The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns the use of force by the Palestinian security forces to disperse a peaceful march near ‘Aaida refugee camp, north of Bethlehem. The security forces fired at the march indiscriminately wounding a child seriously. PCHR calls upon concerned authorities to initiate an immediate investigation into the incident, to take legal action against the perpetrators and to take serious steps to ensure the non-recurrence of such incidents.
According to investigations by PCHR and testimonies by eyewitnesses, on 9 September 2008, after having performed the afternoon prayer, dozens of prayers exited the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Mosque in the center of ‘Aaida refugee camp, north of Bethlehem. They walked in a peaceful march to protest the aggravation of drinking water crisis and the water cut for more than 22 days in their camp. The demonstrators crowded near Kendo intersection on the main road adjacent to the camp, and they chanted slogans calling upon officials to consider about their demands. A few minutes later, about 200 security men came. They surrounded the demonstrators and requested them to return to their homes. They then pushed the demonstrators and assaulted them using their hands and batons. In response, the protestors got angry and threw stones at the security forces. They also blocked the main road with stones and fellies.
At approximately 17:00, security men intensively fired into the air to disperse the demonstrators and they tried to arrest some of them. Some demonstrators continued to throw stones. Meanwhile, unknown persons who were not participating in the march threw stones and empty glass bottles at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel. Security forces fired indiscriminately in different directions. As a result, 15-year-old Jadallah Akram ‘Eissa Abu Sorour, from ‘Aaida refugee camp was seriously wounded by a gunshot to the abdomen. The child was taken to Beit Jala Public Hospital where he underwent a surgery to stop the hemorrhage and eradicate the damaged part of the bowel. The child is still receiving treatment in the medium care unit in the hospital. In addition, 15 demonstrators and 8 security men sustained bruises and light cuts.
The Public Committee, locals and ‘Eissa Qaraqe’, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, blamed Bethlehem 's Commander and the Chief of Bethlehem's Police for suppressing the march and for the use of excessive force. However, Bethlehem 's Commander, Brigadier Yousif Qaddoura, stated that security forces responded to maintain security and order. He added that the forces responded after they had been thrown with stones that wounded 8 of the forces' members.
He further stated that the Security Forces were obliged to respond that way after they failed to stop the attacks on the main road and on the Intercontinental Hotel that had been thrown with stones and Molotov bombs.
In light of the above:
1. PCHR strongly condemns the use if firearms by security forces to suppress the peaceful march and to forcibly disperse the demonstrators. PCHR affirms that it is necessary to have clear and specific instructions for the use of firearms by law enforcement officials that conform to international standards and ensure respect for human rights.
2. PCHR condemns attacks against private and public properties and stresses that civilians have the full and legitimate right to organize public assemblies, sit-ins and peaceful marches under law.
3. PCHR emphasizes that neither the governor nor the police has any legal right to license or prevent any public meeting, peaceful demonstration, or any other form of peaceful assembly, as the law calls for only “informing” the governor or the police by the organizers, and that the police has the right to put some limitation “for traffic control.”
4. PCHR calls upon concerned authorities to immediately investigate this attack, take legal actions against its perpetrators and take necessary steps to ensure its non-recurrence.