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29 Oct. '09: Suspicion: soldiers shot to death a Palestinian driver who did not endanger their lives

Update: On 12 September 2010, the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that is would not launch an investigation of the incident, explaining that at the time of the incident a-Tawil was driving Palestinians who were in Israel unlawfully, without an entry permit. When an IDF force attempted to stop his car, a-Tawil tried to run over one of the soldiers. The soldiers called out to a-Tawil to halt, fired warning shots in the air and finally fired at the car’s rear tires, causing the car to veer aside and come to a halt. Because a-Tawil “was seen to be a terrorist element endangering the force”, it was decided there was no basis to launch a criminal investigation.

Rabi' a-TawilOn the morning of 22 September 2009, soldiers shot and killed Rabi' a-Tawil, a resident of East Jerusalem, as he drove out of the Delek Mevo Beitar gas station, some two kilometers west of the Mevo Beitar checkpoint. The IDF Spokesperson's Office stated that a-Tawil had broken through the checkpoint and that he had tried to run over soldiers after they located him at the nearby gas station. According to the statement, the soldiers had implemented the procedure for arresting a suspect, during which a-Tawil was shot and killed.

B'Tselem's investigation of the incident, however, reveals that a-Tawil in no way endangered the lives of the soldiers and that they fired at him without warning or justification. The investigation also showed that the IDF Spokesperson did not provide crucial particulars regarding the incident.

Rabi' a-Tawil’s car after the incident. Photo: Ronen Zevulun, Reuters, 22 Oct. '09.
Rabi' a-Tawil's car after the incident. Photo: Ronen Zevulun, Reuters, 22 Oct. '09.

According to B'Tselem's investigation, a-Tawil entered Israel though the Mevo Beitar checkpoint at around 5:00 A.M. After he finished filling up at the Sonol Ya'ar Beitar gas station, some 200 meters from the checkpoint, three soldiers arrived at the gas station and ordered him to go over to them. A-Tawil spoke with the soldiers for a few minutes and handed over his identification documents. The soldiers took the documents to the checkpoint but a-Tawil did not accompany them and left the gas station.
 
After driving west for about two kilometers, he entered the Delek Mevo-Beitar gas station. A few minutes later, on his way out of the gas station, an army jeep containing five soldiers blocked his exit. A-Tawil tried to go around the jeep from the left. As he did, a soldier got out of the jeep and fired at his car. When a-Tawil continued driving, the other four soldiers got out and all five fired at a-Tawil, firing a total of about twenty bullets and killing him. The car swerved to the right and into a low area on the side of the road.

The IDF Spokesperson's version does not reflect what happened and ignores the fact that a-Tawil had been checked by soldiers before he was shot to death. The Spokesperson's version raises the suspicion that the soldiers did not provide all the information they had about the incident.

B'Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate's Office for Operational Matters, demanding that a Military Police Investigation Unit investigation into the killing of a-Tawil be opened immediately. In its letter, B'Tselem stated that the circumstances of the incident raise a grave suspicion that the soldiers shot a-Tawil although they knew that he was not armed and did not pose any threat, as his documents and car had been checked by soldiers in a gas station close to the checkpoint. Under these circumstances, there was no justification to shoot him, certainly not with the intent to kill him.

Both gas stations have security cameras. The cameras at the first gas station (Sonol) documented a-Tawil's first encounter with the soldiers, and the cameras at the second gas station (Delek)  captured the shooting itself. The footage from the second station was taken by army officials. B'Tselem demanded that MPIU examine the footage from both stations, as it might clarify the circumstances in which the soldiers shot a-Tawil and what took place previously, including the actions of the soldiers at the first gas station.