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B'Tselem appeals to State Attorney’s Office against closing investigative files in case of Milad ‘Ayash, 17, killed by gunfire from East Jerusalem settlement

Milad ‘Ayash. Photo courtesy of the family.On 13 May 2011, during protests in connection with Nakba Day there were clashes in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem between demonstrators who threw stones and Molotov cocktails and Israeli security forces who employed crowd control measures and live gunfire. Milad ‘Ayash, 17, was hit by a live bullet. ‘Ayash, a 12th grader at Kuliyat Sakhnin, ‘Atarot, died of his wounds the next day. B'Tselem’s investigation showed that the fatal shot was fired from the Beit Yehonatan settlement, a one-building settlement located in Silwan, yet we were unable to ascertain the precise circumstances of the shooting. The incident was investigated both by the Department for the Investigation of Police (DIP), for possible involvement of police officers in the shooting, and by the Israel Police for possible involvement of Beit Yehonatan security guards and residents. Both investigations were closed on the grounds of “perpetrator unknown.”

Since 2012, B'Tselem has tried time and again to secure information from the authorities regarding the investigation, yet received only vague replies. The fact that incident was being investigated by two separate entities added to the lack of clarity. Only in April 2014 did we manage to secure an official response from the State Attorney’s Deputy for Criminal Affairs, indicating that both investigations into the incident had been closed, with the more recent closing being six months earlier.

After receiving this official reply, B'Tselem demanded to receive the investigative materials in order to examine them and, if necessary, appeal the decision to close the investigations. However, the materials were not conveyed to B’Tselem. Consequently, we were forced to submit an appeal against the closure of the files, without providing detailed grounds. Seven months later, the investigative materials were finally sent to B'Tselem. Then, on behalf of B'Tselem, Attorney Gaby Lasky filed the grounds for the demand to reopen the investigations. In the appeal, Attorney Lasky noted grave investigative failings on the part of both investigative authorities. These included such matters as failure to seize key evidence; refraining from questioning witnesses and suspects; and ignoring substantive contradictions that emerged during the course of the questioning of the witnesses.

Settlement of Beit Yehonatan. Photo courtesy of Peace Now.
Settlement of Beit Yehonatan. Photo courtesy of Peace Now.

The decision to close both investigations without even ascertaining the identity of the shooter along with the negligent manner in which the investigations were conducted evince disregard by Israeli authorities for Palestinian lives. Admittedly, it is no simple matter to identify and prosecute the shooter when faced with a setting of clashes and riots at which diverse armed individuals were present. Yet, the complexity of the task does not detract from the obligation incumbent on the investigative authorities to conduct a concerted investigation as rapidly as possible. This is particularly true in such a grave case, in which a Palestinian youth was killed by Israeli gunfire – be the shooter a police officer, a security guard at the settlement funded by the Israeli government, or a resident or guest in the settlement. The investigative failings revealed by the investigative materials, as well as the authorities’ foot-dragging in providing a clear response to B'Tselem’s queries, raise serious doubts concerning the very willingness to conduct a serious investigation of the incident. Failure to ensure accountability was the direct outcome of the investigative failings of negligence and unprofessional conduct. A secondary, indirect outcome is the absence of a deterrent effect against future perpetration of similar offenses.