Israeli soldiers killed Mahmoud Mohammad Shaalan, a 16-year-old who held U.S. citizenship, as he allegedly attempted to stab them at a military checkpoint near Beit El settlement on February 26. (Photo: AFP / Abbas Momani)
Ramallah, March 3, 2016—Three Palestinian cousins, all teenagers, from the West Bank village of Halhul, near Hebron, set out on February 5 to throw stones at vehicles on a nearby main road used by Jewish settlers. Israeli troops patrolling the area spotted them. One cousin escaped, another was caught, and the third died of multiple gunshot wounds to the upper body.
“My cousins and I did not throw any stones and did not make any move that showed we were about to do so,” Wajdi Yousef Mohammad Saada, 16, told Defense for Children International – Palestine.
Wajdi heard two gunshots and saw his cousin, Haitham, 14, fall to the ground. “A soldier then jumped on me, punched me hard on my face, knocked me down to the ground, and ordered me to take off my shirt,” Wajdi said. “I did so while I was looking at Haitham.”
Palestinian doctors, who examined Haitham’s body later that day, told DCIP that one of the bullets struck his back, pierced through his lungs and chest, and exited from his mouth, killing him instantly.
Wajdi, on the other hand, was blindfolded and his hands were tied tightly behind his back with a single plastic cord. The soldiers transferred him first to a military base near the Jewish-only Karmei Tzur settlement, where he stayed for several hours, then to a police station for interrogation.
“They pulled me out and sat me down in a yard for about one and a half hours,” Wajdi said. “They never spoke with me, but they kept me out there in the cold weather, tied and blindfolded.”
At half past midnight, the soldiers brought Wajdi in for interrogation. “The interrogator asked me through an interpreter what I was doing there in that area and I told him, ‘Nothing,’” Wajdi told DCIP. “So, he got up, grabbed my head, banged it against the wall, slapped me hard on my face, and pushed me out of the room.”
An hour later, the interrogator brought Wajdi back into the room. He showed Wajdi a video of him and his cousins near the main road. Wajdi told DCIP it did not show them throwing stones.
The interrogator wanted Wajdi to confess that Haitham, his cousin, was carrying a firebomb when he was shot dead. “I told him that was not true,” Wajdi said. “He shouted at me, pounded the table, and told me to say we were carrying Molotov cocktails.” The interrogator typed up Wajdi’s statement in Hebrew, refused to translate it for him, and forced him to sign it.
A policeman escorted Wajdi out of the room and untied his hands for first time in nearly 11 hours. Soldiers transferred him to Etzion detention center, where he spent the night, and the next day took him to Ofer prison.
Both Haitham and Wajdi are casualties of a period of heightened tensions that has entered its sixth month.
Forty-one Palestinian children from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip have been killed since October as a direct result of intensified violence, all except two at the hands of Israeli forces. Of this number, 31 allegedly carried out knife or gun attacks. A further 130 Palestinian adults were shot dead, according to media reports. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported more than 2,177 Palestinian children from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, sustained injuries.
Palestinian attackers have killed at least 28 Israelis during the same period.
In response to escalating violence, Israeli forces appear to be implementing a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, which in some incidents may amount to extrajudicial killings.
One such incident took place on February 26, when Israeli soldiers shot dead Mahmoud Mohammad Shaalan, a 16-year-old who held U.S. citizenship, as he allegedly attempted to stab them at a military checkpoint near Beit El settlement, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah.
A witness waiting to cross the checkpoint in his car told DCIP that he saw the teenager approach the soldiers and he did not appear to be carrying a weapon in his hands. He then heard three gunshots and decided to turn his car around, at which point he saw a soldier fire two shots at Mahmoud while he was already on the ground. A doctor at the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah confirmed that Mahmoud sustained three gunshot wounds to the chest and two to the hand.
In a press briefing on Monday, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said, “we’ve asked the Israelis for more information, and it’s our expectation that we’ll get that,” adding, “we certainly are tracking this and watching it closely.”
Accountability for shootings by Israeli forces is extremely rare. Israeli authorities have rejected opening full and transparent investigations into the recent incidents.
International law requires that intentional lethal force be used only when absolutely unavoidable. Where individuals allegedly carry out a criminal act, they should be apprehended in accordance with international law and afforded due process of law.
Most children arrested, however, are denied their basic rights from that moment through sentencing.
Despite the physical abuse that Wajdi endured, his coercive interrogation, his lack of access to counsel, and the fact he was forced to sign a statement he did not understand, Israeli military prosecutors still filed charges against him on February 14.
Wajdi remains incarcerated at Ofer prison awaiting the conclusion of his military trial.
Since November, the number of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons has skyrocketed to the highest it has been in seven years. The Israel Prison Service’s latest data shows that it has custody over 406 Palestinian children.
CORRECTION: The article was amended to reflect that one of the 41 Palestinian children killed since October as a direct result of intensified violence was from the Gaza Strip. Marwan Hashem Barbakh, 10, died of a single gunshot wound to the chest on October 10, when Israeli soldiers used lethal force to quash a protest near Gaza’s border with Israel, sparked by tensions over Palestinian access to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City.