Assassinations and gunfire into mobs take rising Arab toll
Suzanne Goldenberg in Jerusalem
Guardian Unlimited (UK), Tuesday November 28, 2000
Israeli troops are making increasing use of
against Palestinian protesters, according to an internal United
Nations report obtained by the Guardian.
Live fire now exceeds rubber-coated steel bullets, it says,
this has driven up casualties during the past two months of
communal conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The finding has emerged from a study of Palestinian deaths
injuries by the policy unit of the UN Relief and Works Agency for
Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). It has charted a steady rise in
injuries from live fire since October 1, three days after the
start of the Palestinian uprising, and a parallel decline in the
use of rubber-coated bullets.
Since November 15 - the anniversary of a symbolic declaration
Palestinian independence which saw 10 Arabs shot dead by Israeli
forces in the West Bank and Gaza - the use of live fire has
exceeded rubber bullets. Last week, 70%-80% of all Palestinian
injuries were caused by live bullets, the report says.
The study's other findings are in
line with reports from
international human rights organisations which document Israeli
troops targetting the head and upper body, a policy blamed for
the casualty figures: more than 280 dead in two months, and
nearly 9,000 injured, almost all Palestinian.
The UNRWA report, which is based on statistics provided
Palestinian Red Crescent Society, also notes the many children
among the dead - 28% aged below 16.
The graph also indicates that on several days there was no use of
rubber bullets before a resort to live ammunition.
Last week, the journalist Amira Hass published a chilling account
of a day in the life of an Israeli sharpshooter in the Ha'aretz
newspaper. The high velocity bullets used by the Israeli snipers
break up inside the body.
"Every day before we go out they define
the principles for
opening fire," the sniper told Ha'aretz. "This also changes from
place to place." Commanders loosened restrictions after a
Palestinian mob hacked and burned two Israeli reservists to death
in Ramallah on October 12, the man said.
"After the lynch, for example, the orders for opening fire
far more lenient than they had been the day before."
The unnamed sniper added: "Every time, after there is a
incident, it's political, you can feel it."
But he also said that commanders often held back trigger-happy
conscripts, and were terrified of shooting children after the
outpouring of condemnation of the killing of Mohammed al-Durreh,
a Gaza boy shot dead in his father's arms in front of TV cameras.
"You don't shoot at a child who is 12 or younger," he told
Ha'aretz. "Twelve and up is allowed. He is not a child any more,
he is already after his bar mitzvah."
The UN made its findings available on
the day when George
Mitchell, a former US senator who was a key mediator in the
Northern Ireland accord, formally started work on a fact-finding
commission looking into the violence. He is to submit his report
The UN human rights chief, Mary Robinson, yesterday spoke out
favour of an international monitoring body for the region - a
demand Israel categorically rejects.
"The thrust of the [UNRWA] report
is urgently calling
international attention to the bleak human rights situation in
occupied territories," Ms Robinson said in Geneva yesterday. She
called for "measures to be taken to reduce the terrible
Israeli army officials argue that soldiers have been forced
use live fire by Arab gunmen who hide among crowds of civilians
Earlier this month, an army legal expert, Colonel Daniel Reisner,
said: "The current situation has more of a semblance of war than
of peace," and "as a result, we are also applying the principles
applicable to warfare."
According to him, the main change of strategy has been to target
and assassinate men Israel accuses of leading militias that have
attacked its soldiers and settlers.
Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000