The Bil’in resident whose story was featured in the film Five Broken Cameras was killed in April 2009, but the investigation into his death has still not been completed
The mother of a resident of the village of Bil’in who was killed by a tear-gas grenade fired at him by a soldier has petitioned the High Court of Justice. The petition demands that the Military Advocate General, Major-General Danny Efroni, be ordered to reach a decision in the case and prosecute the soldier who fired the grenade and all those bearing command responsibility for the killing of her son. In the petition, which was filed jointly with Bil’in Village Council, B’Tselem and Yesh Din, Subhiya Abu Rahmah demands an urgent hearing in view of the fact that almost four years have passed since her son was killed. The incident was documented in the film Five Broken Cameras, which was a candidate for the 2013 Acadamey Awards.
Bassem Abu Rahmah, age 30, was killed in April 2009 after he was struck in the chest by an extended-range tear gas grenade during a demonstration against the Separation Barrier in his home village of Bil’in. Three video segments filmed during the demonstration prove that Abu Rahmah was situated to the east of the fence, did not act violently, and did not endanger the soldiers in any way. The petitioners also attached an opinion prepared by experts from London and New York who have analyzed the films documenting the incident and determined that the grenade was aimed directly at Abu Rahmah. Accordingly, and given that the deceased did not pose any threat to the soldiers, the shooting constituted a criminal offense. Accordingly, the soldier who fired the grenade should be prosecuted and, depending on the results of the investigation, it is possible that his commanders should also be prosecuted. The video segments also show that other soldiers fired gas grenades directly at demonstrators during the protest, in the presence of senior officers and in complete contravention of the open-fire regulations.
Despite these findings, the previous Military Advocate General, Major-General Avichai Mandelblit, initially refused to instruct the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) to open an investigation into the killing. He changed his mind only after a threat to petition the High Court of Justice and the publication of an expert opinion examining the filmed evidence which reached the unequivocal conclusion that the firing was aimed directly at Abu Rahmah. The MPIU opened an investigation in July 2010 and several additional investigations have since taken place, but no decision has been taken to prosecute any suspects or to close the file.
In the petition, submitted by Attorneys Emily Schaeffer and Michael Sfard, the petitioners note that the refusal to reach a decision in the case over such a long period is unreasonable in the extreme, in part in view of the obligation under international law that an investigation into a grave human rights violation must be effective, take place without delay, and be completed promptly. The failure to reach a decision is dangerous and conveys the message to military and Border Police personnel engaged in dispersing demonstrations that even if they shoot and kill demonstrators, they will not bear criminal liability. Such a message reflects contempt for the lives of Palestinian civilians. The petitioners add that the delay in investigating the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmah is just one example, albeit a particularly extreme one, of the slow pace of investigations and decision making by the Military Advocate General, which often extends over several years. There can be no doubt that this problem significantly impairs these investigations and the chance of reaching the truth and ensuring that justice is done.
In conclusion, the petitioners note that Bassem Abu Rahmah was a well-known and loved young man in his village. He was a man of peace and a close friend to many Israelis, foreigners and Palestinians, all of whom were devastated by his death. However, a decision is needed in the investigation file not only for the sake of his relatives and friends. Such a decision is also needed for the sake of any society that respects human life and the rule of law.