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Budrus: Soldiers in ambush shoot and kill Lafy ‘Awad as he fled, 3 years after Samir ‘Awad killed in nearly identical circumstances

Update:  On 17 May 2016, the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that no investigation would be launched into the incident. The MAG Corps stated a preliminary review of the incident did not indicate any suspicion of a criminal offense.

Lafy ‘Awad. Photo courtesy of the familyOn Friday, 13 November 2015, a protest march was held in the Palestinian village of Budrus, Ramallah District, the West Bank. Starting at 12:30 P.M., dozens of residents marched towards the Separation Barrier, which in that area is built on village land. A combined force of soldiers and Border Police awaited the demonstrators in the gap between the two fences that comprise the barrier, and tried to disperse them with tear gas. Several demonstrators began to throw stones at the security forces, some using slingshots, and tried to damage the barrier.

According to B’Tselem’s investigation, the clashes died down within several hours. Most of the Palestinian demonstrators and most of the security forces left the spot. At approximately 4:30 P.M., a group of ten or Palestinian youths approached the barrier again in an area called al-‘Aq, where soldiers shot and killed 16-year-old Samir ‘Awad in January 2013. Lafy ‘Awad, 20, walked first, at the front of the group. When he was some ten or twenty meters from the barrier, he walked past soldiers lying in ambush. They revealed themselves and grabbed ‘Awad. He tried to free himself from their grip and the soldiers responded violently, kicking him and hitting him with their rifles. According to eyewitnesses, soldiers also fired rubber-coated metal bullets, but it is unclear if any of the bullets struck ‘Awad. The other youths shouted at the soldiers and began throwing stones at them. One soldier retained his grip on ‘Awad while the others turned towards the youths and one fired in the air, apparently to deter them. ‘Awad took advantage of the opportunity and started to flee, but had gone only a few steps when a soldier shot him in the back. ‘Awad collapsed and the soldiers retreated. ‘Awad’s friends carried him away.

The spot where Lafy ‘Awad was killed and the monument marking the spot where Samir ‘Awad was killed. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 14 Nov. 2015
The spot where Lafy ‘Awad was killed and the monument marking the spot where Samir ‘Awad was killed. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 14 Nov. 2015

‘A. G., 25, a resident of Budrus, recounted the incident to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad:

On Friday, 13 November 2015, at around four-thirty or five o’clock in the afternoon, after the clashes with the security forces had already died down, I stayed along with some other demonstrators near the Separation Barrier. We were about ten young people and children. Three or four of us went up to the barrier. Lafy ‘Awad was walking in front. When he was about ten meters from the barrier, three soldiers suddenly came out of an ambush. Lafy found himself trapped between the soldiers and the Separation Barrier. The soldiers grabbed him violently. One held him by the neck and the others kicked him. He tried to break free but they were all over him and beat him. Our shouting encouraged him to him to try to break free. At the same time, I saw a soldier aim a rifle at him and fire a rubber-coated metal bullet. I think it hit Lafy from behind, at close range. Meanwhile, one of the soldiers kept hold of him and the other two tried to make us go away by using live gunfire, the fired a volley of about four or five live bullets, and also rubber-coated metal bullets.

In the meantime, Lafy apparently managed to get away from the soldier who was holding him, but he only managed to take a couple of steps, about two meters, before one of the soldiers, I don’t know which one, fired a live bullet at him from behind. Lafy fell face down and couldn’t move or get up. We intensified the stone throwing and shouting to try to get Lafy out.

One of the soldiers went over to Lafy and stopped about a meter away, probably to confirm he had been hit. Then he drew back with the others. They left Lafy lying there, wounded, and didn’t try to treat him. They covered themselves by firing huge amounts of tear gas in our direction. I called out to Lafy but he didn’t answer, so I understood he was badly hurt.

The youths carried Lafy up through a dirt road, where they got into a private car and started out to the hospital in Ramallah. En route, they called for an ambulance to meet them. The shortest route from Budrus to Ramallah runs through the villages of Ni’lin and Deir Qadis. There is a military gate between the two villages and it is usually open. When the youths reached the gate, they found it closed. They later related that they tried to explain to the soldiers that they were taking a severely injured person to hospital, but the soldiers would not let them through and turned them back at gunpoint. The youths had no choice but to take the alternate bypass route that goes through the villages of Qibyah, Shuqba and Shebtin and is about 18 kilometers longer. After driving through Shebtin, the car met the ambulance near the settlement of Nili. The injured ‘Awad was transferred to the ambulance which took him to hospital, while the paramedics tried to resuscitate him on the way. ‘Awad was pronounced dead five minutes after arriving at the hospital.

Gate built by the military at the main entrance to Ni’lin. Photo by Sarit Michaeli, B’Tselem, 20 Nov. 2015
Gate built by the military at the main entrance to Ni’lin. Photo by Sarit Michaeli, B’Tselem, 20 Nov. 2015

Security cameras are mounted on the section of the Separation Barrier where the incident occurred. B’Tselem learned that the 2013 killing of Samir ‘Awad was captured on those cameras. Therefore, it stands to reason that the military also has video footage of the killing of Lafy ‘Awad.

The killing of Lafy ‘Awad was prompted by the trigger-happy policy currently reinforced by the public atmosphere in Israel, and is a consequence of the almost total absence of law enforcement when it comes to security forces. The parallels between this incident and the killing of 16-year-old Samir ‘Awad in the same spot almost three years ago is chilling. In both cases, soldiers lay in ambush by the Separation Barrier within the perimeter of Budrus and fired live bullets, from behind, at youths who were trying to escape and posed no danger. About one week ago, Israel’s State Attorney informed the High Court of Justice that two of the soldiers who killed Samir ‘Awad will be charged with the minor offense of committing “a reckless and negligent act using a firearm”.

The MAG Corps’ decision in the case of Samir ‘Awad not to bring charges against policy makers, instead indicting only the soldiers who fired the shots – and even that only after lengthy delays, and on ridiculous charges – is part of the MAG Corp’s longstanding policy that paved the way for the recent killing of Lafy ‘Awad. The primarily failing of the MAG Corps and of the policy makers is the decision to continue stationing armed soldiers in ambush against Palestinian stone-throwers, as though this violent, dangerous means is lawful or even reasonable. This policy is what led to the killing of Samir ‘Awad three years ago, and of other Palestinians. Since that time, not only has the policy not changed, but the persons responsible for it will not even be held accountable. It is no surprise that the military used the same mode of operation, this time killing Lafy ‘Awad – yet again, in circumstances that did not justify use of lethal force. Unlawful policies lead to lethal results; unlawful policies that go unpunished lead, repeatedly, to lethal results. Palestinians are the ones who pay, with their lives, time and again.