About 20 Palestinians have been shot by Israeli security forces in the last two months as they tried to illegally cross the separation barrier into Israel from the West Bank, according to figures obtained by Haaretz.
All are construction workers living in the northern West Bank, and seem to have been shot with Ruger precision rifles. Four of them told Haaretz that they were shot in the legs without prior warning.
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The army spokesman said the soldiers were in compliance with the rules of engagement. According to a defense source, the instructions for the area require soldiers to first declare their intention and fire a shot into the air before aiming live fire at the legs.
An estimated 30,000 Palestinians enter Israel illegally – without work permits – every day to work, a fact known to the Israeli defense establishment. Another 80,000 work in Israel legally, mostly in low-skilled jobs. The pay is meager by Israeli standards, but for Palestinians, it's about twice of the average West Bank salary, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
In September, rumor spread among Palestinians that Israel was opening a crossing point along the fence through which they could pass without permits. A video clip showing people crossing freely by the Palestinian village of Qaffin went viral, along with a message that “In the northern West Bank, Israel opened the gates and removed the army, and people are entering with their cars.”
Sources claimed the Israeli army wanted to debunk the rumor, and since then, the number of Palestinians shot while trying to cross illegally has risen.
Shadi, 30, was shot in the knee two weeks ago and hasn’t been able to walk since. He has worked in construction in Israel for 13 years, starting when he was 17, and lives in Arraba with his wife and children. For years he had payed 2,600 shekels ($750) a month to obtain a work permit through a broker. Sick of paying such a high a portion of his salary and having heard that soldiers in the area were ignoring illegal crossings, he began slipping through the fence. He was shot on his third attempt.
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“I never saw the soldier who shot me,” Shadi said. “I was there with a group of 13 workers. Before we reached the opening, we stopped and looked to see if anybody was there. We didn’t see anybody.”
He said he was shot as he began to cross and that there had been no warning shot or calls. “I wish somebody had called us to stop or stay away,” he said. “They could have told us to back off and we would have. They definitely saw us in advance. We waited by the fence for about 10 minutes before we decided to cross.”
He received first aid from soldiers in an ambulance and was taken back to the West Bank, winding up in hospital in Jenin. “They told me that four others had been injured that day,” Shadi said. He hasn’t worked since.
Since the soldiers know about the breaches in the fence and that workers slip through, Shadi wonders why they haven’t simply been fixed. “If you don’t want anybody to cross, close it. But you leave it open and place a soldier there to fire at us? That doesn’t make any sense.”
In another case, Abdullah from Tul Karm refugee camp took three bullets in the thigh and calf when approaching the fence by the village of Zita. “We were going through the opening one by one. I was in the first line by the fence. I was shot while approaching the fence but still in West Bank territory,” he related.
Abdullah said he didn’t hear or see the soldiers before being shot. The impact knocked him into the wadi. The soldiers took him to the Israeli side, gave him first aid and then dropped him off on the Palestinian side. He spent four days in a Jenin hospital and has eight fractures in his legs. “If they had just told me to go backwards, I would have. My intention was to go to work, not get shot.”
Fadi, also from Tul Karm, was shot in the foot when trying to cross. “I want Israelis to know that I cross the fence to make a living. Now I’m at home, vomiting with pain and struggling financially,” he said.
Seif of Arraba was shot in the calf while crossing to work in Bartaa two weeks ago. He had worked in Israel for four years, mostly with permits, but started crossing through breaches in the fence when Israel began denying his work permit.
“Yet again, the army is firing at people who aren’t endangering anybody, this time in premeditated ambushes,” commented the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem.
Referring to the announcement by International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor at the Hague that there is basis to investigate Israel for its war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza, B’tselem stated, “We remind the senior officers and military prosecutors that live fire at people who are not endangering anybody is illegal and immoral … as a last resort and certainly as a default.”
The army spokesman stated that it views any damage to the fence and attempts to illegally infiltrate into Israel as a grave matter. Every day, the army employs various means to contend and foil these attempts in keeping with the rules of engagement applicable in the West Bank, the spokesman stated.
“As for the cases in question, the infiltrators tried to enter Israeli territory while damaging the fence. Army forces reacted in keeping with protocol in order to prevent damage to the fence and infiltration to Israel,” said the statement, adding that the army investigates each and every case individually in order to preserve security and reduce harm to civilians.