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Israel‘s MAG closes investigation in 2009 death of Bassem Abu Rahmeh

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By Tim Vlostek - September 15, 2013
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All photos by Lazar Simeonov.

 

On Wednesday, 11 September, the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG), Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, decided to close an Israeli military investigation into the death of Bassem Abu Rahmeh, a non-violent activist from the village of Bil’in. The case was closed due to an alleged lack of evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Israeli security forces involved in the killing. 

Bassem Abu Rahmeh was hit in the chest by an extended-range tear gas canister fired by an Israeli border policeman on April 17th 2009 during the one of the village’s weekly demonstrations. Abu Rahmeh was only 25m away from the group of Israeli soldiers when we was struck by the projectile, a long distance canister with a range of over 500m. He was 30-years old.

Despite numerous videos and photographs of the incident, the Israel Defense Force spokesman’s office said that there was not sufficient evidence to take legal action against any soldiers, nor was official military protocol violated in any way, in a statement made to Al-Jazeera America

Abdullah Abu Rameh, Bassem’s cousin and a local activist, was not surprised by the sudden decision to drop the case. “We expect this because we have experience with the Israeli court,” he said after the weekly protest in Bil’in this past Friday. “These military courts, all of the time, [make] the decisions to support the army…not the Palestinians.” 

Despite the disappointing verdict, Abdullah is not deterred. Citing the difficulties that the village first encountered when they began protesting against the Wall, saying it was, “…difficult to remove the wall, but we [did not] lose the hope. We continued in our struggle…until we achieved our small victory to remove the wall. Also in Bassem's case, we don't lose the hope, we will continue in our actions and in the courts…until we see that they will punish the criminal soldiers and officer who give the order and who shoot Bassem.”

B’Tselem, an Israeli human-rights organization, spoke out against the decision to shelve the investigation. In a recent press release, the organization said, “Three video segments filmed during the demonstration prove that Abu Rahmeh…did not act violently, and did not endanger the soldiers in any way. An analysis of the video footage of the incident, by visualization experts determined that the grenade was fired directly at Abu Rahmeh, in complete contravention of open-fire regulations.”

The press release quotes Att. Emily Schaeffer, a lawyer working on Bassem’s case as part of the Israeli NGO, Yesh Din’s, legal team, who said, “The decision to close the file in the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmeh is unacceptable, particularly in view of the expert opinion that determined that the tear-gas grenade was fired directly at Abu Rahmeh from a close range. Despite three separate videos that recorded the killing of Bassem, the MP and police have failed to find the factors that caused the death of an unarmed demonstrator.”

Around 1,800 people live in Bil’in, a village in the West Bank, near Ramallah. The villagers began organizing non-violent protests in 2005, as Israeli plans to build the separation wall reached the village’s land. The route of the wall would have caused the loss of more than 60 percent of the village’s land. Every Friday, villagers along with international and Israeli activists gather near the wall in protest. The Israeli military regularly fires tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades at the protestors, causing many injuries over the years.

On December 31st 2010, Abu Rahmah’s sister, Jawaher, died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers during one of the weekly anti-wall protests. 

Though the village was able to win back, after a successful 2010 court case forced Israeli authorities to alter the planned path of the wall, the massive apartment blocks of the Israeli settlement, Mattityahu East, stills sits on land that once belonged to Bil'in. The settlement is currently being expanded. 

Jabber Abu Rahmeh, another relative of Bassem, was similarly unsurprised by the closure of the investigation. “Because it's an occupation...they will deny anything,” says Jabber.  He is mindful of the high price Bil’in has paid for its successes, but considers it necessary to keep up the fight through non-violent resistance. “If you just be quite you will never get anything. We are the only village form all the villages in Palestine who got land back, but we pay a lot. We pay around 1,300 [people] from the village who were injured. We paid two souls that were lost. We get success and we show it to the world…[but it] didn't come from just being quite. It came form hard work.” 

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