Israel is being charged with war crimes for killing a boy in the West Bank

AP Photos

,- A group of Palestinian boys meandered through a street in the West Bank on the evening of November 29 of the previous year, where they frequently engaged in games together.

A few minutes later, two of them—Adam, eight, and Basil, fifteen—were found motionless on the ground, having been shot by Israeli soldiers.

A comprehensive analysis of various sources—including mobile phone and CCTV footage, witness statements, information on Israeli military operations, and in-depth site investigations—led to the discovery of evidence that implicated grave human rights violations.

The evidence we discovered led the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Saul, to conclude that Adam's demise seems to have been committed as a "war crime."

Dr. Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne and other legal scholars have characterised the use of lethal force as an act of "blindness."

As stated by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), the homicide is "under review." Nevertheless, it emphasised that "direct fire is only used to quickly repel threats or for arrest purposes, following arrest protocols when no other option is available."

Since Hamas' attack on Israel from Gaza on October 7, violence in the West Bank has escalated in recent months. The BBC has uncovered evidence of graffiti vandalism on Palestinian homes, threats of weaponry against Palestinian civilians and directives to evacuate to neighbouring Jordan, and potential mutilation of an armed Palestinian man's body.

Basil is seen in the video footage from November 29 standing next to a hardware store. The storefront window appears to be securely shut.

Stores promptly ceased operations in Jenin, a municipality situated in the West Bank, which differs from Gaza in that it is not under the jurisdiction of Hamas.

According to eyewitness accounts, Israeli military operations in the Jenin refugee camp produced gunfire.

Adam, an enormous Lionel Messi and football aficionado, was seated alongside his 14-year-old sibling, Baha.

There were approximately nine guys in total on the street. Everything that followed was captured on CCTV surveillance, which offered an almost 360-degree vantage point.

A convoy of at least six Israeli military armoured vehicles rounded a corner and approached the children, who were visibly uneasy, from within a few hundred metres of their location.

A few lads began to disperse.

During that precise instant, mobile phone video captured the entrance of the armoured vehicle through its front entryway.

Soldiers fixed their attention on the youngsters. Basil dashed into the centre of the road, whereas Adam ascended an additional 12 metres away from the soldiers.

At least eleven firearms were then detected.

As we investigated the location, we discovered projectiles striking a large area.

Four bullets struck metal poles, two bullets penetrated the shutters of hardware stores, one bullet punctured a parked car's bumper, and another bullet pierced a handrail.

According to medical reports acquired by the BBC, Basil's chest was struck by two bullets.

As Adam fled, another bullet struck the back of his cranium. Baha, his elder brother, frantically attempted to pull him to safety while he wailed for an ambulance, leaving a trail of blood in the process.

Nonetheless, it was sadly too late. Adam and his companion Basil, according to Baha, perished before him.

"I was so stunned that I failed to even consider my own reaction. I attempted to communicate with him. I began to exclaim, "Adam, Adam!" "However, he did not reply," Baha sobbed to the BBC.

Prior to his execution, Basil was observed to be holding an object in his hand. It remains unknown what it was. Subsequently, the IDF released photographs captured at the location, claiming they beheld an explosive device.

In addition to UN members and other neutral organisations, evidence from our investigation into the incident was disseminated to a number of independent experts, including human rights attorneys, war crimes investigators, and counter-terrorism specialists. Certain individuals offered their evaluations in an anonymous fashion.

Certain experts went so far as to assert that the incident appeared to involve violations of international law, while the majority agreed that an investigation should be conducted.

Ben Saul, the special rapporteur of the United Nations for human rights and counter-terrorism, stated that legality may be called into question regarding the use of lethal force against Basil, given that he was in possession of an explosive device.

"For Adam, this appears to be a violation of the International Humanitarian Law prohibition on the deliberate, indiscriminate or disproportionate targeting of civilians, war crimes, and the human right to life," according to Saul.

One of the administrators of the International Law Centre at the University of Bristol, Dr. Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne, stated, "The soldiers were mounted in armoured vehicles. Despite the potential danger, they ought to have devised an arrest strategy prior to carrying out seemingly pointless and lethal actions—a breach of international law."

The IDF asserted that the suspects were on the verge of hurling explosives at their troops, thereby endangering them.

The Israeli military stated, "The soldiers responded with gunfire, and the attack was successfully identified."

In contrast, Adam appeared to be fleeing when he was shot in the back of the head, according to the video evidence and witness statements that we reviewed.

The IDF says the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Basil and Adam are "under review," as is customary for any minor fatality caused by IDF activities in the West Bank.

Nevertheless, several former Israeli soldiers who examined the BBC's evidence expressed concern that Israel's legal system might shield soldiers who employed lethal force, irrespective of its justification.

According to a former sergeant who served in the West Bank between 2018 and 2020, the act of a Palestinian being killed at point-blank range by an Israeli soldier does not qualify as homicide in Israel, and the likelihood of criminal proceedings being initiated against a soldier in a situation similar to Adam's is virtually non-existent.

According to data provided by the Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din, prosecutions occur in less than one percent of all complaints lodged against Israeli personnel.

The international community has been preoccupied with the conflict and humanitarian emergency in Gaza, which, according to the health ministry operated by Hamas, has claimed the lives of over 34,000 individuals.

Concurrently, there has been an escalation in Israeli military activities within the occupied West Bank, which resulted in the deadliest year for minors in that region since 2007.

According to Unicef, 124 children were murdered in 2023, with 85 of those deaths occurring after October 7.

36 Palestinian minors have been killed by Israeli settlers or the military in the region so far in 2024.

By virtue of the West Bank not being designated as a war zone, international law imposes greater limitations on the use of force.

Former and current Israeli soldiers informed us that the use of lethal force is reserved for dire situations involving a genuine threat to life, notwithstanding the IDF's denial of its precise rules of engagement. A methodical approach is required.

It has been reported that this course of action commences with verbal admonitions in Hebrew and Arabic, progresses to the application of non-lethal weapons like tear gas, then targets the thighs, and concludes with lethal fire.

While assessing the effects of military operations in the West Bank over the course of five weeks, we discovered evidence of a number of incidents that prompted grave concerns regarding the conduct of the soldiers.

In January 2024, for a period of forty-five hours, documented Israeli military operations in the Tulkarem refugee camp that targeted an armed group referred to locally as the Resistance, or Al-Muqawama.

Some Palestinians subsequently reported being intimidated with firearms by soldiers and being ordered to relocate to neighbouring Jordan.

Following gunfire during the same IDF operation, soldiers killed a Palestinian fighter suspected of transporting explosives.

According to eyewitness accounts, his remains were urinated on, assaulted, bound, and subsequently dragged into the street.

Once more, independent experts were presented with our evidence, which included Prof. Marco Sassoli, an authority on international law from the University of Geneva. He emphasised that "The bodies of the dead, even if they were lawfully killed, must be respected."

"What you're reporting violates international humanitarian law and may even be a war crime."

Explosives were discovered upon examination of the deceased combatant, according to the IDF. Staff members of the Red Cross allegedly declined to handle the body.

"For this reason, IDF forces had to restrain the hands and feet to ensure their safety and to check if there were weapons under the body."

"Assuming that people can interact with soldiers as Palestinians do every day and continue to live their lives as if nothing happened – that people living in this reality would not pick up weapons – is naive and inhumane," according to one of them.

(Newsline Paper Teams)
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