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Israeli forces 'deliberately let him bleed to death'

Jan. 4, 2010 9:37 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 10, 2010 9:16 P.M.)
Part nine of a series recounting the findings of South African jurist Richard Goldstone's UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.

Bethlehem - Ma'an - On 4 January 2009, Iyad Samouni, his wife, and five children were together with about 40 other members of their extended family in the house of Asaad Samouni, a relative.

At around 1am, they heard noise on the roof. At about 5am, Israeli soldiers walked down the stairs from the roof, knocked on the door, and entered the house. They asked for Hamas fighters. The residents replied that there were none.

Stationing themselves in the house, soldiers separated women, children and the elderly from the men. Iyad and all the other men were forced into a separate room, blindfolded and bound with plastic handcuffs. They were allowed to use the bathroom only after one of the men urinated on himself.

The next morning, Iyad and everyone in Asaad’s house walked out and down Al-Samouni Street to take Salah Ad-Din Street in the direction of Gaza City. They had been instructed by the soldiers to walk directly there without stopping or diverting from the direct route. The men were still handcuffed and the soldiers had told them that they would be shot if they attempted to remove the handcuffs.

On Salah Ad-Din Street, a single or several of the Israeli soldiers opened fire positioned on the roofs of houses. Iyad was struck in the leg and fell to the ground. Muhammad Asaad Samouni, who was walking immediately behind him, moved to help him, but an Israeli soldier on a rooftop ordered him to walk on. When he saw the red point of a laser beam on his body and understood that an Israeli soldier had taken aim at him, he desisted.

The Israeli soldiers also fired warning shots at Muhammad Samouni’s father to prevent him from assisting Iyad to get back on his feet. Iyad’s wife and children were prevented from helping him by further warning shots.

Fawzi Arafat, who was part of another group walking from the Al-Samouni neighborhood to Gaza City, said he saw Iyad lying on the ground, his hands shackled with white plastic handcuffs, blood pouring from the wounds in his legs, begging for help. Arafat stated that he yelled at an Israeli soldier “we want to evacuate the wounded man.” The soldier, however, pointed his gun at Iyad’s wife and children and ordered them to move on without him.

The final report produced by Richard Goldstone's UN fact-finding mission notes that witnesses who spoke about Iyad "appeared to be profoundly traumatized by the recollection of his pleading for help from his wife, children and relatives. They also recalled the helplessness of his family, who were under a very credible threat of being shot themselves if they came to his help, and who were compelled to abandon him on the road to bleed to death."

Iyad’s family and relatives were forced to abandon him and continue to walk toward Gaza City. At Ash-Shifa hospital they reported his case and those of the other dead and wounded left behind. Representatives of the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) told them that the Israeli armed forces were not permitting them to access the area.

Salah Samouni, who was part of a group up ahead of Iyad's, said that "they were handcuffed, and one of them was hit with a bullet in the foot and he profused [sic] blood for three days until he met with his end."

A PRCS staff member told the UN mission that three days later, on 8 January 2009, medics were granted permission by Israeli armed forces through the International Committee of the Red Cross to evacuate Iyad. The PRCS staff member found him on the ground on Salah Ad-Din Street in the place described by his relatives. He was still handcuffed. He had been shot in both legs and had bled to death.

Sameer As-Sawafeary, another witness, recounted: "On Tuesday, the Red Cross came ... So we took the martyr and another martyr named Iyad Ezat Samouni, who was [a] neighbor, who was lying on the ground. I told the Red Crescent – or the Red Cross – that the body was Al-Samuni's body. So they transported him on a stretcher."

Factual and legal findings

Goldstone's final report states: "Iyad al-Samouni was part of a large group of civilians who were leaving their homes and walking towards Gaza City in an area under the complete control of the Israeli armed forces. His hands were tied with white plastic handcuffs.

"The soldier who opened fire on him should have known, on the basis of the plastic handcuffs if not of coordination with his fellow soldiers stationed in Asaad al-Samouni’s house a few hundred metres away, that he had been searched and detained by the Israeli armed forces. In opening fire on Iyad al-Samouni, the Israeli armed forces shot deliberately at a civilian who posed no threat to them."

The report adds: "While the fire directed at Iyad al-Samouni could have been intended to incapacitate rather than to kill, by threatening his family members and friends with lethal fire, the Israeli armed forces ensured that he did not receive lifesaving medical help. They deliberately let him bleed to death."

According to the report, the fundamental principles applicable to these incidents, which are cornerstones of both treaty-based and customary international humanitarian law, are that “the parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants” and that “the civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.”

Israel refers to the principle of distinction as “the first core principle of the Law of Armed Conflict.” It further states that “the IDF’s emphasis on compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict was also directly incorporated into the rules of engagement for the Gaza Operation.” The principle of distinction was reportedly incorporated in the following terms: “Strikes shall be directed against military objectives and combatants only. It is absolutely prohibited to intentionally strike civilians or civilian objects (in contrast to incidental proportional harm).”

In reviewing the above incident the Goldstone mission found in that the Israeli armed forces had carried out a direct, intentional strike against a civilian. The mission found that, on the basis of the facts it was able to ascertain, there were no grounds which could have reasonably induced the Israeli armed forces to assume that the Iyad was in fact taking a direct part in the hostilities and had thus lost his immunity against direct attacks.

Goldstone's team found that Israel's army violated the prohibition under customary international law that the civilian population as such will not be the object of attacks, as well as fundamental guarantees in the Fourth Geneva Convention. "The State of Israel would be responsible under international law for these internationally wrongful actions carried out by its agents," the report states.

It adds: "From the facts ascertained, the Mission finds that the conduct of the Israeli armed forces in these cases would constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons and as such give rise to individual criminal responsibility."

Israeli forces denied medical emergency services access to the wounded, the report notes. "In the case of Iyad al-Samouni, finally, the relatives who wanted to assist him were threatened with being shot themselves."

Goldstone's report also recalls that "In all circumstances [the wounded] shall be treated humanely and shall receive, to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition. …"

"The facts ascertained by the Mission establish that in the incidents investigated the Israeli armed forces did not use their best efforts to provide humanitarian organizations access to the wounded. On the contrary, the facts indicate that, while the circumstances permitted giving access, the Israeli armed forces arbitrarily withheld it.

"On this basis, the Mission finds a violation of the obligation under customary international law to treat the wounded humanely."

The section on Iyad's family concludes: "The conduct of the Israeli armed forces amounted to violations of the right to life where it resulted in death, and to a violation of the right to physical integrity, and to cruel and inhuman treatment in other cases."
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