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From the field

MAG Corps exempts officer from responsibility for shooting non-violent demonstrator with rubber bullet

Update: On 3 March 2013 B'Tselem appealed the closing of the case.

On 1 January 2012, MAGS Corps sent B'Tselem an update on its handling of hundreds of complaints the organization had submitted over the past decade. One case involved injuries suffered by Eran Cohen, an Israeli citizen, during a demonstration in Bil’in on 15 March 2008. The file was closed on 1 August 2011. The update did not indicate why the case was closed.

In the course of a demonstration against the construction of the Separation Barrier on the village’s land, an army officer fired, from very close range, a rubber-coated metal bullet at Cohen, who was 18 years old at the time. Two persons, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, filmed the incident. The video footage clearly shows that Cohen did not endanger in any way the soldiers, and that the officer was only several meters from Cohen when he opened fire. According to army orders, rubber-coated metal bullets are not to be fired at a target less than 40 meters away since it might be lethal under that distance. Cohen was taken to hospital, where the bullet was removed from his thigh.

On 31 March 2008, B'Tselem wrote to the military advocate for operational matters, demanding an investigation into the incident. In its letter, B'Tselem pointed out that the announcement made by the IDF Spokesperson could not be reconciled with the video footage. According to the IDF Spokesperson, “some 70 demonstrators gathered next to the fence, tried to damage it, and threw stones at the security forces. The forces were compelled to respond by opening fire with crowd-control measures. The measures were used in conformity with orders and only at the permitted range, and just at persons engaged in disorderly conduct.” Considering the fact that the video proves the protester was shot in complete violation of regulations, at a non-violent protester, B'Tselem also demanded that the army investigate the suspicion that the forces submitted false reports on the incident, which were sent up the chain of command until they were released to the media.

In May 2008, B'Tselem was informed that the Military Police Investigation Unit was investigating the incident. The Israeli who filmed the incident gave her testimony and handed the video cassette to the investigators. The MPIU was also provided the video footage filmed by the Palestinian. In December of 2008, the MPIU, in response to B'Tselem’s inquiry, stated that the investigation had been completed and the file delivered to MAG Corps for decision on further handling in the matter. More than six months later, MAG Corps informed B'Tselem that the file had been returned to the MPIU for supplemental investigation. More than a year after that, on 1 August 2010, the office of the military advocate for operational matters asked B'Tselem for assistance in obtaining the testimony of the Palestinian photographer. The photographer refused to take part in the investigation.

In its contacts with authorities, B'Tselem insisted that the footage filmed by the Israeli photographer was of sufficient quality to complete the investigation and bring the officer to justice. B'Tselem demanded that the military authorities do not use the unwillingness of the Palestinian photographer to testify as an excuse to close the case. On 1 January 2012, after more than two and a half years since the end of the investigation, MAG Corps informed B'Tselem, as noted, that the investigation file had been closed on 1 August 2011, with no legal proceedings being initiated against the officer. B'Tselem intends to appeal the decision.