Palestinian girl's death warrants impartial investigation

Ramallah, May 15, 2017 - Israeli border police shot dead a 16-year-old Palestinian girl on May 7, after the girl allegedly brandished a knife near forces stationed outside of the Old City of Jerusalem in circumstances warranting an impartial investigation.

Fatima Houjayji, from the West Bank town of Qarawat Bani Zeid near Ramallah, was fatally shot around 6:30 p.m. near the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City amidst unclear circumstances. Israeli police claimed that Fatima was in the process of committing an attack when border police responded. However, a Defense for Children International - Palestine source said the girl did not appear to present a direct threat at the moment she was shot.

"Israeli forces routinely use intentional lethal force against Palestinian youth,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “Instances of excessive force that result in a child’s death, without a full, transparent investigation, signal tacit approval for the killing of Palestinian children with impunity.”

An eyewitness, who spoke to DCIP on the condition of anonymity, said Fatima stood approximately two meters from a group of Israeli border police moments before the shooting. The witness heard border police call out in Hebrew twice, “Drop the knife!” The witness reported that the teenage girl then lifted the knife in the air and froze. Seconds later, she was gunned down, according to DCIP’s source.

An Israeli police spokesperson confirmed the shooting, but incorrectly identified Fatima as an adult, and tweeted a photo of the knife she allegedly held at the time she was shot dead.

Fatima’s father told DCIP that Israeli authorities are withholding her body. He said that his daughter had been previously detained for 15 days by Israeli forces in May 2016, then released.

During the aftermath of the shooting, an eight-year-old Palestinian boy, Mahmoud Abu Sabeeh, was injured as Israeli forces on horseback rode into the crowds. Mahmoud told DCIP he fell three meters over a ledge after a horse kicked his arm, leaving him with a broken left arm, and a large gash on his chin that required seven stitches.

Mahmoud described DCIP the experience as “terrifying,” adding that he was unable to attend school as he is left-handed.

Fatima is the seventh Palestinian child killed by Israeli forces since the start of 2017, according to DCIP documentation. In several instances, DCIP research found that circumstances surrounding a child’s death warranted an impartial, independent investigation to determine whether the killing was lawful.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated last year that Israel’s responses to attacks by Palestinians against Israelis “strongly suggest unlawful killings, including possible extrajudicial executions.”

International law prohibits the use of direct, intentional lethal force unless absolutely unavoidable. Despite this, amidst growing unrest in 2015, Israeli authorities relaxed open-fire rules, allowing Israeli forces to use live ammunition during protests in Jerusalem when there is a “threat to life.” Previously, live ammunition was permitted only when there is a direct, mortal threat to the life of a police officer or soldier.

Last year was the deadliest in a decade for Palestinian children in the West Bank, with Israeli forces and guards killing 32 children. While 24 of those killed were accused of committing an attack, DCIP evidence and Israeli internal investigations in several cases determined the child did not pose a direct mortal threat at the time they were killed.

Accountability is extremely rare in cases where Israeli forces are accused of committing crimes against Palestinians. Nadeem Nawara, who was killed by an Israeli border policeman on May 15, 2014, marks the single instance where a member of the Israeli forces was indicted for the death of a Palestinian child since 2014.