Israeli troops who shot dead a Palestinian teenager in the West Bank last week used live fire, without warning, against innocent youngsters out foraging for roots, an Israeli rights group said Wednesday.
After investigating the March 19 death of 15-year-old Yussef Sami Shawamreh, B’Tselem said it had found no evidence to support the army’s version of events that troops had opened fire at youths who had “sabotaged” the West Bank security barrier.
But an army spokesman insisted troops had fired warning shots, adding that recent violence along the border with the Gaza Strip and on the Syrian frontier meant that anyone approaching the barrier was a cause for concern.
B’Tselem said the primary responsibility for the boy’s death rested with the commanders who approved the use of live fire at a site where villagers from Deir al-Asal al-Tahta are known to go out and pick wild plants on their own land.
The army told AFP after the incident that soldiers had spotted three Palestinians vandalising the barrier, saying they had verbally warned them and then fired warning shots in the air before finally shooting at their lower extremities.
On Wednesday, army spokesman Arye Shalicar said that, “over the past two weeks there have been numerous incidents involving explosive charges being placed along the border with Gaza and on the Syrian frontier,” with four Israeli soldiers wounded there last week.
– ‘Potential danger’ at barrier –
“In these circumstances, we consider anyone approaching the West Bank security barrier to be a potential danger,” he said, adding that military police had opened in inquest into the boy’s death.
Shawamreh’s family and witnesses insisted he had been looking for gundelia, a thistle-like plant used in cooking.
B’Tselem said the shooting occurred in an area where there is a wide breach in the barrier and where families regularly go out to forage on their own land.
“The two surviving youths… heard three or four shots as they got off the road, fired with no advance warning,” the report said.
The NGO said its findings were “markedly different” from the army’s version of events.
“The youths made no attempt at vandalism; they were crossing through a long-existing breach, and the soldiers did not carry out suspect arrest procedure, shooing at Shawamreh with no advance warning,” it said.
Troops in the area were “well aware” that over the past two years, Palestinians have been crossing the barrier at the breach “to pick gundelia on their own farmland,” B’Tselem said.
It added that the use of live fire showed a “cynical lack of concern for the life of a Palestinian teenager.”
Two days earlier, soldiers had detained four teenagers in the same spot, beating them and confiscating the plants they had picked.
“The decision to mount an armed ambush at a point in the barrier known to be crossed by youths, who pose no danger whatsoever to anyone, for the purpose of harvesting plants is highly questionable,” the report said, noting it showed “extremely faulty discretion” on the part of the commanders.
Military regulations prohibit the use of live fire at Palestinians crossing the barrier, if they pose no risk to security forces.
“The primary responsibility for the killing lies with the commanders who sent the soldiers out on armed ambush,” B’Tselem director Jessica Montell said in a statement that urged the military police to consider whether the commanders should “bear personal criminal responsibility” for Shawamreh’s death.