On 12 July 2019, nine-year-old ‘Abd a-Rahman a-Shteiwi was shot in the forehead by an Israeli soldier in Kafr Qaddum, in the occupied West Bank, during the town’s weekly protests against settlement expansion and settler violence. At the the time he was shot, ‘Abd was playing at the entrance of his friend’s house, over 100 metres away from demonstrators. The shot to ‘Abd’s forehead resulted in a large hole, multiple skull fractures and serious brain damage; a CT scan showed around 100 fragments lodged in the boy’s brain. Over three months since this grievous wounding, we have reports from two sources that he remains in hospital in a coma.
Background to the protests in Kafr Qaddum
Kafr Qaddum is surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements which have grown, encroaching onto the town’s land. Since 2011, Palestinian residents of the Kafr Qaddum have held weekly protests against land confiscations, the Israeli occupation and the closure of the main road between the town and the town’s nearest service centre. The main road was blocked by Israeli forces in order to accommodate the expansion of Kadum, a nearby Israeli settlement. During the weekly protests, protesters are regularly confronted with various ‘crowd control methods’ used by the Israeli army, including rubber-coated metal bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. Soldiers also use live ammunition against protesters in Kafr Qaddum, according to data collected by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Forensic Architecture’s investigation into the shooting
After the shooting of ‘Abd, the Israeli military stated that live ammunition had not been used against protesters. However, Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths University, investigated the incident, using video material recorded on the day of the shooting to piece together the sequence of events that led to the shooting. Forensic Architecture found that the image evidence, medical evidence and eyewitness testimony strongly suggests that ‘Abd was shot with live ammunition, which appears to have begun being used by soldiers from around 13:30. Abd is reported to have been shot at around 14:20. Photographs taken after the shooting – which are published by Forensic Architecture – show 5.56mm live ammunition casings on the hillside above the location of the shooting.
The following excerpt from Forensic Architecture is key in regard to its finding that live ammunition was used:
“The Israeli army has claimed that Abd el-Rahman was more likely hit by a rubber-coated metal bullet than by live ammunition. As recently as 23 August, Israeli military officials insisted that Abd el-Rahman was not hit by live fire.
But forensics experts told us that this is extremely unlikely. ‘In our professional opinion,’ they said, ‘this injury is not consistent with a direct impact of an RCMB [rubber-coated metal bullet] projectile.’
The experts, who have asked to remain anonymous, claim that the fragmentation visible in CT scans of Abd el-Rahman’s head suggests that his injuries were caused by 5.56mm live ammunition: ‘The level of fragmentation is consistent with fragmentation seen in 5.56 mm rounds. It is inconsistent with the level of fragmentation one would expect to see with a steel-core rubber bullet.’
Evidence suggests that the shooting occurred at a range of 100–120m; almost twice the effective range of rubber-coated bullets, according to B’Tselem.“
The impact of the Israeli army’s open-fire policy
‘Abd is one of many Palestinian children who have been shot by Israeli forces during protests this year. Defence for Children Palestine recorded 55 children being shot with live ammunition by Israeli forces between January- May 2019. As part of the Israeli army’s open-fire policy in the occupied Palestinian territory, Israeli soldiers regularly use live ammunition against Palestinians, even when there is no threat of death or serious injury to soldiers. The policy is in direct conflict with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. According to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, the open-fire policy conveys Israel’s ‘deep disregard’ for Palestinian lives. The policy appears to have led to the horrific injuries suffered by ‘Abd.
LPHR calls on the UK government to take specific and urgent action
LPHR is deeply concerned that a continuation of Israeli’s open-fire policy and the absence of accountability for the shooting of children such as ‘Abd, will see the shooting of unarmed children who are at or near protests continue. At present, LPHR is not aware of the Israeli authorities having opened any independent criminal investigation into ‘Abd’s shooting. On 13 August 2019, in a letter to the Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, LPHR called on the UK government to:
- Immediately seek a clear assurance, and subsequently monitor, that Israeli authorities are conducting a genuine and transparent criminal investigation into the shooting of ’Abd a-Rahman a-Shteiwi, and that they pursue criminal prosecutions if there is evidence of wrongdoing by soldiers and/or their superiors;
- Urge Israel’s authorities to immediately review and revise its open-fire regulations, including any specifically applying to soldiers stationed at weekly non-violent protests, so that they fully comply with the strict requirements of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials; and
- Urge Israeli authorities to transparently inform all of its military and border police that the use of force and firearms against Palestinian civilians posing no imminent threat to death or serious injury will lead to imposition of individual criminal responsibility.
In a reply dated 5 September 2019 sent to LPHR, the UK Government Minister Andrew Murrison disappointingly stated that ‘Abd’s case had not been raised with the Israeli authorities. While the Minister expressed the “the Government is very concerned at the high numbers of Palestinian children killed and injured by Israeli Defense Forces in the West Bank and Gaza”, his reply failed to address LPHR’s call to seek a clear assurance that Israeli authorities will conduct a genuine and transparent criminal investigation into the shooting of ‘Abd, and to subsequently monitor any such investigation. The minister’s response also failed to address LPHR’s call to immediately urge Israeli authorities to review and revise the open-fire policy employed by Israeli forces.
A later response by the Minister on 2 October 2019 to a Parliamentary question on ‘Abd’s case from Dr Sarah Wollaston MP demonstrated some movement from the UK government, but still not adequate to the grave circumstances. Minister Murrison’s reply to Dr Wollason MP stated that the UK government had now made representations “with the Israeli authorities, stressing the importance of protecting civilians, especially children.” LPHR would urge the Minister to go further, and to call for a thorough and transparent investigation into this shooting. LPHR also wishes to correct an important factual error here that, contrary to the reply given by the Minister, we can confirm that Abd is still alive, although he remains in a critical condition in hospital.
The findings of the Forensic Architecture investigation underscore the need for a genuine and transparent criminal investigation by Israeli authorities into the grievous shooting of ‘Abd. A young life has been catastrophically affected because of the apparent action of an Israeli solider shooting live ammunition at a nine-year-old boy. LPHR urges the UK government’s to take forward the recommendations that we made in our letter dated 13 August. We are grateful for Dr Sarah Wollaston MP in her efforts to pursue ‘Abd’s case with the UK Government.