An Israeli soldier fired into a crowd of Palestinian villagers Tuesday, killing a 10-year-old boy, after a protest by residents who oppose Israel’s installation of a barrier sealing off the West Bank, witnesses said.
The Israeli military said it was investigating the incident in Nilin, near Ramallah, where villagers have been protesting for weeks that the barrier is cutting them off from about 600 acres of their olive groves.
Witnesses in the crowd said the soldier fired a single rifle shot from a distance of about 100 yards. Ahmad Moussa was struck in the forehead and died instantly, according to paramedics.
The shooting followed the latest unruly protest by Nilin residents against the Israeli fence being built across their land. The fence is part of a 490-mile-long series of dividers, including concrete walls, patrol roads and trenches, separating the West Bank from Israel; more than two-thirds of it has been completed.
Israeli officials argue that finished sections of the barrier, under construction since 2002, have cut down sharply on the number of Palestinian suicide bombers entering the country from the West Bank.
Palestinians say Israel has used the barrier to draw new borders. The planned route would enclose about 8% of the West Bank’s land on the Israeli side. In Nilin’s case, the route was drawn to protect nearby Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Three Palestinian villages, including one near Nilin, have successfully challenged the route in Israel’s Supreme Court. But the Defense Ministry, citing budgetary limits, has yet to implement the rulings and restore land to the villages.
Israeli troops and Palestinian villagers have clashed sporadically for years in villages along the barrier route. The boy’s death was the second known Palestinian fatality in those confrontations.
On Tuesday afternoon, Israeli forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent rock-throwing Nilin residents from interfering with construction vehicles clearing olive trees and rocks from the barrier route and putting up fencing. An Israeli policeman was struck by a rock and suffered an eye injury, the military said.
Two hours after the clash ended, about 50 residents walked from the village toward the barrier route, said Mohammed Fayez, a 32-year-old villager who was among them. The group went to inspect damage to the groves, he said, not to confront the Israelis, who were preparing to leave for the day.
The shooting came without warning, several witnesses said.
“There was nothing to justify it,” Fayez said. “The soldiers were about 100 meters away from where the people stood. I saw one soldier go down on his knee, point his rifle and shoot. I ran toward Ahmad and carried him until an ambulance came. He was already dead.”
Israeli officials did not offer their own account of the shooting. A statement by the military said work on the fence would continue under the added protection of a Border Police unit trained in crowd control while army representatives hold talks with Palestinians in an attempt “to limit rioting in the region.”
The military “is saddened by harm caused to civilians,” the statement said.
Nilin was the scene of a July 7 shooting that outraged Palestinians and embarrassed the Israeli army.
That shooting was captured on film by a village resident and made public by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. It showed an Israeli soldier taking aim and firing a rubber-coated bullet at the foot of a handcuffed, blindfolded Palestinian protester as an Israeli officer held the man’s arm. The 27-year-old anti-fence protester sustained a toe injury.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak condemned the soldier’s conduct. On Tuesday, the army suspended the soldier’s battalion commander for 10 days pending an inquiry.
Special correspondent Abukhater reported from Ramallah and Times staff writer Boudreaux from Jerusalem.