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From the field

Soldier Charged with child’s manslaughter flees Israel

Omar Matar

On 28 March 2003, ‘Omar Matar, a fourteen-year-old boy, was critically wounded by a live bullet fired by a soldier in the Qalandia refugee camp. A few days later, he died from his wounds.

Testimony given to a B'Tselem researcher by Mujahed Tayeh, who was injured in the same incident, indicates that the child was shot during a demonstration in which demonstrators threw stones at soldiers. Around 2:00 P.M., he noticed ‘Omar lying on the ground, bleeding from the head and neck. While trying to evacuate him, he, too, was shot, in the arm and thigh.

On 13 April 2003, B'Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General's Office, demanding an investigation into the incident. Later, B'Tselem learned, in the media, that on 29 April 2004, an indictment had been filed against a reserve-duty soldier who fired live ammunition at the demonstrators, killing the child and wounding Tayeh.  

The indictment states: “During dispersal of a disturbance and after the demonstrators had scattered into the refugee camp, and while the lives of the force of which the defendant was part were not threatened, the defendant knelt down, aimed his weapon through sights, including though a Trijicon sight, at the demonstrators from a distance of 150-200 meters away and fired a number of shots with live ammunition. One of the shots struck the left side of the head of the youth ‘Omar Musa Matar, 14… Two shots struck the right hand and left thigh of Mujahed ‘Issa Tayeh…”

B'Tselem subsequently wrote to the authorities a few times to obtain an update on the file, but received no reply.

On 15 June, 2008, the IDF Spokesperson finally replied to a letter from B'Tselem, stating that, “no verdict has been given in the case, given that the matter is still being heard and the defendant left the country and is staying abroad.” In a report broadcast on the Army radio on 21 December, the IDF Spokesperson was quoted as saying: “Since the defendant's departure was sudden, there is no contact with him, and an order was issued to add his name to the list of persons for the information of Border Control.”

This response raises some questions: why did the state not issue an order prohibiting the soldier's leaving Israel, given he was charged with manslaughter? Did the authorities take any action to locate the defendant abroad and to extradite him, if possible?

B'Tselem calls on the authorities to take action to locate the defendant and return him to Israel to continue the criminal proceedings against him.