Israel’s alleged excessive use of force against Palestinians, potentially amounting to extrajudicial killings in certain cases, has recently received international scrutiny. This follows a spike in fatalities since October 2015: 207 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and 29 Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed in stabbing, shooting or car-ramming attacks by Palestinians.
The contentious debate surrounding alleged extrajudicial executions has been further reignited by the lethal shooting of 21 year old Palestinian ‘Abd Al-Fatah Al-Sharif by Israeli forces. On Thursday March 24th 2016, al-Sharif and Ramzi al-Qasrawi were both shot after allegedly stabbing an Israeli soldier in Tel Rumeida, Hebron. Al-Qasrawi died immediately. However, al-Sharif was not instantly killed and remained on the ground injured.
This incident has gathered international attention due to the video captured by Hebron resident ‘Imad Abu Shamsiyah, which documents Al-Sharif lying on the road motionless whilst soldiers and medical officers fail to offer any medical assistance. A few moments later the film depicts an Israeli soldier pointing a gun at al-Sharif and directly firing at him. A few moments later blood flows from Al-Sharif’s head, graphically indicating the shot fired was fatal.
The video evidence strongly suggests that al-Sharif had ceased to be of any direct threat to Israeli forces. The law in this circumstance is clear, Israeli military forces are only permitted to kill when the person in question is endangering the lives of others. Therefore, where the perpetrator is already incapacitated the legal position is unequivocal: you do not kill. ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Sharif posed no such threat, and his shooting consequently places the soldier’s actions in apparent direct contravention of Israel’s military law governing its forces and international human rights law.
International human rights law analysis on extra-judicial killings
Article 6 of the ICCPR, which was ratified by Israel in 1991, prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of life. This principle is commonplace in all human rights treaties and forms the starting point from which we examine the legality of extrajudicial killings.
The lethal shooting of al-Sharif apparently amounts to the arbitrary deprivation of life because it was not a necessary or proportionate response to the threat at hand. The ‘necessity’ requirement provides that a killing by a state official is required to protect life and there is no other means, such as capture or non-lethal incapacitation, of preventing that threat to life.1 The proportionality requirement limits the permissible level of force based on the threat posed by the suspect to others.
The killing of al-Sharif appears to amount to the intentional and premeditated killing of a suspect who had already been incapacitated and was therefore no longer presenting a threat to the Israeli soldiers or others in the vicinity. If a threat still existed at this point, the fact that al-Sharif was lying injured on the ground points to the suggestion that he could have easily been medically stabilised and then detained and arrested, rather than shot in the head at close range.
The soldier making the decision to shoot has apparently taken it upon himself to kill al-Sharif as a punitive measure rather than one of strict law enforcement necessity. This apparent decision to shoot to kill breaches the very foundations of international human rights law which govern law enforcement operations.
Even more disconcerting, is the lack of reaction from the other members of the Israeli military who are present as al-Sharif is shot. This suggests that there is weight to B’Tselem’s claim that there is emerging an informal policy of extrajudicial killings within the Israeli military. Whilst the use of force in this context must be assessed on a case by case basis, what can be asserted with complete certainty is that an informal policy of this nature is strictly prohibited by international human rights law.
International human rights law also imposes duties upon state parties to investigate deaths caused by the state. However, the lack of a robust investigation mechanism within the Israeli military has led to experts to assert that this duty is routinely not being discharged properly. The culture of impunity which exists as a result can embolden further killings in violation of international law.
Justice and accountability for the apparent unlawful killing of ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Sharif?
Following this incident, an Israeli army spokesman stated: “The Israel Defence Forces views this incident as a grave breach of IDF values, conduct and standards of military operations. A military police investigation has commenced and the soldier involved has been detained.” Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, asserted that “whatever legal regime one applies to the case, shooting someone who is no longer a threat is murder.”
However, following the military investigation conducted by Israeli police, a court-hearing on Thursday 31st March held that the 19-year old Israeli soldier who fired the shot at al-Sharif will only be prosecuted for manslaughter rather than murder. This suggests that even where there is overwhelmingly clear evidence of a pre-meditated unlawful killing, full justice and accountability will not prevail in the context of Israeli forces alleged recurring use of excessive force against Palestinians.
To see LPHR’s recent urgent action letter to the Foreign Office on the killing of ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Sharif and pattern of alleged extrajudicial executions, please see here.
Other Palestinian deaths potentially amounting to extrajudicial executions
A report published by Amnesty International at the end of October 2015 revealed that there were several incidents where Palestinians were deliberately shot by Israeli forces when they posed no imminent threat to life, appearing to be extrajudicial executions.
In some cases, the victim was left bleeding to death and was not given timely medical assistance2, violating the prohibition of torture and other-ill treatment. This is also evidenced by the case of al-Sharif, where medical teams ignored the seriously injured suspect.
- Death of Hadeel al-Hashlamoun (age 18), Hebron:
Shot dead on 22 September at checkpoint in Hebron. Israeli forces said she was attempting to stab a solider, but two eyewitness contradict this account.
- Death of Fadi Alloun (age 19), near Jerusalem’s Old City
Shot dead on 4 October by Israeli police who claim he tried to stab a 16-year old Israeli boy who was lightly injured, and had a knife in his hand when he was shot. Video of the incident shows him being chased up a Jerusalem street by Israeli civilians before an Israeli police patrol arrives and shoots Alloun in the upper body from metres away. No attempt to arrest was made.
- Death of Wissam Ferrai (age 20), Shu’afat refugee camp East Jerusalem
Shot on 8 October by Israeli forces during clashes with Palestinians. Medics reported that he was shot with .22 ammunition in his chest. This occurred a few weeks after Israel’s security cabinet approved the use of .22 Ruger rifle by police forces in occupied East Jerusalem as a means to “fight against rock-throwing in Jerusalem.” Human rights groups expressed serious concerns that the use of live ammunition by the Israeli police in occupied East Jerusalem would lead to similar unlawful killings as have occurred in the occupied West Bank.
- Attack on al-Ahil Hospital, Hebron. Death of Abdullah Azzam Shalaldah. Capture of Azzam Shalaldah (age 20)
On Thursday 12th November a large group of Israeli soldiers and police entered the al-Ahli hospital in Hebron disguised as Palestinian civilians.
Two witnesses claimed to Amnesty International that the disguised soldiers entered the hospital room of Azzam Shalaldah, who was a patient at the time. The reason for this was to arrest him on suspicion of stabbing an Israeli civilian on 25th October 2015. On entering the room, Azzam’s cousin Abdullah Azzam Shalaldah, who had been staying with Azzam in hospital, was shot at least three times by the forces. Amnesty International believe this may amount to an extrajudicial execution, due to the fact that any unlawful and deliberate killing carried out by order of military officials or a government, or with their collusion or acquiescence, is both criminal in nature and strictly prohibited under international law.
Melanie Waite; Gavin Dingley; Angelina Nicolaou
1 Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 6, HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6 (1982), para. 3; Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, Report on Terrorism and Human Rights, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.116, Doc. 5 rev. 1 corr. (2002).
2 LPHR Child Rights Bulletin for period 4 August – 26 October. Page 5 of this bulletin reflects the significant concerns raised about apparent extrajudicial executions. Available at: https://lphr.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Child-Rights-Bulletin-4-Aug-26-Oct-2015.pdf