As part of the collective punishment policy adopted by the Israeli forces against the families of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks against Israeli soldiers or/and settlers, on Tuesday early morning, 15 December 2018, the Israeli forces blew up a building belonging to the family of prisoner Islam Abu Hmeid in al-Am’ari refugee camp in central al-Bireh. Blowing up the building came two days after the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netenyahu’s decision to expedite the demolitions of the houses belonging to Palestinians carrying out attacks. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) accordingly condemns this new crime, which is added to the series of Israeli crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). PCHR also emphasizes that the crime is part of the Israeli forces’ collective punishment policy against innocent Palestinians in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits collective penalties and reprisals against protected persons and their property. PCHR calls upon the international community to offer protection to the civilians in the oPt and ensure the application of the aforementioned convention.
According to PCHR’s investigations and eyewitnesses’ accounts, at approximately 01:30 on the abovementioned day, Israeli forces backed by military vehicles and around 150 soldiers moved into al-Am’ari refugee camp in central al-Bireh. The soldiers stepped out of their military vehicles and deployed between houses while around 30 of them topped the roofs of many houses. A large number of the Israeli soldiers raided a residential building belonging to the family of prisoner Islam Abu Hmeid to apply the demolition decision which the family was informed of previously under the pretext that a marble stone was thrown on the head of an Israeli soldier during an incursion into the camp on 06 June 2018 and led to his death. Dozens of the camp’s residents and Palestinian activists along with International human rights defenders and Chairman of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, Minister Waleed ‘Assaf, stood in front of the building attempting to prevent the demolition. However, The Israeli soldiers forced them, including the 60-year-old mother of Islam, who was alone living in the building, to evacuate the building by firing sound bombs and teargas canisters directly at them while they were inside. The Israeli soldiers also beat up and pushed them, including photojournalist Mohammed Hamdan after breaking his cell phone, with the firearms’ muzzles.
Following that, a large number of Israeli soldiers raided and searched the residential houses in the vicinity of the building. They forced the residents to evacuate them immediately and forcibly, causing fear among them. The residents were forced to leave towards al-Bireh School, in the center of the camp, where they were detained for 3 consecutive hours before the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) crews were allowed to transfer them to the PRCS office adjacent to the camp. They were more than 500 civilians, including children, women and elderlies, detained in a very cold place. In the meantime, dozens of young men and boys gathered and threw stones and empty bottles at Israeli soldiers who deployed throughout the camp. The soldiers fired heavily rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at them, wounding 6 young men with rubber bullets in addition to other civilians and journalists suffering tear gas inhalation and fainting. Meanwhile, an Israeli military force was demolishing the internal walls of the building with special equipment and planting a large quantity of explosives inside it in preparation for blowing it up. At approximately 06:50, the 150-square-meter building comprised of 4 floors was blown up and completely destroyed. It is noteworthy that the Israeli forces demolished the house of the Abu Humaid family for the third time as the first time was in 1994 and the second in 2003. Moreover, the family of Abu Hamid had a son who was killed previously by the Israeli forces and has 6 prisoners serving their sentences in the Israeli prisons, the last one was Islam who was arrested on 13 June 2018.
PCHR again condemns the crime of blowing up the abovementioned building and maltreatment of Palestinian civilians as both are part of the collective punishment policy adopted by the Israeli forces against the Palestinian civilians. PCHR again emphasizes that this policy is internationally prohibited according to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that: “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.” Therefore, PCHR reiterates its call upon the international community to take immediate action to put an end to the Israeli crimes. PCHR also reiterates its call upon the High Contracting Parties to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfill their obligations under Article 1; i.e., to respect and ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances and their obligations under Article 146 to prosecute persons alleged to commit grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These grave breaches constitute war crimes under Article 147 of the same Convention and Protocol (I) Additional to the Geneva Conventions regarding the guarantee of Palestinian civilians’ right to protection in the oPt.