Leading human rights organization Amnesty International says the killing of the 18-year-old Palestinian Hadeel al-Hashlamoun on September 22 by an Israeli soldier was an “extrajudicial execution.”
A video of al-Hashlamoun lying on the ground dying has circulated widely on the internet.
Amnesty, which is headquarted in London, interviewed two eyewitnesses who saw Israeli occupation forces shoot the young student in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank. Based on the evidence, Amnesty concluded that al-Hashlamoun “at no time posed a sufficient threat to the soldiers to make their use of deliberate lethal force permissible.”
“This killing is the latest in a long line of unlawful killings carried out by the Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank with near total impunity,” Amnesty said.
Account of the incident
Two Israeli soldiers stopped the young woman at a checkpoint in Hebron at around 7:40 AM on September 22. Amnesty’s eyewitnesses did not consult with each other, in order to assure accuracy of their accounts. The witnesses told Amnesty al-Hashlamoun was asked to open her bag for a search. She showed them the inside of her bag, but the soldiers began to yell at her, and she froze in fear. They were shouting in Hebrew, which the young woman did not understand.
Witness Fawaz Abu Aisheh, who speaks Hebrew, said he tried to help the young woman, who was trying to leave the checkpoint. He offered to translate for her, but four Israeli soldiers arrived and pushed him away. At this point, a soldier shot al-Hashlamoun in the leg. The young woman fell to the ground. One witness says he saw her drop a knife with a brown handle, but another said he did not see a knife.
The Israeli soldier then walked closer to al-Hashlamoun and shot at her chest four or five more times, while she was lying motionless on the ground. Other soldiers yelled at him to stop, yet he kept on shooting.
The Israeli military claims that al-Hashlamoun walked toward the occupation forces with a knife, but witnesses said the young woman had her hands inside her niqab, her full veil, the entire time, and never tried to move toward any of the soldiers. Israel also released a photo of a knife with a blue and yellow handle on the ground at the scene. The two eyewitnesses interviewed by Amnesty and photographs of the incident contradict these official claims.
As for the allegation that al-Hashlamoun had a knife, Amnesty remarks:
Even if al-Hashlamoun did have a knife, Israeli soldiers, who are protected with body armour and heavily equipped with advanced weapons, could have controlled the situation and arrested her without threatening her life. Open fire regulations of the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank allow soldiers to open fire only when their lives are in imminent danger, and Amnesty International concludes that this was not the case in the shooting of al-Hashlamoun, as she was standing still and separated from the soldiers by a metal barrier. There was no attempt to arrest al-Hashlamoun, according to the eyewitnesses, or to use non-lethal alternatives.
To then shoot al-Hashlamoun again multiple times as she lay wounded on the ground indicates that her killing was an extrajudicial execution. Unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by order of government or military officials, or with their complicity or acquiescence, amount to extrajudicial executions, which are prohibited at all times and constitute crimes under international law. An extrajudicial execution would also constitute a wilful killing, which is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which applies to Israel’s long-standing military occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and a war crime.
An eyewitness who stayed in the area around al-Hashlamoun for 15-20 minutes after the shooting, before being forced to leave by Israeli soldiers, said no medical help was given to the young woman, who lay bleeding to death. Local media reported that Israeli forces prevented Palestinian medics from helping al-Hashlamoun, and did not put her into an ambulance for 30-40 minutes after they shot her.
“In order to comply with their obligations under the right to life, Israeli forces had a duty to provide al- Hashlamoun with medical assistance at the earliest possible moment, which they clearly did not meet,” Amnesty said.
Violations of international law
In Hebron, Israeli settlements are located in the center of the city. The young woman was killed near these settlements, which Amnesty makes clear “are illegal under international law.”
“Palestinian residents of Hebron have had their freedom of movement and their economic rights severely curtailed by” the closures imposed on parts of the city by Israeli occupation forces, Amnesty explains. “In addition, Palestinians are often subject to arbitrary detention and humiliating treatment by Israeli security forces stationed in the city, and are often subject to settler violence, which the Israeli authorities fail to investigate effectively.”
The Israeli military says it is investigation the killing, but Amnesty writes:
such internal investigations have consistently failed to identify those responsible for previous unlawful killings or to hold anyone accountable. International law requires states to ensure prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into suspected extrajudicial executions. Amnesty International is calling on the Israeli authorities to carry out such an investigation into the incident, promptly disclose the findings and ensure that anyone responsible for a human rights violation is brought to justice and that the victim’s family receives full reparation. Failure to effectively investigate a suspected unlawful killing in itself constitutes a violation of the right to life.
The human rights organization indicates that it has “consistently criticized the Israeli authorities for their failure to bring to justice military or police personnel, who operate with impunity.” Amnesty drew attention to its 2014 report Trigger Happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank.
Amnesty also notes that more than 25 Palestinians, including at least three children, have been killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank in 2015. In 2014, dozens more in the West Bank were killed by Israeli soldiers. “In many cases, it appears that the killings were unlawful, and some may have been either wilful killings or extrajudicial executions,” the human rights organization states.