Ramallah, July 25, 2015—Exactly one year ago, Defense for Children International-Palestine staff member Hashem Khader Abu Maria, then 45, died of a gunshot wound to the chest while peacefully participating in a march against Israel's assault on Gaza in the West Bank town of Beit Ummar. No one has been held accountable for Abu Maria's killing.
Following Friday prayers, on July 25, 2014, clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian youth erupted when the Israeli military attempted to disperse the crowd of demonstrators with lethal force. Hashem was not participating in any violence when a bullet struck him from a distance of 100 meters (328 feet), witnesses told DCIP. Two other protesters were killed in the same march, and at least 10 sustained injuries.
On August 21, 2014, five UN special rapporteurs, including Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Christof Heyns, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, submitted a communication to the Israeli authorities concerning the killing of Abu Maria.
On November 12, 2014, the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in Geneva sent a response letter on behalf of Israeli authorities to the special rapporteurs. According to the letter, "Putting aside extreme cases, only non-lethal force is authorized, and is subject to strict procedures of use. When the use of force is needed, it is carried out gradually and in a proportionate fashion while adhering with international legal standards."
A Human Rights Watch investigation, however, found that Israeli soldiers "unlawfully killed" Abu Maria. A witness, identified only as A., told Human Rights Watch "that he was watching the protests from a window on the second floor of his uncle’s home, which overlooks the main street, and saw Abu Maria, about 10 meters from where A. was, when Israeli forces shot him. A. said that Abu Maria had been standing next to the wall of a building on the main street near the entrance to the side-street."
Human Rights Watch separately interviewed a second witness, identified as M., who "said he was in the side-street behind Abu Maria, who it appeared was waiting for an opportunity to cross the main street when he was shot."
The United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict found that Abu Maria did not pose "a direct or imminent threat" to Israeli soldiers or any other persons.
DCIP and other human rights groups have consistently denounced the use of excessive force, particularly the use of live ammunition, employed by Israeli forces to disperse civilian crowds. In 2014, Israeli forces killed 11 Palestinian children with live ammunition in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli military’s own regulations dictate that live ammunition must be used “only under circumstances of real mortal danger,” but the regulations are not enforced and frequently ignored by Israeli soldiers, according to research by DCI-Palestine and a report by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.
Israeli authorities refused to disclose details of their investigation into the killing of Abu Maria to the UN special rapporteurs, citing "concerns given to the integrity of the investigation." Further, the response letter stated, "It should be stressed that in order to ensure that the highest standards are met, such complex investigations may be prolonged."
As far as DCIP is aware, the results of the investigation are still pending one year after the incident. Abu Maria's wife Samira, his son Ayham, 12, and his two daughters, Siba, 7, and Majdal, 14, meanwhile, continue to demand accountability and justice for his killing.
Abu Maria worked as the coordinator of DCI-Palestine’s community mobilization unit, promoting constructive child participation throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He organized youth groups to monitor child rights violations in and around Hebron.