“A Reckless and Negligent Act,” Israel’s Justice System

If you want to appreciate how an occupying force dehumanizes the occupied people it rules over, consider the language of the Israeli State Attorney’s Office.

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Samir ‘Awad.

In January 2013, Israeli soldiers patrolling the Separation Barrier in the West Bank shot in the back a wounded and fleeing Palestinian youth, 16 year old Samir ‘Awad. Samir posed no threat and subsequently died.

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Samir ‘Awad being carried away after being shot.

Ahmad ‘Awad, the boy’s father, petitioned the Israeli High Court in March 2014 seeking accountability for the willful killing of his son.

Israel’s Military Police Investigation Unit opened up an investigation, but dragged its feet on releasing its findings long after its completion. Not until 14 April 2015 did the MPIU inform the High Court that after “subject to a hearing and to the end of privilege proceedings” it would indict the soldiers (whose names were kept classified).

The indictment? The offense of “a reckless and negligent act using a firearm.” It is a minor charge more appropriate for a disciplinary measure against a drunken soldier who may fire his rifle in the air.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem called it “a new low in Israeli authorities’ disregard for the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The State Attorney’s Office has sent security forces in the Occupied Territories a clear message: if you kill an unarmed Palestinian who poses no threat, we will do everything to cover it up and ensure impunity. Killing a wounded, fleeing youth who posed no threat by shooting him in the back is not a “reckless and negligent act”. The disparity between the grave action and the minor offense is incomprehensible and outrageous.”

The soldiers, likely since discharged from their conscription, should not sweat the indictment. Rare is the Israeli soldier charged with murder for purposely killing a Palestinian civilian who posed no threat and those indicted on lesser charges often do little, if any, time in prison.

Samir ‘Awad recalls an equal mockery of justice: the 15 May 2014 killing of 17 year old Nidam Nuwara and 16 year old Mohammad Mahmoud Abu Daher at the exact same spot within an hour of each other. Nidan and Muhammad were shot in cold blood walking past the Israeli Ofer prison in Beitunia on the West Bank. Video footage proves beyond doubt that the killing was a deliberate act of murder:

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Daniel Nuware holding up a poster of his late older brother Nidam.
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Mohammad Mahmoud Abu Daher.

For months Israeli authorities sought to evade responsibility: claiming that soldiers only fired rubber bullets (an investigation by a research group at the University of London suggests the live bullet was fired through a rubber-bullet extension on the rifle in a possible effort to conceal the use of live ammunition), that the shooter may have been a rogue Palestinian, that the youth were involved in clashes against soldiers and pelted the prison with stones… And Israel even removed the security cameras that captured the footage for, one surmises, precluding evidence the next time a Palestinian youth is shot.

Only after sustained investigative work by Defense of Children International and footage from a CNN crew that showed the Israeli officer firing at Nadim did Israeli authorities file manslaughter charges against the Border Police officer (whose name was withheld) for the shooting of Nidam.

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“In my mind, this was a murder and the policeman should be facing a murder charge, with the possibility of receiving a life sentence,” Siam Nuwara, Nidam’s father, said at the time. “A Palestinian arrested under these circumstances would be facing murder charges, with the possibility of life imprisonment, and his family’s home would be demolished.”

For those unfamiliar with the distinction between a murder and manslaughter charge: the former entails thinking out and planning the murder, it is intentional and deliberate, premeditated murder; the latter entails killing without the intention of doing so, intending to cause harm but not death, involuntary murder, and sometimes with provocation.

Nidam and Muhammad were not provoking, the Israeli officer had to spot them, aim, and think before he shot, and it is a joke beyond sickness to argue that someone shooting anyone with live ammunition in the upper half of their body intended solely to cause bodily harm and not kill the person. If the Israeli government adhered to decent procedures of justice, murder would be the obvious charge and it would be up to the defendant’s lawyer to plead manslaughter.

Had the officer faced a murder charge, he would be looking at the possibility of a life sentence. Under manslaughter, he’ll face no more than 20 years and as little as 6 months. Given the leniency Israeli soldiers are met with in the court system, odds are the sentence will lean toward the latter.

As for Muhammad, despite the exact same circumstances surrounding Nidam’s death, to this day no Israeli soldier or officer has been indicted on any charges for killing the 16 year old. Israeli authorities will exhaust every opportunity to avoid holding to even minor accountability any soldier or officer; and Muhammad’s family may never see any indictment, whatever it may be worth. Given the travesty of the Israeli justice system, the Israeli State Attorney’s Office would do no better than indicting itself for recklessness and negligence in its callous regard for Palestinian life. Only a belief – individually and collectively held by Israeli state officials – that the Palestinians are less human than Israelis would justify such conduct.

Defense of Children International made a video of Muhammad’s family and friends remembering an older brother, best friend, loving son, and an aspiring journalist.

And Nidam’s family and friend have made a video in memory of the young man who, in the words of B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad, “survived a premature birth and a car accident, but did not survive the occupation.”

Photo Credits: Defense of Children International – Palestine,  ‘Abd a-Nasser Murar & photograph of Daniel Nuwara was provided to the Electronic Intifada courtesy of the Nuwara family. 

By Khelil Bouarrouj.

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