B’Tselem appeals decision not to indict in wounding of Eran Cohen at demonstration in Bil'in, 14 March 2008

Published: 
7 Mar 2013

On 3 March 2013 Attorney Gaby Lasky filed an appeal on behalf of B’Tselem to the Military Advocate General (MAG) against the decision by the Military Advocate for Operational Matters not to indict anyone for shooting a rubber-coated metal bullet at Israeli Eran Cohen during a demonstration in Bil'in on 14 March 2008.

On 14 March 2008, during a demonstration against the Separation Barrier, an Israeli military officer fired a rubber-coated metal bullet from very close range at a demonstrator, Cohen, who was 18 at the time. The incident was filmed by two separate photographers, an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. The footage clearly shows that Cohen was doing nothing that posed any danger whatsoever to the soldiers. The officer fired at Cohen from a distance of only a few meters, although the military prohibits the use of rubber-coated metal bullets at distances under fifty meters, because doing so may be lethal. Cohen was taken to Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, where the bullet was removed from his thigh.

On 1 January 2012, the Military Advocate for Operational Matters (MAOM) Corps notified B’Tselem that it was closing the case. B’Tselem sought to learn the reasons for this decision, but was rebuffed. In addition, on behalf of Eran Cohen, B’Tselem requested to see all the investigatory material. B’Tselem received and examined the material it had been sent. Further to a protracted correspondence with the MAOM Corps to receive additional investigatory material and to learn the reasons for the decision to close the case, B'Tselem submitted its appeal.

In the appeal, Attorney Lasky emphasized that the investigatory material in the file, including the two videos filmed during the demonstration and conveyed by B’Tselem to the investigators, proves indisputably that the officer fired a rubber-coated metal bullet at Cohen at close range, in complete violation of open-fire regulations, injuring him in the leg. Hence, the decision to close the file is patently unjust and should be reversed. Moreover, Attorney Lasky noted that the investigation failed completely in examining the broader issues and implications of the case. The investigatory material made no mention of the question of permission having been granted for firing rubber-coated metal bullets or the necessity for firing such bullets at that particular demonstration; of the training of security forces in and their knowledge of open-fire regulations; or even of the fact that, contrary to regulations, the injured youth, Eran Cohen, was given no medical aid,.

In the course of completing its investigation, the MAOM Corps asked B’Tselem to arrange for Emad Burnat, one of the photographers who filmed the incident, to testify. They argued that Burnat’s film “documents the shooting incident at a closer range and from an angle enabling a better and clearer view,” and that therefore his testimony is crucial to the investigation. Burnat refused to testify before the Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU) or the MAOM Corps. Despite the Corps’ refusal to disclose the reasons for closing the case, it seems that the Corps relied inter alia on Burnat’s refusal to testify. Even before the case was closed, B’Tselem pointed out to the MAOM Corps that the video footage filmed by Li Lorian, who did testify to the MPIU, was adequate.

Video footage of the incident by Li Lorian
 

In the appeal, Attorney Lasky underscored the point that Burnat’s refusal to testify does not disqualify his video footage as evidence. The existence of a similar video and the fact that eyewitnesses and suspects recognized the incident, themselves, and their comrades in his footage, is sufficient to validate Burnat’s video as evidence in itself.


Video footage of the incident by Emad Burnat

The fact that the MAOM Corps declined to file an indictment in the wounding of Eran Cohen, an incident for which there is indisputable documentation of unlawful firing of rubber-coated metal bullets, sends the wrong message to Israeli security forces, that if they violate open-fire regulations they will not be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, thereby unjustifiably endangering the physical safety and lives of civilians.

Background

The demonstrations against the Separation Barrier in Bil’in began in 2005, when its construction began on the village’s lands. As far back as September 2007, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the route of the barrier must be altered to reduce negative impact on the villagers, but the decision was implemented only in June 2011.

The demonstrations against the Separation Barrier in Bil’in began in 2005, when its construction began on the village’s lands. As far back as September 2007, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the route of the barrier must be altered to reduce negative impact on the villagers, but the decision was implemented only in June 2011.

During the demonstration, a second lieutenant fired a rubber-coated metal bullet at Cohen at very close range with. Cohen was unarmed, was not throwing stones, did not endanger the security forces in any way or do anything else to justify the use of force against him. None of the soldiers administered any medical aid to Cohen, and he was evacuated by his companions to Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, where the metal slug was removed from his thigh.

Contacted by B’Tselem, the MPIU opened a criminal investigation into the circumstances of Cohen’s shooting, but on1 January 2012, B’Tselem was notified that the investigation had been closed.

B’Tselem has cautioned repeatedly that members of the security forces often use rubber-coated metal bullets in contravention of regulations. Since 2000, 18 Palestinians, including 12 children, have been killed by this type of bullet. Given the risks of this ammunition, and pursuant to a recommendation by the Orr Commission, the use of rubber-coated metal bullets was prohibited within Israel. In the Occupied Territories, however, they are still in use by the security forces.

In response to a letter from B’Tselem dated 31 August 2008 to then Attorney General Menachem (Meni) Mazuz, demanding enforcement of the open-fire regulations regarding rubber-coated metal bullets and full accountability in cases in which security forces violated those orders, Deputy State Attorney (special assignments) Shai Nitzan replied on 29 February 2012: “We have been advised that the IDF overall, and the MAG Corps in particular, view any deviation from the open-fire regulations with utmost seriousness. Hence, any complaint submitted to the MAG Corps suggesting that IDF soldiers used rubber bullets other than in accordance with the open-fire orders, including when dealing with disturbances of the peace, is carefully and seriously investigated. We have been advised that, in appropriate cases, the MAG Corps orders an MPIU investigation, and when there is evidence that a violation has occurred – the MAG Corps deals very severely with those responsible.” However, the MAG Corps decision in the present case illustrates only too well that actions speak louder than words.