In May 2021, after Israel launched Operation Guardian of the Walls, Palestinians throughout the West Bank demonstrated against the fighting in the Gaza Strip, Israeli police violence at al-Aqsa Mosque and the planned eviction of Palestinian residents from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. They waved Palestinian flags, burned tires, blocked roads and threw stones at soldiers dispatched to quell the protests. In a few cases, protesters also hurled Molotov cocktails at soldiers. The soldiers hurled stun grenades at the protesters and fired live rounds, rubber-coated metal bullets and teargas canisters at them. While suppressing the demonstrations, soldiers killed 13 protesters, including two minors.
The reckless open-fire policy that the military employed in these protests – allowing soldiers to use live fire against protesters who were not endangering their lives – yet again demonstrates Israel's blatant disregard for the lives and wellbeing of Palestinians. It also runs counter to the military’s declared open-fire policy, according to which live fire is only permitted when there is an imminent danger to life that cannot be prevented in any other way. In a few cases, it was reported that the military had launched an MPIU investigation. Yet years of experience show that the purpose of these investigations is not to uncover the truth but rather to whitewash the killings, allowing the military to continue with its lethal open-fire policy.
In three of the demonstrations, described below, soldiers killed three protesters with unjustified live fire: Muntasser Zidan (29) was injured in the head on 18 May 2021 during a protest in the village of Tura al-Gharbiyah and died of his wounds two days later; Yusef a-Nawasrah (27) was shot in the waist on 14 May 2021 during a protest near the town of Ya'bad; and Nizar Abu Zeinah (23) was shot in the chest on 14 May 2021 during a protest near an agricultural gate north of the village of Shuweika.
The following testimonies were given to B'Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi.
The killing of Muntasser Zidan, Tura al-Gharbiyah, 18 May 2021
During a demonstration held on Tuesday, 18 May 2021, in the village of Tura al-Gharbiyah in the northern West Bank, soldiers went up to the roof of Samer Kabaha's house, which lies in the northern part of the village near the Separation Barrier. From there, they hurled stun grenades and fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets at dozens of young men who had spread out around the house and in nearby alleys and were throwing stones at them. Other young men were watching the scene from the village's main square, about 150 meters away from the house.
Among the young men participating in the protest were two residents of the nearby village of Um Dar – M.J. (22) and his friend Muntasser Zidan (29). The two arrived at Tura al-Gharbiyah in the afternoon. At around 6:00 P.M., they went to buy groceries at the main square, away from the area of the clashes, and planned to then return home. After they reached the main square and started walking towards the grocery store, a soldier opened live fire from the rooftop of the house, hitting Zidan in the head. An ambulance that was waiting nearby took him to hospital in Jenin, where he was hospitalized in the ICU and died of his wounds two days later, on 20 May 2021.
In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi on 23 May 2021, Muntasser’s friend, M.J., described the incident:
On Tuesday afternoon, 18 May 2021, I went with my friend Muntasser Zidan to the village of Tura. There were dozens of young guys there throwing stones at the soldiers, who were on the roof of a house near the Separation Barrier. We joined in the protest and after about an hour, when we realized there was nowhere to hide to avoid getting hit, we decided to buy what we needed and go home. That was around 6:00 P.M.
We were in a square overlooking the house with the soldiers, about 200 meters away from it. We started walking towards the grocery store and then I heard a single shot come from the soldiers' direction. Suddenly, I saw Muntasser fall face down. I lifted him up right away. The bullet had hit him in the front of the head. A Red Crescent ambulance was a few meters away from us, and the paramedics put Muntasser inside and rushed him to hospital in Jenin. I went with them. Muntasser wasn't moving and was bleeding heavily from his head.
A.K. (19), a resident of Tura al-Gharbiyah, was in the area of the village square when Zidan was shot. In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi on 23 May 2021, he recounted:
At around 6:00 P.M., I was in the village square, about 200 meters away from where the soldiers were on a rooftop. The young guys were gathered around the house. I heard them say that one of the soldiers was aiming his rifle, meaning that he was about to shoot a protester. When we heard that, a few other guys and I moved away to the edge of the square, so the homes would separate us from the soldiers.
At the same time, I saw two guys whose names I don’t know from one of the nearby villages walking towards the grocery store. They were about to enter it, but before they got there, one of them fell face down. Luckily, there was an ambulance there. People picked the wounded guy up and put him in the ambulance, which drove quickly to the village exit. After the guy was injured, the clashes continued for about half an hour. Then everything calmed down and the soldiers left.
The killing of Yusef a-Nawasrah, Ya'bad, 14 May 2021
On Friday, 14 May 2021, at around 1:30 P.M., about 200 residents of Ya'bad and its environs set out to demonstrate at an intersection south of the town. Some of them waved Palestinian flags and others burned tires and used boulders to block the intersection leading to the settlement of Mevo Dotan and Route 60. Some of them also threw stones at several dozen soldiers who were standing on the road across from the intersection and in olive groves on either side of the road, about 100-200 meters away from them. The soldiers hurled stun grenades at the protesters and fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets at them.
At around 3:00 P.M., the soldiers fired two live shots at the protesters, within a space of several minutes. One protester was injured in the leg and another, Yusef a-Nawasrah (27) from the village of Fahmah, was hit in the waist and died soon afterwards.
A.A. (43), a resident of Ya'bad, took part in the protest. In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi on 23 May 2021, he recalled:
The residents and the young guys who were gathered there started torching tires and blocking the road that connects the entrance to Ya'bad with the Mevo Dotan Checkpoint. Soldiers spread out on the road and among the trees to prevent the residents from advancing towards the checkpoint. The clashes lasted from 1:30 P.M. into the afternoon. The soldiers fired dozens of tear gas canisters and "rubber" bullets. The air was full of gas.
At around 3:00 P.M., I was standing next to a guy I didn't know. He told me he was choking from the gas. I said, "God help us, we have to suffer and hang in there." He stayed standing next to me, about five meters away. Once in a while, we picked up a stone and threw it at the soldiers, who were about 100 to 150 meters away. We hid among the olive trees to avoid being directly hit by the tear gas canisters or the "rubber" bullets.
Suddenly, a few minutes later, a guy from our town was hit in the leg by a live bullet. There were two Red Crescent ambulances at the entrance to Ya'bad, about 200 meters away from us. We took him there, and he was taken to hospital in Jenin. After that, the guys started drawing back as far away as possible to avoid getting hit.
A few minutes later, I was stunned to see the guy who had talked to me earlier fall down. I ran over to him to pick him up. More guys came to help me, and we carried him to an ambulance. I didn't think he was seriously wounded because when he fell, he yelled that he'd been injured in the thigh. When we were carrying him to the ambulance, he said, "I'm going to die. My life is over." When we got to the ambulance, he was already unconscious. After the shooting, I stayed put and saw that the soldiers went back to using "rubber" bullets and tear gas canisters.
In a testimony he gave by phone to B'Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi, M.’A., a 30-year-old resident of Ya'bad, described the shooting of a-Nawasrah:
I saw the soldiers who were standing among the olive trees aim their rifles and fire "rubber" bullets at the guys. They also hurled tear gas canisters and stun grenades. I was very careful and made sure there was something between the soldiers and me at all times, so I wouldn't get hit. Before 3:00 P.M., the soldiers didn't use live fire against the guys, who were throwing stones and waving Palestinian flags. But then, suddenly, the soldiers fired live shots and hit a guy from our town in the leg. He was rushed to hospital and I later heard that luckily for him, it was a flesh wound with no damage to bones.
After that, the guys threw even more stones and chanted the slogans more loudly. A guy who was standing next to me, about 10 meters away, was hit in the thigh. He shouted, "I've been hit! I've been hit!" and the guys ran over to him and carried him to an ambulance that was waiting on the main road at the entrance to Ya'bad. I noticed he was bleeding heavily.
The killing of Nizar Abu Zeinah, Shuweika, 14 May 2021
On Friday, 14 May 2021, at around 8:30 P.M., several dozen young men from the area of Tulkarm came to an agricultural gate in the Separation Barrier, north of the village of Shuweika. Some of them waved Palestinian flags and threw stones at soldiers standing on the other side of the barrier, about 100 to 150 meters away. The soldiers hurled stun grenades at the protesters and fired live rounds, rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters at them.
About half an hour later, at around 9:00 P.M., one of the soldiers fired a live round, hitting Nizar Abu Zeinah (23), a resident of Tulkarm Refugee Camp, in the chest. Abu Zeinah was carried to a Red Crescent ambulance that took him to hospital in Tulkarm, where the doctors tried to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead a short while later.
J.N. (36), a resident of Shuweika who took part in the protest along with his brother and other relatives, described the incident in a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi. Another witness gave a similar description.
When we got to the area, we saw guys who had got there before us. They were in a confrontation with about 15 soldiers who were close to the gate. The soldiers were about 150 to 200 meters away from us. Because of the terrain, if we got any closer to them, we would have been too exposed. The guys were chanting slogans and some of them were waving Palestinian flags and throwing stones at the soldiers, almost none of which reached the soldiers. The soldiers were hurling stun grenades and firing tear gas canisters and "rubber" bullets.
At around 9:00 P.M., I was a few meters away from Nizar Abu Zeinah. I heard a single shot, which hit Nizar and knocked him down. I was terrified and ran away. I went some distance away so I wouldn't get hit. I was afraid the soldiers would keep firing at us. The guys tried to talk to Nizar after he was hit, but he didn't respond and didn't move. They called the Red Crescent paramedics who were there, and they took Nizar to an ambulance and went to the hospital. Shortly after he arrived at the hospital, he was pronounced dead from a bullet wound to the chest.