Today, B’Tselem announced it would no longer refer complaints to the military’s law enforcement system. We explain this unusual decision in our new report, The Occupation's Fig Leaf: Israel's Military Law Enforcement System as a Whitewash Mechanism, which is based on hundreds of complaints B’Tselem has filed, dozens of military investigations and many meetings with officials. We will continue reporting violations but will no longer help a whitewash mechanism that also, in advance, absolves senior military and government officials of responsibility for the policy they set out.
On 30 Dec. the two soldiers who shot and killed Samir ‘Awad near the Separation Barrier in Jan. 2013 were indicted. The facts described in the indictment are very similar to those found by B’Tselem’s inquiries, clearly indicating the shooting was unjustified and an outright breach of the open-fire regulations. The disparity between the soldiers’ egregious conduct and the minor charges being brought against them beggars belief, and sends security personnel in the OPT a clear message that the system will allow them to continue to operate with impunity, even if they kill Palestinians who pose no danger and even if they breach regulations.
After lengthy foot-dragging, the HCJ ruled on 8 Nov. 2015 that the State Attorney’s Office must file indictments against the two soldiers involved in killing Samir ‘Awad, 16, by the end of 2015 – almost 3 years after his death. This follows the announcement by the State Attorney’s Office’s it would indict the two for committing a “reckless and negligent act using a firearm”. The disparity between the grave action and the minor offense is outrageous, sending a message to security forces: even if you kill an unarmed Palestinian who poses no threat, we will cover it up.
More than two and a half years ago, soldiers killed sixteen-year-old Samir ‘Awad. A year and two months later, his father petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) together with B'Tselem, demanding the Military Advocate General (MAG) reach a decision whether to take action against the soldiers involved or close the case. The State Attorney’s Office continues the foot-dragging in this case, repeatedly ignoring interim court decisions.
In response to the publication in Israeli daily Ha’aretz that Israel would be entering into a dialogue with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague (ICC) in order to clarify the state's position, B'Tselem states: Israel’s contention that the ICC has no jurisdiction over alleged breaches of the laws of war, partly because “the Israeli judicial system is independent and can handle complaints on the matter of alleged war crimes” is incorrect. Past experience shows that the opposite is true and that Israeli authorities have demonstrated that they are incapable of investigating allegations of Israeli breaches of humanitarian law in the Gaza Strip.
Seven years ago, a military officer fired a rubber-coated metal bullet at Eran Cohen’s leg at a demonstration against the Separation Barrier in Bil’in. Three and a half years ago, the MAG decided to close the investigation. B’Tselem appealed the decision two years ago, arguing there is sufficient evidence to indict the officer. In March 2015, the MAG Corps notified B’Tselem that the investigation had been reopened to try and glean new evidence from the video footage in the case file. B’Tselem had sent in the footage shortly after the incident.
The UN report on the 2014 Gaza conflict rejects Israeli government and military officials’ view of what is permissible in combat in densely populated areas. The UN commission’s premise differs from that of these officials, seeing Gaza as the home of over 1.5 million civilians where combat took place, not as a battlefield on which civilians live. The report states that the immense harm to civilians during the fighting cannot be justified nor can IHL be interpreted so as to legalize it, even considering the modus operandi of Hamas and other armed groups. The commission also found that the responsibility for violating IHL rests with the senior political and military officials who drew up the policy and did not change it even when its lethal consequences became clear.
In March 2014, soldiers killed Yusef a-Shawamreh, 14, as he crossed the Separation Barrier to pick edible plants for his family. He was shot although he posed no danger, in broad daylight. In July 2014, the MAG Corps declared the investigation closed with no charges. Examination of the military file revealed a sloppy investigation and corroborated B’Tselem’s suspicion of unlawful conduct in the incident. The MAG Corps effectively sanctioned this conduct by accepting a flawed investigation and releasing the commanders from accountability.
On 13 May 2011, Milad ‘Ayash, 17, was hit by a live bullet fired at him from the Beit Yehonatan settlement in Silwan, East Jerusalem. ‘Ayash died of his wounds the next day. Both the DIP and the Israel Police investigated the shooting; both closed their case files citing “perpetrator unknown.” B'Tselem appealed to the State Attorney’s Office against the decision to close the investigations, noting grave investigative failings. The negligence with which the investigations were conducted and the closing of the files evince disregard by Israeli authorities for Palestinian lives.
Today Israel’s State Attorney’s Office notified the High Court of Justice that in the case of Palestinian youth Samir ‘Awad it had decided to file an indictment for the minor offense of committing “a reckless and negligent act using a firearm”. This is a new low in Israeli authorities’ disregard for the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and a clear message to the security forces in the Occupied Territories: 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 mother of Bassem Abu Rahmeh, a resident of the West Bank village of Bil’in killed when a soldier fired a tear-gas canister at him, petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice yesterday demanding that the Court compel the Military Advocate General (MAG) and the Attorney General to reach a decision concerning the appeal over the closing of the investigation file, and to indict the soldier who fired the canister along with any others bearing military command responsibility for the killing of her son. In the petition, filed jointly with Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din, Subhiya Abu Rahmeh demanded that the Court put an end to the foot-dragging and the avoidance of conducting even the most basic investigative acts that could shed light on the identity of the persons responsible for killing her son.
On 25 March 2015 Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) reiterated its ruling that by mid-April 2015 the State Attorney’s Office must announce its decision in the case of the killing of Samir ‘Awad. The HCJ made this announcement in response to the State’s request for yet another extension. B’Tselem criticizes the State’s disregard of a previous HCJ ruling and foot-dragging in the case. Samir ‘Awad, 16, was killed on 15 January 2013 by gunshots fired by soldiers near the Separation Barrier in the West Bank village of Budrus, although he posed no danger. Despite the more than two years that have passed since the incident, no decision has been made in the case.
Yesterday (1 Dec. 2014) HCJ held first hearing in petition by Ahmad ‘Awad whose son Samir, 16, was shot and killed by soldiers in Budrus nearly two years ago. The petition, filed with B’Tselem, calls for a decision by the MAG on whether to indict. The Court added the Attorney General as respondent because Military Justice Law no longer applies to the since-discharged soldiers suspected in the incident. Justice Melcer: “In future, MAG Corps officials must know that […] they must complete all proceedings before the soldiers are discharged.”
The arrest of a Border Police officer suspected of killing Palestinian youths at Bitunya confirms B’Tselem’s finding that Nadim Nawarah and Muhammad Salameh were killed by live fire and not rubber-coated bullets. Officials and pundits initially attempted to divert attention from the grave outcome by smearing the credibility of security camera footage. The authorities would do well to focus on uncovering the truth, instead of creating media spins to shirk responsibility. The investigation must be speedily completed and those responsible tried.
In March 2014 soldiers shot and killed Yusef a-Shawamreh, 14, as he crossed the Separation Barrier to pick edible plants. Our investigation indicates that he was shot in broad daylight, with no advance warning, although he posed no danger. In July, the military declared the investigation closed, suspecting no criminal action or breach of regulation. The appalling, fatal outcome cannot be tolerated. The responsibility lies with the military’s bodies who issue commands to the troops and the judicial arm which closed the case.
In response to the MAG corps announcement detailing some of the investigations opened into "exceptional" cases during operation Protective Edge, B'Tselem stated that based on past experience, it isn't holding out hope that this process will lead to results other than a whitewash. B'Tselem announced this week that it will not assist the current military investigation mechanism, which currently amounts is nothing more than a masquerade and called for the establishment of an effective, transparent and impartial mechanism.
During Operation Protective Edge, Israel violated international humanitarian law in some cases, and many other cases are highly suspect. However, B’Tselem does not intend to demand that these suspicions be investigated by Israel’s current investigation mechanisms. This is due to the experience that B’Tselem gained following past military offensives in the Gaza Strip, which shows that there is currently no official body in Israel capable of conducting independent investigations of suspected violations of international humanitarian law.
B’Tselem and Yesh Din, the two leading Israeli human rights organizations in monitoring the investigations of offenses committed by security forces against Palestinians, find that the military law enforcement system is a complete failure. After examining the results of hundreds of investigations, the organizations assert that the existing investigation mechanism precludes serious investigations and is marred by severe structural flaws that render it incapable of conducting professional investigations.
On 10 June 2014, nearly 17 months after Lubna al-Hanash was killed and two months after her father and B'Tselem petitioned the HCJ demanding that the MAG decide whether to indict those responsible for her death, the MAG Corps decided to close the investigation without filing charges. Al-Hanash was killed by a gunshot wound to her head while walking with a relative in a park near Route 60. B'Tselem's investigation found that the two women posed no danger and that the soldier who fired did not take minimal precautions to avoid harm to bystanders.
An op-ed By Hagai El-Ad, B'Tselem's executive director, originally published in Haaretz: three families hanging between despair and hope, and if only that hope could win. But what responsibility is this, what hope is this, and what humanity is this if it is so completely blind to the Palestinian suffering? A great majority of the time, for most of the Jews here, the Palestinian suffering is completely denied. When it is not documented on video it interests almost no one, and when it is documented it is repressed as a conspiracy.