On November 8, 2006 at around 2:00 am, under-cover units of the Israeli
army shot and killed five Palestinians in Al Yamoun village, near
Jenin, in the northern part of the West Bank. The Israeli Information
Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B'Tselem)
investigated the death of two residents, and after comparing it to the
army's story, found out a completely different version of events.
Site of the incident. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem.
The two residents were identified as Salim Abu al-Heijah and Mahmoud Abu Hassan in Al Yamoun village, near Jenin, in the northern part of the West Bank.
The Israeli army reported that soldiers carried a joint operation of the military and the Government Security Services (GGS), and killed five “terrorists” from Al Yamoun village, according to the Israeli report.
The statement did not reveal any circumstances of the incident, but stated that soldiers esearched the site and found weapons, and ammunition.
Eyewitnesses told B'Tselem investigators that at 1:30 two wounded young men knocked on their door after they were shot and injured by the army. The two were wanted by the Israeli military; the family provided them with first aid and covered them with blankets.
After about 20 minutes, a military jeep came to the house. Soldiers threw a stun grenade and called through a loud speaker for the family to open the gate of the courtyard. The father of the family opened the gate and the soldiers from within the jeep ordered the family to come out of their rooms into the courtyard. All of the family sat in the courtyard facing the gate, according to the soldier's orders.
At this point, Abu al- Heijah lay in the doorway of a room next to the gate, with the upper half of his body inside and his lower half in the courtyard. He was wounded in the thigh. Abu Hassan lay facing him, in front of the gate, wounded in the stomach.
Three soldiers entered the house, stepped over Mahmoud Abu Hassan and went into the room where Abu Heijah lay. After a minute or two, the family heard one or two shots. It turned out that these shots hit Abu Heijah and killed him. Immediately afterward two family members, Bashar and Muhannad Kabala, saw a soldier shoot Abu Hassan. Mohannad saw the gun barrel protruding from the room and saw the bullet hit Abu Hassan; Bashar saw the spark as the gun was fired.
B'Tselem's investigation indicates that Salim Abu al-Heijah and Mahmoud Abu Hassan were executed by soldiers while they lay wounded, unarmed and posed no risk to the soldiers. The fact that the soldiers did not shoot the men immediately upon entering the house, did not search the bodies nor tie their hands, strengthens the indication that the soldiers did not perceive them to be a threat. As stated above, the soldiers stepped over Abu Hassan, went into the adjacent room and only about two minutes later did they shoot the two wounded men at close range.
Arrest of suspects to a crime, however severe the crime may be, is an act of law enforcement which is of a policing nature, even when carried out by soldiers. Opening fire in such circumstances is allowed both according to international law and Israeli law, only for self-defense or to prevent the suspect from fleeing.
The killing of the two wanted men in Al- Tamoun under the circumstances suggested by the investigation clearly contravenes these powers.
Furthermore, even if the operation in Tamoun was part of combat rather than law-enforcement activities, as Israel often claims, the killing of the two men constituted a grave breach of the laws of war in international humanitarian law. These laws categorically prohibit willful killing of combatants who can no longer defend themselves due to injury, and do not pose a danger to those who would arrest them. Such a killing is defined as a war crime.
This incident in Al- Yamoun is not the first of its kind. In May 2005, B'Tselem released a report that examined four operations conducted in the previous year to arrest Palestinians wanted by Israeli forces. The report indicated that soldiers behaved in these operations as if they were conducting assassinations rather than arrest operations, in blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law.
In two of the cases, Israeli forces had already "neutralized" a person defined as wanted, and subsequently shot him to death. In the first case, soldiers shot a man who had raised his arms in surrender. In the second case, soldiers killed a man who had been injured, and was lying unarmed on the ground.
In light of its findings, B'Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General demanding the immediate opening of a military police investigation into the incident in Al-Yamoun.