Barrier
Palestinian youth crossing the separation fence between west bank city Qalqilya and Israel in 2003. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Last week, 14-year-old Yusef a-Shawamreh and two of his friends left their village of Deir al-Asal al-Fauqa in the southern West Bank to pick plants on his family’s field, west of the separation fence.

The three youths passed through a wide gap in the fence, which had existed for at least two years and which the Israel Defense Forces hadn’t bothered to fix.

After crossing the fence, the boys heard three or four gunshots. The firing came from an IDF ambush, a few dozen meters away. According to an investigation by B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, released on Wednesday, the shots had been fired with no warning.

A-Shawamreh was wounded in the hip and fell to the ground bleeding. He managed to crawl to the road, but then the soldiers emerged from their hiding place.

The soldiers arrested the other two boys and a-Shawamreh received preliminary medical treatment. A military ambulance arrived only half an hour later, although an IDF camp is located a mere two kilometers away. Meanwhile, the boy bled to death.

A-Shawamreh was declared dead at Soroka Medical Center, Be’er Sheva, where he was eventually taken.

The IDF spokesman’s statement said the soldiers taking part in the ambush noticed “three suspicious Palestinians who were vandalizing the separation fence, and opened fire at them according to the procedure for arresting a suspect. When the Palestinians refused to respond to the soldiers’ calls, the force opened fire, wounding one of the Palestinians.”

The details in B’Tselem’s investigation and Amira Hass’ report (Haaretz, March 24) paint a completely different picture. The boys did not vandalize the fence, and the soldiers fired at them without warning.

This chain of events is extremely grave. Opening fire automatically on people who pass through a gap in the fence is abhorrent and despicable. A-Shawamreh is the victim of a war crime.

There is no other way to describe the circumstances of his death.

The IDF cannot make do with its spokesman’s attempt to whitewash the incident. It must hold a vigorous investigation and then put on trial the soldiers responsible and the commanders who sent them on the mission.