On the fourth Friday of the “Great Return March”, Israeli occupation forces opened fire at hundreds of Palestinians joining demonstrations along the border of the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces continued the practice of employing excessive and lethal force against unarmed protesters, journalists and paramedics. Four protesters were killed on Friday, 20 April 2018, including a child. Another 136 others were injured, including 18 children, four women, two paramedics, and one journalist. Of those injured, 60 suffered wounds from live fire, and two are in critical condition.
The documentation conducted by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights shows that at 11:25am on Friday, 20 April 2018, Israeli forces located on the eastern border of the North Gaza district opened fire at Ahmed Abu Aqel, a 25-year-old resident of Jabalia refugee camp, shooting him in the back of the head. Abu Aqel was rushed to Al Shifa Hospital, where he died two hours later. Abu Aqel had joined the demonstrations and was on a sand dune at about 150 meters from the border fence with his back to the soldiers when he was shot. Abu Aqel used crutches to walk due to an injury suffered when Israeli forces shot him on 8 December 2017 while he was participating in demonstrations sparked by the US declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
At 2:30pm, Israeli forces fatally shot Ahmed Al Athamna, a 24-year-old resident of Beit Hanoun town, at the same demonstration. He was shot with a live bullet that pierced his upper back.
At about 6:30pm, doctors at Al Shifa Hospital announced the death of Mohammed Ayoub, a 14-year-old resident of Al Falouja neighborhood in Jabalia refugee camp in the North Gaza district. His death was the result of a head wound sustained from a live bullet earlier in the day when he was at a demonstration in eastern North Gaza.
In the Khan Younis district at about 6:10pm, Israeli forces lethally shot 30-year-old Sa’ad Abu Taha. He was shot in the neck while at a demonstration in eastern Khan Younis. Abu Taha was around 100 meters away from the border fence at the time of the incident. He was transferred to the Gaza European Hospital and pronounced dead upon arrival.
The killing and injury of unarmed protesters reported in this press release shows that Israeli forces continue to deploy lethal and excessive force against individuals who do not pose a threat to the life of soldiers who are well fortified and at a distance. The victims were engaged in protests organized on Palestinian territory and some had their backs to the soldiers when they were shot. The killing of Abu Aqel indicates that protesters are shot deliberately, even those who are disabled. Al Mezan recalls the disabled protester, Ibrahim Abu Thurayya, who was a double-amputee, shot and killed in September 2017. These actions indicate that Israeli forces continue to violate international human rights law standards in relation to the use of force. The recurrence and scope of these practices raises serious suspicions that they amount to war crimes.
Al Mezan’s documentation shows that from the start of the protests on 30 March 2018, 39 Palestinians have been killed, including four children. Of them, 32 were killed while in demonstrations, including a journalist. During the same period, 2,882 persons were injured—1,607 of them from live fire. Among the injured were 523 children and 97 women.
Al Mezan reiterates its strong condemnation of the use of lethal and other excessive force by Israeli forces, including sharpshooters, to police the demonstrations. The unarmed protesters, who pose no threat to the Israeli forces, have the right to peacefully assemble to demand their fundamental and inalienable human rights. The cases of protesters shot lethally and in the back indicate a bold continuation of unlawful targeting practices by Israeli forces despite the legal consequences of the practice and international condemnation.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to condemn the killing and injury of Palestinian protesters as violations of international human rights law and grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention of willful killing and willfully causing great suffering or serious injury. The international community must urge Israel to respect the protesters’ legitimate exercise of their rights to freedom of assembly and association.
The international community should take steps to ensure the protection of civilians in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in the Gaza Strip, including through seeking an end to the illegal Israeli closure regime. Al Mezan welcomes the calls from international institutions and civil society for accountability and protection of the civilian population. Al Mezan urges, in particular, the European Union and its member states to join these calls, to take concrete steps to denounce the violations of international law, and to ensure accountability.