putting the flag on the fence, that’s worth a point. A booby-trapped flag is a point. Throwing back a smoke grenade is a point. Even just touching the wall, I mean the fence, is a point. There’s a battle going on here, but it’s not certain when it will be decided, no one has a clue how you win the cup, but in the meantime both sides continue to play the game.”
A game for the record. The forces aren’t exactly equally matched.
“True. And we’re not even using a quarter of the force we could wield.”
In other words, we could beat them by a knockout, but we prefer to win on points?
“We’re not even winning on points. After some time there, in a debriefing, I said: ‘Let me just once take down a kid of 16, even 14, but not with a bullet in the leg – let me blow his head open in front of his whole family and his whole village. Let him spurt blood. And then maybe for a month I won’t have to take off another 20 knees.’ That is shocking mathematics on the brink of the unimaginable – but when you don’t use your capabilities it’s not clear what you’re trying to do there. You ask me what my mission was? Walla, it’s hard for me answer you. What was considered a success from my point of view? Even the number of knees I took out wasn’t dependent on me, it derived from the number of ‘ducks’ that chose to cross the line.”
But to kill a kid at random? Do you really think that’s the solution?
“Obviously, we shouldn’t liquidate kids. I was saying that to make a point: that if you kill one you might be sparing 20 others. If you were to take me back to that two-month stakeout and let me act, I would have taken down that son of a bitch who was standing above the bomb, even if it meant that he would come to me in my dreams afterward. The reality today, that there are five to 10 people who will be invalids their entire lives, to whom my name is connected somehow, is also shit. And not only in the sense that it is or is not weighing on my heart. Think about it: There’s a whole generation of children there who won’t be able to play soccer.”
It seems that the presence of children at demonstrations stirs the most powerful emotional response among the snipers.
“One day there was a girl, I think she was probably 7, who was holding a Hamas flag and she just ran toward us,” Shlomi from Duvdevan says. “I made sure through the lens that there was nothing suspicious on her, that her blouse wasn’t sticking out, that there was no sign of wires or bombs, and we shouted to deter her. Fortunately, she got scared and ran away. It was clear to me that I wouldn’t shoot even if she had crossed the line, but I remember thinking: I really hope she doesn’t keep going.”
Daniel: “From the guard post, you observe a Hamasnik, his face is opposite you, and you think to yourself: I really hope he does something, so I can shoot him. But with demonstrators, the picture gets complicated, because lots of them are only teenagers. They’re thin, they’re small, you don’t feel threatened by them. You need to remind yourself that what they’re doing is dangerous.”
Like some of the other interviewees, Daniel emphasizes the soldiers’ anger at the parents. “A mother who brings her child to a demonstration like that is a terrible mother,” he says.
Amir says he can understand the children: “They make a living from it, and I don’t have to tell you how bad the economic situation is in Gaza. But their parents I don’t understand. What are you dragging him there for? Send them to sneak [into Israel] secretly and work in construction, topple the Hamas government, whatever, just not this.”
Roy, who identifies himself as right-wing, agrees that “it’s not them we need to be fighting, but Hamas, the terrorists, the ones who organize the buses to bring people and toss them a few dollars so they’ll burn tires. I pity them [the children], they really are unfortunate. They remind me of the kids in the neighborhood who play with firecrackers. I was like those kids, too, so in that sense I identify with them.”
But while expressing objections to wholesale shooting, Itay, from Netzah Yehudah, still thinks that the number of Palestinians wounded by live fire at the border over almost two years actually demonstrates that the soldiers were not trigger-happy. “Every Friday there are thousands of demonstrators,” he notes, “and if you multiply that number by 52 and then double it, you’ll get to hundreds of thousands of people. Out of them, 8,000 is a tiny fraction.”
He adds, however, that “the power you have when someone comes into your sights, the knowledge that it depends on you whether he will be able to walk or not, is frightening. From my perspective, it is not intoxicating power. I don’t like it, but it’s impossible to ignore it. It’s there all the time. After my discharge, I realized that it’s something I didn’t want to feel anymore. So I went right into university straight off and not into some security job that I could have landed because of my combat background.”
‘It’s your destiny’
Not everyone succeeds in restraining his feeling of intoxication. A video clip that circulated in 2018 showed a Palestinian approaching the fence and being shot by a sniper, as the soldiers celebrated the direct hit with shouts of “Right on!” and “What a fab clip!” Roy says the soldiers’ response there attests to a lack of professionalism and too much enthusiasm, although he saw nothing similar in his squad.
“On the other hand, I think it’s human,” he says. “When you have a certain goal, even if you are shooting arrows at a target, obviously there’s joy at the hit. The soldiers’ mistake was in their behavior. Let them laugh somewhere in the back, but don’t make a clip of it. There’s such a thing as appearances, too.”
Amir, too, distinguishes between personal satisfaction and public manifestations that don’t look good on film. “The snipers in the squad we replaced were legends. They were IDF champions and they had two or three super-cool Xs [on their rifles] from manning the line in Gaza. We heard the story about the Xs, and we wanted them, too. It’s your profession, your destiny, the essence of your being from the moment you get up until you go to sleep. Obviously you want to display your capabilities.”
Do you have to celebrate? Isn’t there some other way?
Amir: “No. Take the most baboonish guy you know – and that’s what the IDF does, transforms kids into baboons – and try to stop him from telling about his first time. It’s chaos there, everyone is shooting, making hits – you expect that he won’t open a bottle of champagne? He has fulfilled himself just now, it’s a rare moment. Actually, the more he does it, the more indifferent he’ll become. He will no longer be especially happy, or sad. He’ll just be.”
The army comments
The IDF Spokesman’s Office provided this statement to Haaretz: “The operational response to the violent disturbances and the hostile terrorist activity with which the IDF has been coping since March 2018, is adapted appropriately to the threat posed by these incidents, amid an effort to reduce as far as possible the injury to those causing the disorder, as well as the use of live ammunition. For the past two years, the operational response has been influenced by the intensity of the events, by changes in the violence of those disrupting the order, by the smoke they have spread and so on.
“In light of the change that has occurred in the nature of the disturbances, it was decided to equip the forces also with the Ruger bullet, which causes less damage. As to the use of M24 rifles, we note that this is a standard sniper’s rifle. In general, within the framework of the events in question, use was not made of the Barak sniper’s rifle. We have been made aware of exceptional, specific use of the latter, which was reported and investigated. The findings were conveyed to the military advocate general’s unit for further examination.
“The statements attributed to a senior officer concerning the rules of engagement do not reflect IDF operational policy. The officer intended to explain that when there were reports of unintentional shooting injuries that were not below the knee, the sector commanders decided to toughen the rules of engagement in certain circumstances, and to instruct the snipers to aim for the ankle.
“As to the case in which a fighter fired at a major disrupter, even though he did not receive authorization from his superior officer, the shooting was done in accordance with the rules of engagement with the exception of this deviation. The case was dealt with at the command level and was not passed on to the military advocate general’s unit for handling.
“Similarly, in the case where improper shooting at a sheep took place, that incident was dealt with at the command level and was not sent to the military advocate general’s unit for handling. The company’s deputy commander was tried for breaching military discipline and sentenced to seven days’ detention.”
The Ministry of Health announced on Friday that it has tested 51 suspected Coronavirus cases in Jericho city and that they were all negative.
Spokesman for Health Ministry Tarif Ashour confirmed that Ministry’s medical teams tested the samples of 51 suspected Covid-19 patients at Jericho Resort Village, where a group of Greek tourists stayed during a tour in late February, and the test results turned out to be negative.
He added that teams of the Ministry’s Central Lab continue to test scores of samples for suspected cases from various districts.
This came after a total of seven Palestinians from Bethlehem have tested positive for the virus. The seven worked at a hotel near Bethlehem, where the same group of Greek tourists stayed during their tour of the Palestinian territories and Israel.
Media reports said that 23 Greek tourists among the group tested positive for the virus after returning to their country.
The hotel, located in Beit Jala city, has been placed under lockdown and designated as a quarantine site.
Designating the hotel as such was among the series of emergency procedures announced by the government, an announcement which came on the heels of President Mahmoud Abbas’ declaration of a month-long state of emergency in the occupied territories to fight the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).