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Autopsy of teenager killed by soldiers in al-Jalazun R.C. calls military's account into question

Update: On 15 December 2013 the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that an MPIU investigation had been launched. On 13 January 2015 the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the case was under further investigation. On 15 July 2015 the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the case was still under further investigation.

Wajih a-Ramahi, photo courtesy of the familyAt around 4:30 PM on Saturday, 7 December 2013, a soldier stationed outside the fence surrounding the settlement of Beit El fired at Wajih a-Ramahi, 15, hitting him in the back. A-Ramahi was taken from al-Jalazun R.C. to hospital in Ramallah, where he died of his wounds shortly after arrival.

Wajih a-Ramahi’s family consented to a post-mortem examination and Dr. Saber al-'Aalul, Director of the Palestinian Forensic Medicine Institute, performed the autopsy. B'Tselem recently received his report. According to Dr. al-'Aalul's findings, a-Ramahi was killed by a single bullet that penetrated the center of his back, causing extensive damage to the heart and one of the lungs. The bullet, which had remained lodged in the anterior of a-Ramahi's chest, was removed for ballistic testing to confirm the theory that it was a 5.56mm caliber bullet. The autopsy report also noted that the shot was fired from an estimated distance of 50 to 300 meters and that the bullet hit the body on a downward trajectory.

According to inquiries made by B'Tselem field researcher, a-Ramahi was in the vicinity of a group of youths who were throwing stones at a party of 4 to 6 soldiers stationed in an olive grove just outside the fence surrounding the settlement of Beit El. B'Tselem does not know if he participated in the stone throwing. The youths, who were about 200 meters away from the soldiers, were in an area not far from the boys' school in east al-Jalazun R.C. Youths from the refugee camp often throw stones at the watchtower located on the outskirts of the settlement of Beit El.

The area between the settlement of Beit El and the al-Jalazun R.C. boys' school. Photo taken from spot where Wajih a-Ramahi was killed. Red circle indicates the soldiers’ approximate location. Photo by Itamar Barak, B'Tselem, 9 December 2013.
The area between the settlement of Beit El and the al-Jalazun R.C. boys' school. Photo taken from spot where Wajih a-Ramahi was killed. Red circle indicates the soldiers’ approximate location. Photo by Itamar Barak, B'Tselem, 9 December 2013.

Eyewitnesses to the incident told B'Tselem's field researcher that the clashes lasted for about an hour and were relatively mild. The witnesses said that the soldiers fired live ammunition sporadically during the incident and made no use of crowd control weapons, such as tear gas or rubber-coated metal bullets. Live gunfire sounds very different from crowd control ammunition and the two are clearly distinguishable.

B'Tselem was informed by the MAG Corps that the military police had launched an investigation of the incident. In its response to an article in Israeli daily Haaretz, the military made the following statement: "Troops from the Tzabar regiment of Givati [Brigade] had been stationed at a stakeout to apprehend stone-throwers. During the stakeout, stones were thrown at the force and at Israelis in the area. According to the report by the force’s commander, a suspect apprehension procedure was commenced and the only shots fired were in the air. The military is investigating whether or not the youth was hit by this gunfire." The military's account that the soldiers shot only in the air is inconsistent with the facts of the case and the findings of the autopsy.

Under the IDF's open-fire regulations, "As a rule, live ammunition should not be used against a stone-thrower". Regulations permit the use of live ammunition only "under specific dangerous circumstances”, namely, in cases of immediate mortal danger that can be averted only by the use of such ammunition. Live ammunition is also permitted during suspect-apprehension procedures, but even then, "only when the stone-throwing is on a massive scale that endangers the physical well-being of a soldier or another individual, and only when the suspect-apprehension procedure is used immediately in conjunction with the incident. At every stage of the procedure, the circumstances must be reviewed to see if they still justify continuing with the procedure ". In any event, the last stage of the suspect-apprehension procedure permits firing only at a suspect's legs. Under no circumstances may a suspect be shot in the back.

B'Tselem's inquiries indicate that the soldiers faced a danger insufficient to permit the use live ammunition and that, moreover, there were no Israeli civilians in the area. As stated above, there were relatively few stone-throwers and they were far from the soldiers. The soldiers could have dealt with them with crowd control weapons, which are less lethal. The fact that a-Ramahi was shot in the back from a distance of about 200 meters lends much support to the argument that he posed no danger to the soldiers at the time he was shot and that there was no justification for shooting at him.

As mentioned, the military police launched an investigation shortly after the incident. As part of its investigation, the military police must determine whether the soldiers had crowd control weapons at their disposal and if so, why they opted for live ammunition rather than less lethal measures. In addition, the investigation must not focus exclusively on the actions of a particular soldier. Rather it must investigate the orders that the troops received and the responsibility of individuals higher up the chain of command.

B'Tselem will monitor the investigation to ensure it reviews the forensic findings and also conducts ballistic testing on the bullet and weapons used by the soldiers involved in the incident.

A previous incident in which a youth was killed by soldiers who were staking out stone-throwers occurred in the village of Budrus on 15 January 2013. In that incident 16-year-old Samir ‘Awad was shot in the back and died of his wounds. A year has passed since the incident and the military advocate for operational matters has yet to decide whether or not to prosecute.