JERUSALEM (JTA) — Human Rights Watch labeled the shooting deaths of two Palestinian teenagers by Israeli soldiers during a West Bank protest an Israeli war crime.
In a report titled “Killing of Children Apparent War Crime” published Monday, the human rights group said the soldiers used live ammunition during the May 15 demonstration in the town of Beitunia.
“The willful killing of civilians by Israeli security forces as part of the occupation is a war crime,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director of the New York-based organization. “Israel has a responsibility to prosecute the forces who targeted these teens, and also those responsible for assigning the use of live ammunition to police a demonstration.”
The Israeli military, which is investigating the deaths, has said its forces used rubber bullets and tear gas, not live fire. The report said it was “highly unlikely” that rubber bullets would have caused the injuries that killed the teens and injured another.
Human Rights Watch said one of the victim’s families retrieved a live bullet that they believe killed the teen.
“Offenses committed by Israeli security forces as part of the occupation, such as deliberate attacks on civilians, would be subject to prosecution under international humanitarian law as war crimes,” the report said. It added that “Israeli forces have repeatedly shot Palestinians who posed no imminent threat with live ammunition during similar protests.”
The teens were shot in three separate incidents but in approximately the same location during a demonstration on Nakba Day, which means catastrophe and marks the day that Israel became an independent state.
In a violent confrontation at the end of the rally, demonstrators threw rocks at the Israeli troops and the soldiers responded with rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas, according to the report.
Israeli officials have suggested that Palestinians or human rights organizations have doctored video evidence of the shootings or edited in a biased way. Palestinian journalists and security cameras filmed the shootings.