State won’t prosecute officer responsible for shooting of Firas Qasqas

Published: 
25 Jan 2012

Firas Qasqas, an unarmed Palestinian civilian, was killed on 2 February 2007 by soldiers' gunfire, in Ramallah District. On 18 August 2011, in response to a petition filed by B'Tselem, the State Attorney's Office informed the High Court of Justice that the officer responsible for the shooting would be prosecuted, pending a hearing. In mid-January 2012, the State informed the Court that, following the hearing given the officer, no indictment would be filed against him.

In a letter attached to the State’s announcement, Att. Rakefet Segal-Mohar from the Central District Attorney’s Office wrote that, although the shooting did not conform to the open-fire regulations, “it was a unique operational situation, in which the soldiers … felt that they were in real danger.” The Office concluded that, “even if the order to shoot was mistaken, it does not amount to negligence.”

B'Tselem intends to appeal the decision.

Background:

The late Firas Qasqas with his wife, Majedah, and one of their daughters. The decision was reached four years after a company of reserve-duty soldiers killed Qasqas from a distance of several hundred meters away, although he was unarmed and had done nothing that endangered them. The announcement was made in response to the petition filed, on 3 February 2011, by B'Tselem, represented by Attorney Gabi Laski, demanding that the Judge Advocate General’s Office decide whether to take measures against the soldiers involved in the case.

Had B'Tselem not been involved, including filing the petition, it is safe to assume that a decision would not have been made, and the incident may not even have been investigated. Many cases documented by B'Tselem in which Palestinians were killed were never investigated by the Military Police Investigation Unit. B'Tselem has also documented other cases in which soldiers killed Palestinians, which were investigated by MPIU, but the Judge Advocate General’s Office did not decide on the action to be taken. Some cases are still pending a decision, years after completion of the investigation.

Firas Qasqas, 32, was killed on 2 February 2007 by soldiers' gunfire in a-Tira neighborhood in Ramallah District. He was a resident of Batir, Bethlehem District, and had gone with his family to visit relatives in a-Tira.

2.12.07According to information obtained by B'Tselem, on that afternoon, Qasqas and two of his brothers-in-law went for a walk in an open area near the houses of the neighborhood . They saw a group of soldiers some 500 meters from them. Testimonies given to B'Tselem by the two brothers-in-law indicate that soldiers opened fire at the three men, who were unarmed and had not done anything to endanger the soldiers' lives. A bullet struck Qasqas in the back and exited from his stomach. The two took him to hospital in Ramallah, where he died from his wounds.

The area where Qasas and his brothers-in-law were taking a walk when he was shot to death. Photo: B'Tselem
The area where Qasas and his brothers-in-law were taking a walk when he was shot to death. Photo: B'Tselem

Following the incident, B'Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General’s Office on several occasions, demanding an MPIU investigation be opened into the circumstances of the killing. Some two months passed before the JAG ordered the investigation. B'Tselem assisted the MPIU in coordinating the taking of testimonies of the two men who were with Qasqas when he was shot, and provided the MPIU with all the relevant material the organization had in the matter.

To the best of B'Tselem's knowledge, the investigative findings were provided to the JAG's Office more than two years ago. After the petition was filed, the JAG's Office transferred handling of the matter to the State Attorney's Office, contending that the alleged offenders could no longer be prosecuted under the Military Justice Law, since they were reserve-duty soldiers and a long period of time had elapsed since the incident had occurred. It is unclear why the JAG's Office did not transfer the file on its own initiative to the competent officials for the continued handling of the file. Throughout, the JAG's Office told B'Tselem that the file was “being handled.”

In its announcement to the High Court, the State Attorney's Office said that it had not received the file until 7 March 2011. The court granted the respondent a two-month extension to examine the material. The State Attorney's Office subsequently obtained, at its request, two further extensions to complete its examination.

On 18 August, the State Attorney's Office informed the court that the District Attorney’s Office of Central District had completed its examination of the investigative file and decided that, “in this matter, consideration should be given to filing an indictment against the principal person involved in the case that is the subject of the petition, subject to providing him an opportunity to be heard.” The announcement added that a hearing would be conducted soon with the principal person involved in Qasqas' killing – the commander of the company, who had ordered the shooting.