The removal of perceived leaders and activists from the Palestinian community through a variety of means has been a regular practice on the part of the Israeli occupation since well before the recent Palestinian uprising. At the same time, the targeting of selected individuals appears to have been expanded during the past few months to include outright killing of such persons.
Israeli forces have assassinated about twenty Palestinian activists since Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza began their uprising nearly five months ago. Last week Massoud Ayyad, an officer in the Palestinian security forces, was killed in a missile attack by Israeli helicopter gunships. Three days ago, Mahmud Madani has died of his wounds after being fired at from an Israeli army post near the Balata refugee camp. Madani was gunned down as he walked from a mosque in the camp to his nearest grocery shop.
On 22 November 2000, four Palestinian civilians were killed in cold blood and one was injured when Israeli tanks opened fire on two Palestinian civilian cars near the Israeli military checkpoint by Moraj settlement west of Rafah. The two cars were traveling along the road near the Moraj Settlement when a tank located approximately 50 meters in front of them at the Moraj junction opened fire. The front car was hit and both occupants, ‘Awni Isma’el Dhier (37) and Jamal Abdil Raziq (29), were injured. Several Israeli military jeeps quickly surrounded the car. Israeli soldiers exited from the jeeps, approached ‘Awni and Jamal’s car, and shot both men repeatedly from a distance of no more than one meter.
In the same incident, another Palestinian civilian car driving behind ‘Awani and Jamal’s car was hit by direct fire from the tank. Sami Nasir Abu Laban (30) and Na’el Salim al-Liddawi (29) were killed and Nahid Fojo, the driver, was injured. Nahid tried to escape from his car and was arrested by the Israeli soldiers. Fojo has been detained by the Israeli occupation since then.
The Israeli occupation authorities later confirmed that this was a pre-planned operation intended to assassinate Jamal Abdil Raziq. In a previous incident on November 9, 2000, Hussein Bayyat was assassinated after an Israeli Helicopter gunship launched a missile at his car in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour killing him instantly.
Earlier, Human Rights Watch urged Prime Minister Ehud Barak to halt Israel’s policy of liquidation. Israeli officials have argued that the individuals designated for “liquidation” are legitimate military targets, but have not made public any evidence to substantiate this claim. Decisions to kill particular individuals have not been subject to any transparent civilian or military review, raising concerns that civilians may be among those being targeted for death.
Although there have been killings since the beginning of the occupation, there was a particular rise in killings when the previous intifada started in December 1987. Since then, approximately 1,450 killings by various organs of the Israeli occupation forces have been recorded. These figures include a toll of 153 killings by Israel’s death squads. Killings by Israeli undercover units which act as death squads are not however the only method of summary or extra-judicial executions of Palestinians. Many of the killings by other organs of the Israeli occupation also how features of summary executions.
Israel’s failure to make public detailed information on its policy of liquidation of specific individuals is particularly troubling given that at least one of the persons Israel acknowledges killing under the policy, Thabit Ahmad Thabit, was a senior official in the Palestinian Ministry of Health, clearly a civilian post. Israeli snipers killed Thabit while he was leaving his house in Tulkarem on December 31, 2000. According to the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, a Palestinian eyewitness described two to three minutes of continuous shooting at Thabit’s car as he backed out of his driveway. Thabit had worked closely with Israeli peace activists for more than a decade, and had been credited with arranging the safe return of some twenty Israeli soldiers who apparently blundered into Palestinian-controlled Tulkarem on October 20, 2000.
The right to life and the right to security of the person are the most fundamental and precious human rights. Their protection is required, under international law, in times of war as well as peace. All basic human rights and humanitarian treaties preserve this right. Willful killing constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention as defined in Article 147. Article 146 imposes an obligation on the States Parties to the Convention, especially those who have incorporated it into their domestic legislation, to investigate and prosecute in their domestic courts those who order or commit grave breaches of the convention.
The use of death squads is the logical extension of a policy of targetting individuals perceived to play a leading role in organising demonstrations or any other form of protest. The existence of such units to carry out a more general type of arbitrary violence also fits a consistent pattern of Israeli army behaviour. If indeed the killing of Palestinians perceived as being leaders and activists in their communities has become an official, albeit concealed practice, it represents the most serious violation of human rights approved as a matter of policy at the highest levels of the Israeli government that is now exposed.