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From the field

Bassem Abu Rahmeh’s mother demands decision in appeal on closing case of her son’s killing

Abu Rahmeh of Bil’in whose story was told in the film Five Broken Cameras was killed in April 2009, yet appeal against closing case yet to be answered

באסם אבו רחמה דקות לפני מותו, מתוך תיעוד הווידיאו שצולם על-ידי דוד ריב.
Bassem Abu Rahmeh at the demonstration at which he was killed. Still from video by David Reeb 17 April 2009

The mother of Bassem Abu Rahmeh, a resident of the West Bank village of Bil’in killed when a soldier fired a tear-gas canister at him, petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice yesterday demanding that the Court compel the Military Advocate General (MAG) and the Attorney General to reach a decision concerning the appeal over the closing of the investigation file, and to indict the soldier who fired the canister along with any others bearing military command responsibility for the killing of her son. In the petition, filed jointly with Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din, Subhiya Abu Rahmeh demanded that the Court put an end to the foot-dragging and the avoidance of conducting even the most basic investigative acts that could shed light on the identity of the persons responsible for killing her son.

Justice Menny Mazuz determined today (1 April) that the State must submit its response to the petition by 25 May.

The petition, written by Att. Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man and Att. Michael Sfard, states that although nearly six years have elapsed since Bassem Abu Rahmeh was killed and more than four and a half since the investigation into the circumstances of his death was opened, basic investigative acts have never been carried out. In the petition, the attorneys wrote: “Abu Rahmeh was killed by shooting carried out by IDF soldiers that was negligent at best, and the case file of the investigation of the circumstances of his death has been wallowing for years under unpardonable foot-dragging by the investigative and prosecutorial authorities.”

Bassed Abu Rahmeh was killed in April 2009, at the age of 30, by an extended-range tear-gas canister that struck his chest during a nonviolent demonstration against the Separation Barrier in his village, Bil’in. Three segments of footage filmed at the demonstration proved that Abu Rahmeh was on the eastern side of the barrier, was not behaving violently, and did not endanger the troops in any way. The footage also shows that during the demonstration, other soldiers fired tear-gas canisters directly at the protesters, in blatant contravention of open-fire regulations. The Military Police commenced an investigation in July 2010, but only more than four years later and subsequent to a petition to the High Court of Justice, did the State announce that the case would be closed for “lack of evidence”.

The three films documenting the shooting synchronized to the same time line

On 27 July 2014, the petitioners filed an appeal with the Chief Military Prosecutor, appealing the closing of the investigation into the death of Abu Rahmeh. In the appeal, they argued that the investigative material indicates that Abu Rahmeh was struck by an extended-range tear-gas canister that was fired directly, and that the case contained sufficient evidence of a criminal offense. The appellants demanded that the authorities carry out a minimal additional investigation in order to complete the small amount of information still needed for an indictment, and that all avenues of investigation be exhausted concerning the commanders’ responsibility for the incident.

The material in the investigation file indicates heavy firing of tear-gas canisters during the incident and that these were fired directly. The material also shows that the troops used extended-range canisters even though they are countermanded by safety ranges appropriate for the specific topography of the site of the Bil’in demonstrations. Moreover, the soldiers stated during questioning that they were neither trained nor briefed on the use of extended-range tear-gas canisters, and that they were not given directives on the use of this lethal ammunition in the context of dealing with a civilian demonstration.

The summary of the appeal noted that requiring the respondents to reach a decision concerning the circumstances of Abu Rahmeh’s death and to indict those involved for a killing offense – or at least for negligent manslaughter – is no more than the requisite minimum for his family and community. Bassem Abu Rahmeh was much beloved by his fellow villagers and by many Israelis. He was a man of peace and a true friend to many peace activists – Israeli, international and Palestinian. His death was a heavy blow to all who knew him. However, reaching a decision on the appeal is necessary not only for those who loved Abu Rahmeh: it is a an essential measure in any regime that values human life and the rule of law. The appellants noted their severe dismay over the meager protection offered by the military and civilian prosecution to an innocent Palestinian civilian who did no wrong and was killed by illegal use of a weapon in a patently civilian situation.