Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Injustice of Israeli Impunity:
Remembering and Mourning the Samouni Family

"IDF soldiers are fighting a very difficult war, day and night, against the basest, vilest murderers. You should admire what the IDF has done and understand the difficulties...IDF soldiers are more moral in their operations than any other army in the world with which I am familiar."
- Ariel Sharon, Israeli Prime Minister, 12.09.04
"The Israel Defense Forces is the world's most moral army. It has never had a policy of hurting civilians and it does not do so also today."
- Ehud Olmert, Israeli Prime Minister, 06.11.06
"I can say that the IDF is the most moral army in the world...[The army] is awaiting the results of the investigation, but my impression is that the IDF acted morally and ethically."
- Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff, 03.23.09
"I have no doubt that what needs to be probed will be probed, but I also have no doubt in my heart that the IDF is the most moral army in the world."
- Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Minister, 03.25.09
"It is unthinkable to compare a massacre and the Israeli army's surgical, defensive actions against those who use children as human shields."
- Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, 03.20.12

"The Israeli army is the most moral army in the world, whose soldiers desperately work to minimize civilian casualties… despite having to fight terrorists operating within a civilian population."

- Avigdor Liberman, Israeli Foreign Minister, 03.20.12

Amira Hass reports in Ha'aretz today:
Israel's military prosecution announced Tuesday that no legal steps will be taken against those responsible for the killing of 21 members of the Samouni family during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
In response to the ruling, Yael Stein, an attorney for the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, said, "It cannot be that in a well-managed system no person will be found guilty of the army operation that led to the killing of 21 people who were not involved in combat, and resided in a structure on the instructions of the army – even if the attack was not done purposefully."

"The manner in which the army rids itself of responsibility in this case...again illustrates the need for an investigatory body outside of the army," she added.

In a letter informing B'Tselem that the case is closed, Major Dorit Tuval, deputy Military Advocate for Operational Matters, wrote that "the investigation completely disproved any claim about deliberate harm to civilians, as well as haste and recklessness about possible harm to civilians, or criminal negligence" and claimed, "The operational circumstances of Operation Cast Lead, which was conducted mainly in highly-populated urban areas, had direct implications on the manner in which operational decisions were reached during the incident in question."

The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said, "Military Advocate General Danny Efroni has decided that the investigation completely disproved the harsh allegations of war crimes leveled at the IDF by various elements."

The airstrike that murdered the so many members of Samouni family was ordered by Givati Brigade commander Colonel Ilan Malka. In 2009, it was revealed that the Givati Brigade was responsible for a number of t-shirts glorifying and reveling in the killing of Palestinians, including women and children.

Left shirt text: "Sniper's Division" (Hebrew), "1 Shot, 2 Kills". Right shirt text: "Only God Forgives" (Hebrew)
Left shirt text: "The smaller - the harder!" (Hebrew). Right shirt text: "Each Arab Mother Should Know That the Fate of Her Son Is Dependent Upon My Hands" (Hebrew)

With such impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity a benchmark of the Israeli state, any hope for real justice is futile. Below is the story of the Israeli military's willful murder of the Samouni family's men, women, and children, as reported in relevant sections of the Goldstone Report (PDF, pages 159-168).

Read it. Then remember and honor them.

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XI. DELIBERATE ATTACKS AGAINST THE CIVILIAN POPULATION


704. According to the Israeli Government, the Israeli armed forces’ rules of engagement for the military operation in Gaza emphasized the principle of distinction as one of four “guiding principles that applied in an integrated and cumulative manner: military necessity, distinction, proportionality and humanity”. It defines the principle of distinction 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).”

705. The Mission investigated 11 incidents in which serious allegations of direct attacks with lethal outcome were made against civilians. There appears to have been no justifiable military objective pursued in any of them. The first two incidents concern alleged attacks by Israeli armed forces against houses in the al-Samouni neighbourhood of Gaza during the initial phase of the ground invasion. The following group of seven incidents concern the alleged shooting of civilians who were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags and, in some of the cases, following an injunction from the Israeli armed forces to do so. In the last of these seven cases, a house was allegedly shelled with white phosphorous, killing five and injuring others. Two further members of the family were allegedly shot by Israeli troops as they tried to evacuate the wounded to a hospital. In the following incident, a mosque was targeted during the early evening prayer, resulting in the death of 15. In many of the incidents, the Israeli armed forces allegedly obstructed emergency medical help to the wounded. A further incident concerns the bombing of a family house, killing 22 family members. In the last of the incidents described, a crowd of family and neighbours at a condolence tent was attacked with flechettes.

A. Attacks on the houses of Ateya al-Samouni and Wa’el al-Samouni in Zeytoun, resulting in the death of 23 members of the al-Samouni family

706. To investigate the attacks on the houses of Ateya and Wa’el al-Samouni, which killed 23 members of the extended  al-Samouni family, the Mission visited the site of the incidents. It interviewed five members of the al-Samouni family and several of their neighbours on site. Two members of the extended al-Samouni family, who were eyewitnesses to the incident, Messrs. Wa’el and Saleh al-Samouni, testified at the public hearing in Gaza. The Mission also interviewed PRCS ambulance drivers who went to the area on 4, 7 and 18 January 2009, and obtained copies of PRCS records. The Mission finally reviewed material on this incident submitted to it by TAWTHEQ as well as by NGOs.

707. The so-called al-Samouni area is part of Zeytoun, south of Gaza City, bordered to the east by al-Sekka Street, which in that part of Gaza runs parallel and very close to Salah ad-Din Street. It is inhabited by members of the extended al-Samouni family, which gives its name to the area, as well as by other families, such as the Arafats and the Hajjis. Al-Samouni area is more rural than urban, houses used to stand next to small olive and fig groves, chicken coops and other small plots of agricultural land. A small mosque stood in the centre of the neighbourhood. These no longer existed at the time of the Mission’s visit in June 2009. The Mission saw very few buildings left and a few tents standing amidst the rubble of collapsed houses and bulldozed land.

[Note: Graffiti left by Israeli soldiers in the house of Talal al-Samouni, which were photographed by the Mission, included (a) in Hebrew, under the Star of David: “The Jewish people are alive” and, above a capital “T” [referring to the army (Tsahal)], “This [the letter T] was written with blood”; (b) on a drawing of a grave, in English and Arabic, “Arabs 1948-2008 ”; and (c) in English: “You can run but you can not hide”, “Die you all”, “ 1 is down, 999,999 to go”, “Arabs need to die” and “Make war not peace”.]




708. The Israeli ground offensive from the east reached al-Samouni neighbourhood around 4 a.m. on 4 January 2009. In addition to the ground forces moving in from the east, there were, in all likelihood, heliborne troops that landed on the roofs of several houses in the area. Residents told the Mission that there was shooting in the neighbourhood in the night of 3 to 4 January and again the following night, but denied having seen any Palestinian fighters.

[Note: UNOSAT report (p. 21) counts “114 … destroyed or severely damaged buildings, … 27 damaged greenhouse complexes, and 17 impact craters along roads or in cultivated fields” in the area of al-Samouni Street. A soldier stationed in Zeytoun during the military operations recalled that he observed through his binoculars “increasing devastation. Houses that disappear with time, farm land ploughed over time.”

One witness told the Mission that on 5 January 2009, walking on Salah ad-Din Street towards Gaza, he saw by the roadside parachutes Israeli troops had used to land in the area.]

1. The killing of Ateya al-Samouni and his son Ahmad
 

709. During the morning of 4 January 2009, Israeli soldiers entered many of the houses in al-Samouni area. One of the first, around 5 a.m., was the house of Ateya Helmi al-Samouni, a 45-year-old man. Faraj, his 22-year-old son, had already met Israeli soldiers some minutes earlier as he stepped outside the house to warn his neighbours that their roof was burning. The soldiers entered Ateya al-Samouni’s house by force, throwing some explosive device, possibly a grenade. In the midst of the smoke, fire and loud noise, Ateya al-Samouni stepped forward, his arms raised, and declared that he was the owner of the house. The soldiers shot him while he was still holding his ID and an Israeli driving licence in his hands. The soldiers then opened gunfire inside the room in which all the approximately 20 family members were gathered. Several were injured, Ahmad, a boy of four, particularly seriously. Soldiers with night vision equipment entered the room and closely inspected each of those present. The soldiers then moved to the next room and set fire to it. The smoke from that room soon started to suffocate the family. A witness speaking to the Mission recalled seeing “white stuff” coming out of the mouth of his 17-month-old nephew and helping him to breathe.

710. At about 6.30 a.m. the soldiers ordered the family to leave the house. They had to leave Ateya’s body behind but were  carrying Ahmad, who was still breathing. The family tried to enter the house of an uncle next door, but were not allowed to do so by the soldiers. The soldiers told them to take the road and leave the area, but a few metres further a different group of soldiers stopped them and ordered the men to undress completely. Faraj al-Samouni, who was carrying the severely injured Ahmad, pleaded with them to be allowed to take the injured to Gaza. The soldiers allegedly replied using abusive language. They also said “You are bad Arabs”. “You go to Nitzarim”.

711. Faraj al-Samouni, his mother and others entered the house of an uncle in the neighbourhood. From there, they called PRCS. As described below, at around 4 p.m. that day a PRCS ambulance managed to come in the vicinity of the house where Ahmad was lying wounded, but was prevented by the Israeli armed forces from rescuing him. Ahmad died at around 2 a.m. during the night of 4 to 5 January. The following morning those present in the house, about 45 persons, decided to leave. They made themselves white flags and walked in the direction of Salah ad-Din Street. A group of soldiers on the street told them to go back to the house, but the witness said that they walked on in the direction of Gaza. The soldiers shot at their feet, without injuring anyone, however. Two kilometres further north on  Salah ad-Din Street, they found ambulances which took the injured to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza.

2. The attack on the house of Wa’el al-Samouni
 

712. In other cases, the entry of soldiers was less violent than in Ateya al-Samouni’s home. In one instance, the soldiers landed on the roof and descended the stairs to the ground floor, separated men from women, searched and handcuffed the men. In another case they broke into a house by knocking a hole in the wall with a sledgehammer.  At the house of Saleh al-Samouni, the Israeli soldiers knocked on the door and ordered those inside to open it. All the persons inside the house stepped out one by one and Saleh’s father identified each of the family members in Hebrew for the soldiers. According to Saleh al-Samouni, they asked to be allowed to go to Gaza City, but the soldiers refused and instead ordered them to go to Wa’el al-Samouni’s house across the street.

713. The Israeli soldiers also ordered those in other houses to move to Wa’el al-Samouni’s house. As a result, around 100 members of the extended al-Samouni family, the majority women and children, were assembled in that house by noon on 4 January. There was hardly any water and no milk for the babies. Around 5 p.m. on 4 January, one of the women went outside to fetch firewood. There was some flour in the house and she made bread, one piece for each of those present.

714. In the morning of 5 January 2009, around 6.30 – 7 a.m., Wa’el al-Samouni, Saleh al-Samouni, Hamdi Maher al-Samouni, Muhammad Ibrahim al-Samouni and Iyad al-Samouni, stepped outside the house to collect firewood. Rashad Helmi al-Samouni remained standing next to the door of the house. Saleh al-Samouni has pointed out to the Mission that from where the Israeli soldiers were positioned on the roofs of the houses they could see the men clearly. Suddenly, a projectile struck next to the five men, close to the door of Wa’el’s house and killed Muhammad Ibrahim al-Samouni and, probably, Hamdi Maher al-Samouni. The other men managed to retreat to the house. Within about five minutes, two or three more projectiles had struck the house directly. Saleh and Wa’el al-Samouni stated at the public hearing that these were missiles launched from Apache helicopters. The Mission has not been able to determine the type of munition used.

715. Saleh al-Samouni stated that overall 21 family members were killed and 19 injured in the attack on Wa’el al-Samouni’s house. The dead include Saleh al-Samouni’s father, Talal Helmi al-Samouni, his mother, Rahma Muhammad al-Samouni, and his two-year-old daughter Azza. Three of his sons, aged five, three and less than one year (Mahmoud, Omar and Ahmad), were injured, but survived. Of Wa’el’s immediate family, a daughter and a son (Rezqa, 14, and Fares, 12) were killed, while two smaller children (Abdullah and Muhammad) were injured. The photographs of all the dead victims were shown to the Mission at the home of the al-Samouni family and displayed at the public hearing in Gaza.

[Note: The names of the other 15 members of the extended al-Samouni family killed in the attack on Wa’el al-Samouni’s house are: Rabab Izaat (female, aged 37); Tawfiq Rashad (male, aged 22); Layla Nabeeh (female, aged 44); Ismaeil Ibrahim (male, aged 16); Ishaq Ibrahim (male, aged 14); Maha Muhammad (female, aged 20); Muhammad Hilmi Talal (the six-year-old son of Maha); Hanan Khamis Sa'di (female, aged 36); Huda Naiel (female, aged 17); Rezqa Muhammad Mahmoud (female, aged 56); Safaa Sobhi (female, aged 24); al-Moa'tasim Bilah Muhammad (male, aged six months); Hamdi Maher (male, aged 24); Rashad Helmi (male, aged 42); Nassar Ibrahim Hilmi (male, aged 6).]

716. After the shelling of Wa’el al-Samouni’s house, most of those inside decided to leave immediately and walk to Gaza City, leaving behind the dead and some of the wounded. The women waved their scarves. Soldiers, however, ordered the al-Samounis to return to the house. When family members replied that there were many injured among them, the soldiers’ reaction was, according to Saleh al-Samouni, “go back to death”. They decided not to follow this injunction and walked in the direction of Gaza City. Once in Gaza, they went to PRCS and told them about the injured that had remained behind.

3. The attempts of PRCS and ICRC to rescue the civilians in the al-Samouni area

717. PRCS had made its first attempt to evacuate the injured from the al-Samouni area on 4 January 2009 around 4 p.m. after receiving a call from the family of Ateya al-Samouni. PRCS had called ICRC, asking it to coordinate its entry into the area with the Israeli armed forces. A PRCS ambulance from al-Quds hospital managed to reach the al-Samouni area. The ambulance had turned west off Salah ad-Din Street when, at one of the first houses in the area, Israeli soldiers on the ground and on the roof of one of the houses directed their guns at it and ordered it to stop. The driver and the nurse were ordered to get out of the vehicle, raise their hands, take off their clothes and lie on the ground. Israeli soldiers then searched them and the vehicle for 5 to 10 minutes. Having found nothing, the soldiers ordered the ambulance team to return to Gaza City, in spite of their pleas to be allowed to pick up some wounded. In his statement to the Mission, the ambulance driver recalled seeing women and children huddling under the staircase in a house, but not being allowed to take them with him.

718. As soon as the first evacuees from the al-Samouni family arrived in Gaza City on 5 January, PRCS and ICRC requested permission from the Israeli armed forces to go into the al Samouni neighbourhood to evacuate the wounded. These requests were denied. On 6 January around 6.45 p.m., one ICRC car and four PRCS ambulances drove towards the al-Samouni area in spite of the lack of coordination with the Israeli armed forces, but were not allowed to enter the area and evacuate the wounded.

719. On 7 January 2009, the Israeli armed forces finally authorized ICRC and PRCS to go to the al-Samouni area during the “temporary ceasefire” declared from 1 to 4 p.m. on that day. Three PRCS ambulances, an ICRC car and another car used to transport bodies drove down Salah ad-Din Street from Gaza City until, 1.5 km north of the al-Samouni area, they found it closed by sand mounds. ICRC tried to coordinate with the Israeli armed forces to have the road opened, but they refused and asked the ambulance staff to walk the remaining 1.5 km.

720. Once in the al-Samouni neighbourhood, PRCS looked for survivors in the houses. An ambulance driver who was part of the team told the Mission that in Wa’el al-Samouni’s house they found 15 dead bodies and two seriously injured children. One of the children had a deep wound in the shoulder, which was infected and giving off a foul odour. The children were dehydrated and scared of the PRCS staff member. In a house close by, they found 11 persons in one room, including a dead woman.

721. The rescue teams had only three hours for the entire operation and the evacuees were physically weak and emotionally very unstable. The road had been damaged by the impact of shells and the movement of Israeli armed forces, including tanks and bulldozers. The rescuers put all the elderly on a cart and pulled it themselves for 1.5 kilometres to the place where they had been forced to leave the ambulances. The dead bodies lying in the street or under the rubble, among them women and children, as well as the dead they had found in the houses had to be left behind. On the way back to the cars, PRCS staff entered one house where they found a man with two broken legs. While they were carrying the man out of the house, the Israeli armed forces started firing at the house, probably to warn that the three-hour “temporary ceasefire” were about to expire. PRCS was not able to return to the area until 18 January.

722. On 18 January 2009, members of the al-Samouni family were finally able to return to their neighbourhood. They found that Wa’el al-Samouni’s house, as most other houses in the neighbourhood and the small mosque, had been demolished. The Israeli armed forces had destroyed the building on top of the bodies of those who died in the attack. Pictures taken on 18 January show feet and legs sticking out from under the rubble and sand, and rescuers pulling out the bodies of women, men and children. A  witness described to the Mission family members taking away the corpses on horse carts, a young man sitting in shock beside the ruins of his house and, above all, the extremely strong smell of death.

4. Factual findings

723. The Mission found the foregoing witnesses to be credible and reliable. It has no reason to doubt their testimony.

724. With regard to the context in which the attacks on the houses of Ateya al-Samouni and Wa’el al-Samouni took place, the Mission notes that there is some indication that there might have been a presence of Palestinian combatants in the al-Samouni neighbourhood during the first hours of the Israeli ground attack. A witness told the Mission that when he heard the first shots in the vicinity of his house in the night of 3 to 4 January, he at first thought it was Palestinian fighters. An NGO report submitted to the Mission states that a Palestinian combatant, reportedly a member of the Islamic Jihad, was killed in the al-Samouni area around midnight between 3 and 4 January.

725. The Mission considers, however, that the testimonies of the witnesses strongly suggest that already before daybreak on 4 January 2009 the Israeli armed forces were in full control of the al-Samouni neighbourhood. The Israeli soldiers had taken up position on the roofs of the houses in the area. According to several witnesses, the soldiers on the street spoke to residents who had ventured out of their houses. In some cases (for instance, at the house of Saleh al-Samouni and at the house Iyad al-Samouni was in, see below), they entered the houses non-violently after knocking on the door. According to Saleh  al-Samouni, the prolonged identification of all the persons present in his house (his father identifying each family member in Hebrew for the soldiers) took place outside. The soldiers appear to have been confident that they were not at immediate risk of being attacked.

726. The Mission also reviewed the submission it received from an Israeli researcher, arguing generally that statements from Palestinian residents claiming that no fighting took place in their neighbourhood are disproved by the accounts Palestinian armed groups give of the armed operations. The Mission notes that, as far as the al-Samouni neighbourhood is concerned, this report would appear to support the statements of the witnesses that there was no combat.

727. Regarding the attack on Ateya al-Samouni’s house, the Mission finds that the account given to it by Faraj al-Samouni is corroborated by the soldiers’ testimonies published by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence. The assault on Ateya al-Samouni’s house appears to be the procedure of the Israeli armed forces referred to as a “wet entry”. A “wet entry” is, according to the soldier’s explanation, “missiles, tank fire, machine-gun fire into the house, grenades. Shoot as we enter a room. The idea was that when we enter a house, no one there could fire at us.” This procedure was, according to the soldier, thoroughly practised during recent Israeli armed forces manoeuvres.

728. The Mission notes that considering the generally calm circumstances that appear to have prevailed in the al-Samouni neighbourhood at the time (as evidenced by the way the soldiers entered other houses after knocking on the door) and the fact that the soldiers had already spoken to Faraj al-Samouni, one of the persons in Ateya al-Samouni’s house, the Mission cannot see any circumstance justifying the violent entry into the house.

729. With regard to the attack on the five men who stepped out of Wa’el al-Samouni’s house to fetch firewood in the early morning of 5 January 2009 and to the subsequent shelling of the house, the Mission notes that the members of the other families who had been moved by the Israeli forces into Wa’el al-Samouni’s house had been searched by Israeli soldiers, as recounted by Saleh al-Samouni. Everything indicates that the Israeli forces knew that there were about 100 civilians in the house. Indeed, the families had asked to be allowed to leave the area towards a safer place, but had been ordered to stay in Wa’el al-Samouni’s house. The house must have been under constant observation by the Israeli soldiers, who had complete control over the area at the time.

730. The Mission was not able to determine whether the attack was carried out by missiles launched from Apache helicopters, as Saleh and Wa’el al-Samouni told the Mission at the public hearing in Gaza, or by other munitions. Nevertheless, the fact that a first projectile struck next to the five men soon after they had left the house (at a time at which there was no combat in the area) and two or three projectiles struck the house after the survivors had retreated into the house, indicates that the weaponry used allowed a high degree of precision with a short response time and that the five men and then the house were the intended targets of the attack.

731. The Mission notes that, four days later, the Israeli armed forces denied that the attack on the house of Wa’el al-Samouni had taken place. On 9 January 2009, an Israeli army spokesman, Jacob Dallal, reportedly told the Reuters news agency that “the IDF did not mass people into any specific building. […] Furthermore, we checked with regard to IDF fire on the 5th. The IDF did not target any building in or near Zeitun on the 5th.” The Mission is not aware of any subsequent statement from the Israeli Government which would contradict this blanket denial or suggest that the allegations have been the subject of further investigation.

732. With regard to the obstruction of emergency medical access to the wounded in the al-Samouni neighbourhood, the Mission notes that four-year-old Ahmad al-Samouni was still alive at 4 p.m. on 4 January 2009, when the PRCS ambulance called by his relatives managed to arrive within what the Mission estimates to be 100 to 200 metres from the house where he was. In fact, he died about 10 hours later, which suggests that he might have had a good chance of survival. Israeli soldiers stopped the ambulance and thoroughly searched the driver, nurse and vehicle. Although they did not find anything indicating that the ambulance staff was not on a genuine emergency mission to evacuate a wounded civilian, they forced the ambulance to return to Gaza City without the injured Ahmad.

733. On 5 and 6 January 2009, following the arrival in Gaza City hospitals of survivors of the attack on Wa’el al-Samouni’s house, PRCS and ICRC requested permission from the Israeli armed forces to go into the al-Samouni neighbourhood to evacuate the wounded. These requests were denied. According to the information available to PRCS, the Israeli armed forces told ICRC that there were combat operations going on in the area. A PRCS ambulance driver who was part of the PRCS convoy which went to the area in spite of the refusal of the Israeli armed forces to grant permission, reported that there were no clashes at the time.  PRCS and ICRC were not able to evacuate the wounded from the area until 7 January in the afternoon.

734. The information before it leads the Mission to believe that the Israeli armed forces arbitrarily prevented the evacuation of the wounded from the al-Samouni area, thereby causing at least one additional death, worsening of the injuries in others, and severe psychological trauma in at least some of the victims, particularly children.

735. These findings are corroborated by the press release ICRC issued on 8 January 2008: The ICRC had requested safe passage for ambulances to access this neighbourhood [the al-Samouni area in Zeytoun] since 3 January but it only received permission to do so from the Israel Defense Forces during the afternoon of 7 January. The ICRC/PRCS team found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses. In another house, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team found 15 other survivors of this attack including several wounded. In yet another house, they found an additional three corpses. Israeli soldiers posted at a military position some 80 metres away from this house ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do. There were several other positions of the Israel Defense Forces nearby as well as two tanks.

B. Killing of civilians attempting to leave their homes to walk to safer areas

1. The shooting of Iyad al-Samouni


736. The Mission received testimony on the death of Iyad al-Samouni from Muhammad Asaad al-Samouni and Fawzi Arafat, as well as from a PRCS staff member. In the night of 3 to 4 January 2009, Iyad al-Samouni, his wife and five children were, together with about 40 other members of their extended family in Asaad al-Samouni’s house, very close to the houses of Wa’el al-Samouni and Ateya al-Samouni (the scenes of the incidents described above). At 1 a.m. on 4 January 2009 they heard noise on the roof. At around 5 a.m. 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. The soldiers then separated women, children and the elderly from the men. The men were forced into a separate room, blindfolded and handcuffed with plastic handcuffs. They were allowed to go to the toilet only after one of the men urinated on himself. The soldiers stationed themselves in the house.

737. In the morning of 5 January 2009, after the shelling of Wa’el al-Samouni’s house, two of the survivors took refuge in Asaad al-Samouni’s house. From the testimonies received, the Mission is not able to state whether the Israeli soldiers then ordered the al-Samouni family members in the house to leave and walk to Gaza City, or whether it was the families who pleaded with the soldiers to be allowed to leave having heard the appalling news of what had happened to their relatives in Wa’el al-Samouni’s house. In any event, the persons assembled in Asaad al-Samouni’s house walked out of the house 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 to Gaza City 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.

738. On Salah ad-Din Street, just a few metres north of al-Samouni Street and in front of the Juha family house, a single or several of the Israeli soldiers positioned on the roofs of the houses opened fire. Iyad was struck in the leg and fell to the ground. Muhammad Asaad al-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 Asaad al-Samouni’s father to prevent him from assisting Iyad to get back on his feet. Iyad al-Samouni’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 neighbourhood to Gaza, told the Mission that he saw Iyad al-Samouni lying on the ground, his hands shackled with white plastic handcuffs, blood pouring from the wounds in his legs, begging for help. Fawzi 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.

739. Iyad al-Samouni’s family and relatives were forced to abandon him and continue to walk towards Gaza City. At al-Shifa hospital they reported his case and those of the other dead and wounded left behind. Representatives of PRCS told them that the Israeli armed forces were not permitting them to access the area.

740. A PRCS staff member told the Mission that three days later, on 8 January 2009, PRCS was granted permission by the Israeli armed forces through ICRC to evacuate Iyad al-Samouni. The PRCS staff member found him on the ground in 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.

2. Factual findings

741. The Mission found the witnesses it heard in relation to the shooting of Iyad al-Samouni to be credible and reliable. It has no reason to doubt the veracity of the main elements of their testimony, which is corroborated by the testimony of the PRCS ambulance driver.

742. The Mission finds that 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.

743. 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.

744. The Mission found that the witnesses who spoke about the death of Iyad al-Samouni 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.

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UPDATE:

May 2, 2012 - The video below tells the story of four children from the extended Samouni family in Gaza. By animated drawings they express what happened to them and their family during the Gaza massacre.


(h/t Annie Robbins)

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