There are serious concerns regarding the protection of children in villages located within close proximity to the Barrier. This month, Israeli forces shot and injured two children with live ammunition in the village of Qattana. Both children suffered from multiple live-bullet wounds in one or more of their limbs, as well as to their torso. These injuries form part of a larger pattern of confrontations and shootings affecting Palestinian children in this village and elsewhere in the West Bank.
Human rights organizations have also expressed concerns over the excessive use of force against demonstrators by Hamas security forces during the 15 March demonstrations in support of national unity held in Gaza, during which Gaza authorities forcibly dispersed with batons, injuring dozens of people. In addition, the Hamas authorities reportedly pursued and attacked journalists, reporters, and press photographers who were present at the scene, and confiscated a number of cameras. In the days that followed, security forces entered the offices of several media outlets, and confiscated video tapes and footage.
The protection crisis affecting the civilian population in the oPt and Israel can be alleviated if all sides to the conflict abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. All parties to the conflict must refrain from targeting civilians. Weapons used must be limited to military objectives and locating military objectives within densely populated areas must be avoided to the greatest extent possible. All parties to the conflict must also take special precautionary measures when using force in situations involving children and respect the right of people to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly. Alleged violations of these norms must investigated and those responsible be held accountable.
March 2011 witnessed some of the most intense fighting in Gaza and southern Israel since the end of the “Cast Lead” offensive in January 2009, resulting in the highest number of casualties rate among Palestinians in a single month (deaths and injuries combined) since then. Overall, a total of 15 Palestinians, including six civilians, were killed, and another 55 Palestinians, including 47 civilians, and three Israelis civilians were injured. Most of the events took place between 16 and 23 March in a cycle of attacks and retaliations, entailing extensive Israeli airstrikes and shelling of numerous targets within Gaza, as well as increased Palestinian rocket and mortar fire into southern Israel.
Human rights organizations -- Palestinian, Israeli and international – have raised concerns that attacks by both sides amounted to indiscriminate attacks, unlawful under international humanitarian law (IHL). Indiscriminate attacks are defined as those ‘which are not directed at a specific military objective’; or ‘which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective”; or ‘the effects of which cannot be limited as required by international humanitarian law.’1
One particular incident that raised concerns was on 22 March, when Israeli troops fired a number of mortar rounds that struck a densely populated residential area in the Shuja’iya neighborhood, east of Gaza City, killing four civilians, including two children, as well as injuring 11 civilians, including nine children. Three of the fatalities and seven of the injuries were from the same extended family.
According to Israeli media, an initial inquiry by the Israeli army indicated that although the mortar fire targeted a group of militants located in an adjacent agricultural area, some of the shells deviated and hit the residential area.2 Several reports have indicated that the type of mortar used in this incident is known as ‘Keshet’. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), ‘while the Keshet is considered more accurate than regular mortars… they have a blast radius of between 60 and 75 meters’. Taking into account the characteristics of the area, the above-mentioned attack ‘appeared to be indiscriminate’, HRW said..3
During the “Cast Lead” offensive between 24 and 32 Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli army when several mortars of the same type struck a densely populated area next to an UNRWA school in the Jabalya refugee camp (Al Fakhura street)..4 More recently, in January 2011, an Israeli soldier was killed, reportedly after being mistakenly hit by a Keshet mortar fired by Israeli troops. Because of these incidents, following this month’s killings, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem wrote to the IDF Military Advocate General demanding the prohibition of mortar-shell fire in populated areas..5
In the course of this month’s escalation, Palestinian armed groups fired tens of rudimentary rockets and mortar shells at various areas in southern Israel in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip, as well as a number of Grad rockets at more distant sites, such as Be’er Sheva and Ashdod cities. As a result, three Israeli civilians were injured. The fact that the majority of the rockets and mortars fell either in residential areas, or in open fields in the outskirts of such areas, indicates that these attacks were indiscriminate. The relatively low number of casualties as a result of these attacks is, to some extent, due to the fact that Israeli localities affected by firing from Gaza are equipped with alarm systems, which allow civilians to seek refuge before the landing of a rocket.
Also this month, at least six additional Palestinian civilians, including an infant girl, were injured in two separate incidents when projectiles fired by Palestinian factions fall short and struck a factory and a private home. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) called on the authorities in Gaza to investigate these cases..6 PCHR also expressed concern over the fact that armed factions continue to store weapons and explosives in or in the vicinity of residential areas.
Under international humanitarian law (IHL), ‘each party to the conflict must, to the extent possible, avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas,’ and ‘remove civilian persons and objectives under its control from the vicinity of military objectives’.7 Violation of this obligation by one party to an armed conflict does not release the other side from its obligations towards the civilian population.
On 11 March 2011, five members of an Israeli family, including two boys of eleven and three years of age, and a three-month-old infant girl, were stabbed to death while sleeping in their home in Itamar settlement in the Nablus governorate. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack, and while the Israeli authorities have arrested dozens of Palestinians, no one has so far been charged.
In the aftermath of the Itamar killings, Israeli forces deployed throughout the West Bank in an effort to contain attempts by Israeli settlers to attack Palestinians and their property. Despite this presence, numerous settler attacks, resulting in Palestinian injuries and property damage, were recorded throughout the West Bank in the days following the incident. Immediately after the killings, Israeli settlers rioted in the nearby village of ‘Awarta, setting fire to tires and assaulting an 18-year-old Palestinian. Multiple incidents of stone-throwing and vandalism towards agricultural property were reported..8 Two of the incidents of note during this period occurred on 21 March in the Hebron district: in one of them, an Israeli settler opened fire at a funeral procession in the town of Beit Ummar injuring two men; in the other incident, a 30-year-old Palestinian man was stabbed and seriously injured by Israeli settlers while in an area close to At Tuwani village.
The week prior to the Itamar killings witnessed another, albeit smaller surge in settler violence in the context of a “day of rage” declared by settler groups on 3 March to protest the demolition of a number of structures in the Havat Gilad settlement outpost by the Israeli authorities in late February. This wave entailed attacks on Palestinians and their property, along with the blocking of major roads and intersections throughout the West Bank. These attacks occurred in the context of the ‘price tag’ strategy wherein Israeli settlers attack Palestinian communities in retaliation for the Israeli authorities efforts to dismantle settlement outpost structures.
Overall, during the month, OCHA recorded a total of 79 Israeli settler attacks that resulted in either injuries (23 incidents and 32 injuries) or damage to Palestinian property (56 incidents). This is the single largest monthly total of settler-related incidents resulting in casualties or property damage recorded by OCHA since October 2010 (80), during the olive harvest, and is over three times the monthly average of this type of incident in the previous two months (25) and in 2010 (27). Forty-one (41) percent of the March total occurred in the three days following the killings in Itamar settlement.
Israeli settler violence is a key factor undermining the physical security and livelihoods of Palestinians in many areas throughout the West Bank. OCHA has identified 22 communities with a combined population of nearly 76,000 people, as being highly vulnerable to settler violence..9 An additional 61 communities (pop. 173,000) have been identified as being moderately vulnerable..10
A continuing problem vis-à-vis settler violence is the Israeli authorities’ failure to adequately enforce the rule of law. Key concerns are that Israeli forces often fail to intervene to stop attacks while they are being carried out and that follow-up to complaints filed by Palestinians is inadequate or poorly conducted. The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, which is monitoring the Israeli authorities’ enforcement of the rule of law on Israeli settlers, has found that over 90 per cent of complaints regarding settler violence filed with the Israeli police in recent years have been closed without indictment.11
Since at least the early 1980s, Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians has been identified as a problem by the Israeli authorities. In 1981, the Israeli Ministry of Justice established a commission, the Karp Commission, which investigated allegations of serious crimes committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. Among the conclusions of the Commission were that the Israeli police force and the IDF failed to act to prevent or intervene to stop attacks against Palestinians and their property and failed to thoroughly investigate complaints of such actions.12 Over 10 years later, the Shamgar Commission, established following the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers by Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, noted the failure of law enforcement agencies to reform their practices following the Karp Commission report and noted that there had been no real improvement in the situation since its findings were released.13 The absence of law enforcement against settlers was again raised in 2005 by Advocate Talia Sasson in her report, which was commissioned by the Israeli Prime Minister, on the construction of unauthorized settlement outposts.14
On 21 and 22 March 2011, Israeli forces shot and injured two children (14 and 17 years old) with live ammunition in the West Bank village of Qattana (Jerusalem governorate). Both children suffered from multiple live-bullet wounds in one or more of their limbs, as well as to their torso. Both incidents occurred in the context of stone-throwing incidents by Palestinian boys at Israeli Border Police posted at the Barrier.
These injuries form part of a larger pattern of confrontations and shootings affecting Palestinian children in this village and elsewhere in the West Bank. OCHA has recorded a total of ten children injured by live fire in Qatanna, in similar circumstances, since January 2009.15 Some of these children have been subsequently arrested by Israeli military forces and imprisoned on the charge of stone-throwing. In addition, there are indications that the number of casualties in Qatanna village has been under-reported, so the total number of children injured in this context may be higher: according to Qatanna’s village council, the use of live ammunition, as well as tear-gas and rubber-coated-metal bullets, by Israeli forces is common in the area, and that there have been at least ten Palestinians injured from live ammunition in 2011 alone.16 These shootings usually occur during the course of stone-throwing incidents by Palestinian children and youth against Israeli Border Police positioned along the Barrier. However, testimonies given to OCHA by the village council, as well as by the two children injured in March and their parents, indicate that Israeli security forces deployed in the area often taunt and goad the children into confrontations and stone-throwing (see box).
In the first three months of 2011, OCHA recorded the injury of nine children by live ammunition in the West Bank, fired by Israeli military forces or Border Police; of these, eight were in areas adjacent to the Barrier, four in Qatanna village and four in Beituniya village (Ramallah governorate). According to the Israeli Civil Administration, six Border Police officers have been injured by stones thrown by children in Qatanna and Beituniya villages.
These events give rise to serious concerns regarding the protection of children and highlight the need for investigations into the specific circumstances of the shootings. Such investigations should be prompt, independent, impartial and effective, and, should any wrongdoing on the part of the Israeli Border Police be found, those responsible should be held accountable.
Note: Mujahed was arrested two days after this interview.
Throughout the oPt, tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated on 15 March, calling for the end of the division between Hamas and Fatah. With regard to those held in Gaza City, Palestinian human rights organizations voiced concerns over the excessive use of force by the local security forces against protesters in demonstrations that took place in the Square of the Unknown Soldiers and Al Kateeba Square. According to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and Al Dameer Association for Human Rights, demonstrators were forcibly dispersed with batons, and dozens of people were injured to varying degrees. Approximately 50 protesters were detained, some of whom were later released.
Additionally, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that several journalists were physically and verbally attacked and that police pursued journalists, reporters, and press photographers, who were present at the scene, and confiscated a number of cameras. In the following days, security forces entered several press establishments and reportedly confiscated tapes and footage. Demonstrations continued to take place at various locations, including Al Azhar and Al Quds universities in Gaza City. Many of these resulted in clashes, between different groups of protestors, that were broken up by Gaza security forces. A number of protestors were detained and later released.
While demonstrations were held also across various West Bank cities, these were relatively peaceful. The main exception was in Ramallah City where five people were injured in physical confrontations between pro-Fateh protestors and other protestors, and five people were reportedly arrested.
Under international human rights law everyone has the right to liberty and security of person, to freedom of opinion and expression, and to peaceful assembly;17 While not bound by specific treaties, under customary law, an authority exercising government-like functions, such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip, has the duty to take measures to ensure respect for these rights and investigate alleged violations.
At the beginning of the month, the conveyer belt at the Karni Crossing was shut down for an indefinite period, as announced earlier this year. The Israeli authorities have justified this on security grounds, as a precautionary measure to reduce Israeli personnel exposure to the risk of Palestinian attack. Although alternative facilities have been developed at the Kerem Shalom crossing, its facilities have limited capacities, and are insufficient to meet actual needs. Kerem Shalom’s limited capacity and higher operational costs have also raised humanitarian concerns.
With regard to grains, the PA Crossing Coordination Committee estimates that 250 truckloads of wheat and animal feed are required each week to meet demand in Gaza, whereas the capacity of the new conveyer belt at Kerem Shalom is 150-200 truckloads per week. The shortfall in wheat, as well as the lower prices of flour produced elsewhere, have led agencies providing food assistance in Gaza to import part of their flour requirements instead of purchasing locally.
March recorded the lowest amount of wheat imports since the beginning of 2010. This was the result of two factors: a two-week strike by transportation companies in Gaza protesting the closure of Karni, and the subsequent allocation of a significant part of the new facility’s resources to the transfer of much needed animal feed. As a result, wheat reserves in Gaza were down to five days as of the end of the reporting period, as opposed to the usual three to four weeks – one the lowest records in wheat stocks in recent months.
Furthermore, according to WFP, because of its more distant location, the transfer of wheat through Kerem Shalom Crossing is approximately 20 percent more expensive than through Karni Crossing, due to higher transportation costs. This increase is expected to further affect the competitiveness of local mills, vis-à-vis international competitors. Additionally, while the prices of bread and wheat flour are regulated by the local authorities, the higher transportation costs may also ultimately translate into higher consumer prices. This would have a particularly negative effect on more than half of the Gaza households that are food insecure.
An additional facility at Kerem Shalom for the transfer of aggregates is expected to become operational soon. This should increase the crossing’s capacity by up to 500 truckloads of aggregates a week for projects being implemented by international organizations and approved by the Israeli authorities. While this represents an increase compared to the amounts previously transferred through Karni, it remains insufficient to meet needs. UNRWA, for example, estimates that implementation of just 35 percent of its construction programme, if approved, would require the fulltime use of this facility for over eight months.
As a temporary measure, during March, the Israeli authorities allowed the transfer of some 51,000 tonnes of aggregates for authorized projects through the Sufa Crossing, which was formally shut down in September 2008.
The large scale implementation of projects which are required to meet Gaza’s enormous housing and infrastructure needs necessitates the sustained opening of Sufa and Karni crossings.18 Implementation of these projects will also provide much needed job opportunities in the private sector. Despite some reactivation observed since the easing of the blockade in June 2010, the employment rate recorded in the fourth quarter of 2010 was 37.4 percent, less than two percentage points more than the rate in the second quarter, and one of the highest in the world.
On 7 March, East Jerusalem private and semi-public schools were notified by the Municipality of Jerusalem that, starting from the 2011-2012 school year, they would be prevented from acquiring textbooks from any source other than the Municipality itself, as is already the case with the schools fully funded by the Municipality.
All Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem use the unified curriculum developed by the Palestinian Authority since 2000. However, in municipal schools the Municipality removes content deemed problematic from the textbooks, such as topics related to Palestinian national identity and history.
Although the details of the new provision will only be provided at a later stage, representatives of the private and semi-public schools in East Jerusalem believe this municipal decision will oblige them to conform to the amended curriculum already in use in municipal schools. In addition, there is widespread concern among Palestinian educational bodies in East Jerusalem that this is the first step towards the gradual replacement of the Palestinian curriculum with the Israeli syllabus, undermining pupils’ national identity.
In addition, East Jerusalem schools are also concerned that a lack of compliance with this new decision will mean forfeiting the financial support they currently receive from the Municipality. Without such subsides, private and semi-public schools will have to raise their tuition fees, imposing a high financial burden on the pupils’ families, from whom taxes are being taken to pay for municipal schooling, and who are already paying for an education that – both according to international law and Israeli national law- should be made available without cost.19
This is one of the most significant attempts by the Israeli authorities to intervene in the curriculum taught in East Jerusalem schools since 1967, when a new syllabus was imposed on Palestinian schools. This step was strongly opposed by parents and staff and in 1974 the previously-used Jordanian curriculum was reinstated.
Every child has the right to education. Stemming from this right is the duty of states to ensure that “the form and substance of education, including curricula and teaching methods, have to be acceptable (e.g. relevant, culturally appropriate and of good quality) to students and, in appropriate cases, to parents”.20