The Israel Defence Forces has opened an investigation into an incident in which its soldiers shot a Palestinian teenager while he was blindfolded and handcuffed. Sixteen-year-old Osama Hajahjeh was shot twice in the leg last Thursday in Tuqu’, south of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.
Speaking to Agence France Presse (AFP) by phone from a hospital in Beit Jala yesterday, Hajahjeh explained that he had been attending the funeral of a local teacher when “he was tackled by a soldier who jumped out of an olive grove and forced him to the ground.” The soldier then handcuffed Hajahjeh and blindfolded him, Al Jazeera reported.
“They shot me the first time while I was trying to change my sitting position because they sat me on thorns,” the teenager explained. “I started walking towards the villagers asking for help, [then the soldiers] shot me again and hit my left thigh.”
Images of the incident captured by a local photographer clearly show Hajahjeh surrounded by several Israeli soldiers, his hands behind his back and a white cloth tied over his eyes. The aftermath of the event was also caught on video, which shows several Palestinians gathered around the teen – who can just be seen lying bleeding on the ground – and an Israeli soldier pointing a gun at those trying to help, warning them to stay away or “you’ll get shot”.
The Israeli army yesterday confirmed the incident and was forced to issue a statement, saying: “On Thursday there was an incident, which included massive stone-throwing near [Israeli army] forces and Israeli cars on the road, risking the lives of civilians and soldiers. The soldiers responded with riot dispersal methods and arrested one of the demonstrators [Hajahjeh] who tried to flee after his arrest.”
The statement continued: “[Hajahjeh] was detained nearby and shortly thereafter he began to flee from the [army] squad again. The squad immediately began a pursuit, during which the detainee was shot in the lower body. The squad offered the Palestinian first aid immediately. The incident will be investigated.”
Hajahjeh’s father, Ali, said of the incident that “only a sick person would shoot a blindfolded boy.” Meanwhile, Roy Yellin, a spokesperson for Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, pointed out that four Palestinians in their late teens or early twenties had been shot since early March and that, “like the previous four cases [B’Tselem] investigated, this is an example of Israel’s reckless use of lethal fire and the fact that the human lives of Palestinians count very little in the eyes of the army.”
An investigation published by B’Tselem last week stressed that in all four incidents, the Israeli army’s use of lethal fire was “completely unjustified” since “none of the victims posed a threat to the lives of security personnel.” The report added: “As B’Tselem has cautioned countless times in the past, these are not aberrations or ‘bad apples’. These are incidents that occur as part of the routine actions of soldiers and police officers, pursuant to Israel’s dangerous, lethal open-fire policy.”