Nearly 900 Palestinians were also made homeless in 2021 as Israeli house demolitions hit a five-year high, said the charity B’Tselem.
In a report released on Tuesday, the Jerusalem-based charity said that over the last year Israeli security forces’ use of “lethal, wanton, unlawful open-fire policy” resulted in the killing of 313 Palestinians, including 71 minors across the occupied Palestinian territories.
Of these victims, 70 per cent were killed in Gaza during the May war with the militant group Hamas, when unprecedented barrages of Palestinian rocket fire also killed 14 people in Israel including two Israeli children. During the hostilities, 77 Palestinians were also killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
B’Tselem said that Israeli officials defend the open-fire policy - which the group says allows unjustified use of lethal force in a wide range of circumstances - by insisting it is used as a last resort in accordance with Israeli and international law. This would mean it would need to be proportionate or for example, deployed when lives are in immediate danger.
“Yet the facts show otherwise: lethal shootings are a routine affair, and no one is held accountable,” the rights group wrote.
The charity also said that 895 Palestinians - including 463 children - were left homeless this year after hundreds of residential structures in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem were demolished by Israel. This is the highest tally since 2016.
Israel regularly demolishes Palestinian homes, usually citing a lack of Israeli building permits.
However, rights groups say these permits are near impossible for Palestinians to secure even if the construction takes place on privately owned land, leaving families with no choice but to build without permission. According to B’Tselem, these demolitions are “not a matter of ‘law enforcement’” as Israel claims, but designed to shift the demographics.
“The Israeli apartheid regime blocks almost all Palestinian development in vast parts of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem – while building massively for Jews,” the group said.
The Israeli military, already accused by UN experts of committing possible war crimes in the Strip, vehemently denies that it has violated international law or used excessive force. Hamas is also being investigated by the International Criminal Court for war crimes including indiscriminately firing at Israeli civilians.
The military told The Independent all Israeli army operations are “conducted in accordance with international law which aline with Israel’s values and morals” and said that Hamas “deliberately [places] their military assets in densely populated civilian areas”.
The statement continued: “Operation ‘Guardian of the Walls’ was the first major operation since 2014. During the operation the Hamas terrorist organisation indiscriminately fired more than 4,400 rockets at Israeli civilians.
“While Hamas indiscriminately fired rockets at cities and densely populated civilian centres, the IDF [Israeli army] only targeted legitimate military targets such as rocket launchers, weapons manufacturing and production facilities and cyber-warfare infrastructure. “
The army also accused Hamas of continuing to “incite terrorist activity” in the West Bank where the army says there “have been weekly violent riots”.
The army added that every incident in which a person is killed during their operational activity is investigated. “B'Tselem has explicitly chosen not to submit the "report" to the [army] for examination prior to its publication, thus continuing its policy in recent years of publishing unsubstantiated, biased and unrelated allegations against the State of Israel and the IDF,” it added.
The Independent also reached out to the Israeli embassy in London for comment on demolitions of Palestinian homes but has yet to receive a reply. In the past Israeli officials have defended the demolitions and denied that it is part of an effort to shift demographics.
Israel’s foreign ministry has also rejected accusations it is an apartheid state as “preposterous and false”, and said such allegations are part of a “longstanding anti-Israel agenda”.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war. It pulled out of Gaza in 2005, and the enclave is now governed by Hamas, a US and UK designated terrorist group.
More than half a million Jewish settlers now live in the occupied territories in settlements which are illegal under international law. Israel rejects this citing historical claims on the biblical lands.
B’Tselem’s report found that 14 May last year was the deadliest day in the occupied West Bank since 2002 as 13 Palestinians were killed. Israeli settlers were among the perpetrators, the charity said.
The group said they have recorded a surge in settler violence in the past year. In 2021, B’Tselem investigated 336 such incidents, up from 251 in 2020.
“These incidents make it abundantly clear that settler violence is not a private initiative but another, less formal tool that Israel’s apartheid regime uses to take over more and more Palestinian land,” the group added.
The Israeli authorities strongly deny this, and the military told The Independent last year that it is “committed to the well-being of all residents in the area and acts to prevent violence within its area of responsibility.”
Separately on Tuesday, Israeli interior minister Ayelet Shaked said Israel was prepared to permit Palestinian-American dual nationals to transit its territory as part of an emerging US visa waiver deal for its citizens.
Israel strictly limits access for Palestinians who when they come from abroad have to take the arduous journey through Jordan and the Israeli-run West Bank boundary, or through Egypt’s Sinai desert into Gaza.
Giving Palestinian-Americans living in the territories an Israel-transit option "is a demand by the Americans going back many years", Ms Shaked said.
"The Shin Bet (Israeli security service) can handle it,” she told reporters.
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