On the afternoon of Friday, June 28, 2016, an Israeli soldier shot and killed Iyad Zakaria Muhammad Hamed, 36, from Silwad near the military post located by Highway 60. According to acquaintances, Hamed was a low-functioning individual; he was the father of two young children and worked in construction. According to B’Tselem’s investigation, on the day of the incident Hamed was on his way to the mosque in the neighboring village Yabrud (located on the other side of Highway 60). A bystander saw Hamed approach the post, walk around it in some confusion and apparently try to cross the barbed wire fence by the post, which blocks the path to Yabrud.
The MPCID immediately opened an investigation following the incident (for more about the military investigation policy regarding killings see Data Sheet November 2019, Chapter D). The investigation was concluded after three months yet further steps were delayed for over a year. On February 20, 2018 the Military Attorney General’s office decided to close the investigation file without prosecuting the soldier who shot Hamed. It was only eight months later that the military responded to Yesh Din’s request, on behalf of Hamed’s family, to receive a copy of the investigation material. On March 24, 2019, Yesh Din appealed to the Military Prosecutor against the decision to close the investigation, demanding the soldier who shot Hamed be prosecuted for negligent homicide.
According to the investigation file, the commander of the guard post, Staff Sargeant M, and another soldier were returning to the post after patrolling the area when they noticed a man running towards the post, where a third soldier was located. They called to him in Arabic and in Hebrew to stop and when he did not, Staff Sergeant M fired five shots in the air. After the shots were fired, Hamed turned and ran towards Silwad; Staff Sergeant M fired a shot at his legs while Hamed was attempting to flee – away from the soldiers and the post. At this point, Staff Sergeant M fired yet another shot at Hamed from approximately 25 meters; the bullet hit Hamed in the back and killed him. Staff Sergeant M claimed that he shot at Hamed’s legs, but since Hamed was running uphill, “accuracy ability declines” (excerpts from the testimonies are taken from Yesh Din’s appeal against the closure of the investigation file).
Hamed was shot in the back. While he failed to respond to the soldiers’ calls to stop, he did not pose any danger while he ran away from them. Therefore, shooting Hamed violated the army’s open-fire regulations, which state that “it is prohibited to open fire at a person who refuses an order to stop and runs away unless he is suspected of a dangerous offence”. These regulations also state that shooting at the legs is prohibited if it cannot be performed accurately (as in this case). In addition, at the time of the incident an order was in force whereby the procedure for arresting a suspect was to be concluded by shooting in the air without shooting at the legs, except in cases where soldiers were subject to clear and present danger, or when civilians who might be hurt are present.
Staff Sergeant M claimed in his testimony that he suspected Hamed when he shot him, “I was certain […] that he already hurt [the soldier inside the post] or was attempting to because he was running towards the post, because I performed a lengthy procedure for arresting a suspect and he didn’t stop.” Meaning, Staff Sergeant M shot a man based on assumptions concerning that person’s running and lack of compliance, not suspicions based on facts. Hamed did not bear any type of weapons, and Staff Sergeant M did not hear calls for help from the post.
The soldier’s superiors admitted that the shooting was wrong, and some officers clearly stated that Staff Sergeant M acted in violation of the open-fire regulations that were in force at the time. And yet, they chose to support his actions, demonstrating a profound disrespect for human life.
The brigade commander, Brigadier General Y admitted that firing the shots “exceeded” the open-fire regulations and that it was possible to operate differently. And yet, he also said that Staff Sergeant M was “within reason, in my opinion as the commander” and concluded that “despite the problems and errors I mentioned, as a commander, I support him.” Second Lieutenant S admitted that according to the open-fire regulations, “in principle, Staff Sergeant M wasn’t supposed to open fire”, but added that “given the complexity of the situation […] I can certainly understand the way he chose to act”.
The military law enforcement system also defended M and his conduct. On July 21, 2019 the military prosecution informed Yesh Din that it had rejected the appeal and decided not to indict the shooter, not even for a less severe offense than the appeal demanded.
This announcement, rejecting the appeal, claimed that the shooting was justified because it was reasonable to have viewed Hamed as a suspect of a dangerous offence given several circumstances. One, Hamed was present in an area where Palestinians are usually not; two, the fact that he crossed a barbed wire fence and a barrier and ran towards the guard post, refused to stop after warning shots were fired and approached the post; and three, the fact that the soldiers had received a prior warning of “terrorists from the village who intended to infiltrate the post”.
The decision not to prosecute M, as well as the support his superiors extended to his conduct after the incident reflect the military’s policy regarding the killing of Palestinians in the West Bank. In light of this policy, it is unlikely that a soldier who shot and killed a Palestinian will be investigated; and it is almost certain that such a soldier or his commanders will not stand trial (for data on the military law enforcement treatment of the deaths of Palestinians please see Data Sheet July 2013). It seems that the military law enforcement system views almost any case in which a Palestinian is shot as reasonable, as long as the shooter justifies his actions by a subjective fear of being harmed. Given that Israeli soldiers in the West Bank constantly act among the Palestinian population, this policy abandons men, women and children to a constant threat of injury or death, which increases in any situation in which they behave in a manner that could seem suspicious.