Israeli sniper shoots dead unarmed Palestinian at West Bank demo

Israeli security forces have shot and killed 21 Palestinians with live ammunition so far in 2017; Saba Abu Ubeid, 23, is the latest victim.

Saba Abu Ubeid, moments after being shot by an Israeli sniper, May 12, 2017. Ubeid was pronounced dead in hospital shortly after. (Miki Kratsman/
Saba Abu Ubeid, moments after being shot by an Israeli sniper, May 12, 2017. Ubeid was pronounced dead in hospital shortly after. (Miki Kratsman/

An Israeli army sniper shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian man on Friday afternoon during a demonstration in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. Saba Abu Ubeid, 23, was hit in his upper body and evacuated to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead by attending physicians. The cause of death was internal bleeding, according to a spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health.

The demonstration was organized to express support for the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, now in its third week.

An Israeli army spokesperson confirmed that security forces had opened live fire in Nabi Saleh “in response to an immediate threat” posed by “dozens” of stone-throwing protestors.

But according to several eyewitnesses, including Israeli photojournalist Miki Kratsman, Israeli security forces in the village wore protective riot gear and were shielded by a concrete wall. The protestors were standing at least 50 meters away.

“There were very few stone throwers,” Sarit Michaeli, the international advocacy officer for Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem, told +972 Magazine. Michaeli, who was present at the demonstration, added that “Most of the youths were standing very far away from the soldiers,” and said it was the soldiers who approached the demonstrators, thereby escalating the confrontation, and not the other way around.

The funeral of Saba Abu Ubeid, 23, who was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper, May 12, 2017. (Haidi Motola/
The funeral of Saba Abu Ubeid, 23, who was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper, May 12, 2017. (Haidi Motola/

B’Tselem has been tracking the army’s use of live ammunition on unarmed Palestinian protestors for over seven years, with several reports on various incidents posted to its website. The bullets commonly used in these situations are .22 caliber, colloquially known as “two-twos.” They are less deadly than the higher caliber 5.6 bullets, said Michaeli, but they do penetrate human flesh and are considered lethal weapons.

The sniper’s ostensible goal is to aim at the legs and knees of the demonstrators, in order to incapacitate them. The bullets can break a knee or a femur, but are lethal when they hit the upper body. The two-two that killed Saba Abu Abeid hit him in the torso, making him the 21st Palestinian to be killed by live ammunition shot by Israeli security forces since the beginning of 2017.

Michaeli explained that snipers aim and shoot “in a very organized manner,” with the shooter taking a position on a rooftop while a colleague sits next to him to give instructions and a third soldier keeps a written record of each shot. She added that while Abu Ubeid was the only fatality, there were several injuries. Israeli security forces also fired on demonstrators with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters.

The army has never denied that it uses live ammunition on demonstrators. They justify it by claiming that stones are weapons, and by vastly exaggerating the specifics of each incident involving armed soldiers versus Palestinian demonstrators. When there is a handful of young men throwing fist-sized stones from a significant distance at soldiers wearing protective riot gear, the army will claim they present an authentic threat to the lives of the soldiers. Or the spokesperson will omit the detail about soldiers initiating a violent confrontation with unarmed demonstrators who have not approached them.

Israeli reporters for established media outlets almost never attend these demonstrations. If they do report shooting incidents that end with the death of a Palestinian, they will base the story on the statement from the army spokesperson’s office. Except in very rare instances, they do not fact check the army’s statements or publish statements from Palestinian eyewitnesses or ministry officials.

The village of Nabi Saleh has a population of about 500; it lies across the road from the Israeli settlement of Halamish, which is built on land expropriated from the village. Friday’s demonstration came following a long period of quiet in Nabi Saleh, after several years in which the villagers, who are almost all related and share the last name of Tamimi, demonstrated every Friday afternoon to protest the settlement’s appropriation of one of their water sources. But the demonstrations came at a very high cost, with several fatalities and injuries, and with the jailing of Bassem Tamimi, one of the organizers of the protests, for a year.

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