Israeli settler, soldier shoot dead 17-year-old Palestinian-American boy

Jan 20, 2024
Tawfiq Hafez Tawfiq Ajaq, 17, was shot and killed on January 19 as Israeli soldiers and an Israeli settler opened fire on him. (Photo: Courtesy of the Ajaq family)

Ramallah, January 20, 2024—A 17-year-old Palestinian-American child was shot and killed in the occupied West Bank yesterday as an Israeli settler and soldiers opened fire on him.

Tawfiq Hafez Tawfiq Ajaq, 17, was shot and killed around 2:15 p.m. on January 19 in Al-Mazra’a Al-Sharqiya, east of Ramallah in the central occupied West Bank, according to documentation collected by Defense for Children International - Palestine. Tawfiq, who is a U.S. citizen,  was in his car when an Israeli settler, also in a car, arrived and began firing live ammunition from about 100 meters (328 feet) away. Tawfiq drove away while the Israeli settler followed, continuing to shoot toward Tawfiq. Then, an Israeli military vehicle appeared from the opposite direction and opened fire on Tawfiq’s car from a distance of about 50 to 70 meters (164 to 230 feet). Tawfiq’s car then veered off and overturned. Israeli forces surrounded Tawfiq’s car and prevented people from reaching him for about 15 minutes, after which an ambulance brought him to a medical center in Silwad. Tawfiq was declared dead on arrival. 

“Palestinian children live in a hyper-militarized context where Israeli civilians illegally settled in occupied territory are armed by the Israeli government as a matter of official policy,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability program director at DCIP. “Israeli soldiers, police, and private security staff not only protect Israeli settler populations, but they also aid, abet, and perpetrate unlawful killings of Palestinians, including children.”

Tawfiq sustained a gunshot wound to the head, according to documentation collected by DCIP. It remains unclear if the Israeli settler or one of the Israeli soldiers shot the fatal bullet.

Israeli forces have killed 12 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank in 2024, according to documentation collected by DCIP.

93 Palestinian children have been killed in the occupied West Bank since October 7, according to documentation collected by DCIP, when the Israeli military began a full-scale military offensive on the Gaza Strip dubbed Operation Iron Swords.

In 2023, Israeli forces and settlers killed at least 121 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, according to documentation collected by DCIP. Israeli forces and settlers shot and killed 103 Palestinian children with live ammunition, 13 Palestinian children were killed in drone strikes, four Palestinian children were killed by missiles fired from a U.S.-sourced Apache attack helicopter, and one child was killed in an Israeli warplane airstrike.

Under international law, intentional lethal force is only justified in circumstances where a direct threat to life or of serious injury is present. However, investigations and evidence collected by DCIP regularly suggest that Israeli forces use lethal force against Palestinian children in circumstances that may amount to extrajudicial or wilful killings.

Israel has an obligation as the “Occupying Power” under international humanitarian law to protect the Palestinian population living under Israeli military occupation. However, DCIP documentation shows that Israeli forces frequently fail to intervene to stop or prevent Israeli settler attacks. 

Settler attacks usually entail groups of Israeli men throwing stones at Palestinians, often including children, or vandalizing property, such as homes, cars, churches, mosques and schools. Beatings and shootings, resulting in injuries and occasionally fatalities, are also regular occurrences, according to documentation collected by DCIP.

While they are civilians, Israeli settlers are issued firearms by the Israeli government and many subscribe to ultra-nationalistic beliefs that manifest in extreme violence towards Palestinians, including children. Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians are motivated by the drive to dispossess Palestinians of their land, according to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din.

Impunity is rampant for Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians. According to Yesh Din, 91 percent of investigations into ideological crimes against Palestinians are closed with no indictments filed.

Israel’s Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank amount to a war crime as transferring civilians into the Occupied Palestinian Territory violates international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. 

Despite living in the same territory, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to Israeli military law, while Israeli settlers living illegally in permanent, Jewish-only communities built on Palestinian land are subject to the Israeli civilian legal system.

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