On the evening of 21 March 2017, at around 9:00 pm, three residents from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip – Yusef Abu ‘Athrah, 15, Muhammad al-‘Aker, 24, both from the city’s refugee camp, and ‘Abdallah a-Rikhawi, 29, from the town itself – set out for a patch of land belonging to Abu ‘Athrah’s family in al-Shokah, east of the city. The plot is situated about 300–400 meters from the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Relying on Abu ‘Athrah’s knowledge of the area, the three Palestinians were planning to walk from his family’s land to the fence in order to cross into Israel to seek work.
At around 10:00 pm they reached the Abu ‘Athrah land, gathered wood for a campfire, and started preparing supper. About two hours later, around midnight, while their food was cooking, the military fired a tank shell at them.
The Israeli media reported that “according to the IDF, the three young men were identified as doing something on the ground in an area covered in vegetation, and were suspected of trying to plant an explosive device on the fence. In response, IDF tanks fired several shells at them. The IDF is now examining whether they were indeed terrorists who were planning to carry out an attack.”
The military’s response, as quoted by the media, attests to a ”shoot first and ask questions later” policy. An investigation by B’Tselem revealed that the three had been a distance of several hundred meters from the fence and were in no way attempting to plant an explosive device when they were shelled. Nevertheless, the military opened fire on them, even though they posed no danger, and other than their actual presence in the area, the army had no reason to suspect otherwise. Clearly, mere physical presence is not sufficient to justify the indiscriminate shelling of people and the military’s action was, therefore, unwarranted and exaggerated.