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Military's law enforcement system as whitewash: Killing of Lubna al-Hanash

Killing of Lubna al-Hanash, 21, near al-‘Arrub Refugee Camp in Hebron District, 23 January 2013 The incident On 23 January 2013, Lubna al-Hanash and a relative, Sou’ad Ja’rah, were st...
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Military's law enforcement system as whitewash: Killing of Lubna al-Hanash

Killing of Lubna al-Hanash, 21, near al-‘Arrub Refugee Camp in Hebron District, 23 January 2013

Killing of Lubna al-Hanash

The incident

On 23 January 2013, Lubna al-Hanash and a relative, Sou’ad Ja’rah, were strolling along the garden paths in the College of Technology near al-‘Arrub Refugee Camp. As they were walking towards an entrance to the college located on Route 60, when they were about 130 meters away from the gate, shots were fired at them. Lubna al-Hanash sustained a gunshot wound to her head and Sou’ad Ja’rah to a hand. The two women were taken to al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron, where Lubna succumbed to her wounds about an hour later.

The soldiers involved in the incident were Lieut. Col. Shahar Safda, Deputy Commander of the Yehuda Brigade, and Corporal Ram, who was his signaler. The investigation file indicates that the two were driving along Route 60 when they noticed stones and Molotov cocktails being thrown at the road. They stopped and got out of the car. Lieut. Col. Safda pursued the individuals who had thrown stones and Molotov cocktails, and fired several warning shots in the air. Corporal Ram – who had remained by the car – shot and hit Lubna al-Hanash and Sou’ad Ja’rah. Molotov cocktails were found at the scene of the incident.

The investigation

Shortly after the incident, Israel Police officers came to the scene to investigate the throwing of Molotov cocktails. They collected forensic evidence and took initial statements from Israeli and Palestinian eyewitnesses – actions that MPIU investigators usually do not take. The forensic evidence gathered by the police was sent to various laboratories. The MPIU also launched its own investigation on the day of the incident, but its investigators did not actually visit the scene of the incident. The MPIU sent the weapons of the soldiers involved – Lieut. Col. Safda and Corporal Ram – to a laboratory for examination. The results of all these tests are not in the investigation file and apparently played no part in the investigation. Twenty-seven soldiers and Palestinians gave statements to the MPIU in the investigation.

In April 2014, the MAG Corps had yet to reach a decision whether to serve indictments in the case, so Lubna al-Hanash’s father, Munir, appealed to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) together with B’Tselem to have the MAG Corps reach a decision. In response, the MAG Corps posted a notice on its website stating that it had decided to close the case without taking any action against the soldiers involved in the incident. Later, then Military Advocate of Operational Affairs Lieut.-Col. Ronen Hirsch informed the appellants that the case had been closed following an order by the MAG, Major-General Danny Efroni. Lieut.-Col. Hirsch added that the MAG had determined that Lubna al-Hanash had not been killed as a result of negligence or any other criminal offense on the part of any of the soldiers, and that open-fire regulations permit soldiers to shoot at persons lobbing Molotov cocktails, including immediately after the act.

The investigation file indicates that the MPIU investigators made no effort to reconcile discrepancies between the statements taken in the case. For example, they did not use evidence collected from the scene to get to the root of contradictory accounts regarding Corporal Ram’s field of vision or the distance from which al-Hanash was shot.

Despite the statements gathered in the case, the contradictions between Corporal Ram’s account and the forensic evidence, and the grave outcome of the shooting, the MAG Corps decided to close the case without pursuing legal action against any of the individuals involved. This decision was not made on the basis of the findings gathered by the MPIU. In fact, in its decision, the MAG Corps chose to ignore the MPIU investigation almost entirely. Instead, the decision not to indict Corporal Ram was based on an argument the MAG Corps proposed, one that he did not even make himself: that the shooting was lawful, as open-fire regulations permit the use of lethal gunfire after an assault, including an assault with Molotov cocktails.

This regulation is unlawful in that it permits lethal gunfire even when the person targeted no longer poses mortal danger. This contravenes the principles that lie at the heart of the open-fire regulations and the penal law on which they are founded. Moreover, a regulation that permits using lethal gunfire against a person who has thrown a Molotov cocktail does not mean that other safety measures are null and void, especially as regards prevention of harm to passersby. Even if Corporal Ram was acting under such a regulation, as the MAG Corps claimed, it is not a license for indiscriminate gunfire every which way.