Monday, November 23, 2020

High Court petition holds Israeli impunity to account

By Beth Staton - April 13, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Budrus] [Israeli army]

Palestinians carry the body of Sameer Awad during his funeral in the West Bank village of Budrus near Ramallah January 15, 2013. Reuters/Mohamad Torokma


Samir Awad was sixteen years old when he was killed. It was mid January last year, and after completing a science exam he had walked to the separation wall that cuts through the land of his home town of Budrus. According to the friends he was with, Israeli soldiers fired a stun grenade at the boys and shot Samir in the leg. Then, as the teenager tried to run away, they fired a bullet to his head, at close range, and killed him.

14 months have now passed since Samir died. As of yet, no-one has been held to account for his death.

The teenager's family is demanding justice. This month, Samir's father Ahmad Awad and Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem submitted a petition to Israel’s High Court demanding that the Military Advocate General (MAG) charge the soldiers who killed Samir, or close the file on his case.

“We know there will be a long wait,” Ahmad says, “but we hope the soldier who shot him will be punished.”

The petition, explains B’Tselem’s Sarit Michaeli, is “procedural”: it condemns “the inexplicable and unacceptable foot dragging” that has characterised the Israeli investigation. The rule of law, it asserts, is seriously damaged when poor investigation and a lack of action allows the army to kill with impunity.

In Budrus, Samir’s family hope that their push for accountability can help protect other young people from violence. “Now the Israelis will not take responsibility for what they have done,” Ahmad Awad told Palestine Monitor. “I am worried for my other sons. The soldier who killed Samir has not been punished, so he is free to shoot other children.”

This kind of impunity, says B’Tselem’s Michaeli, “is almost universal for cases of killings.” Prosecutions, she told Palestine Monitor, are “very, very rare.” In a report last year Yesh Din stated that, since September 2000, the Israeli courts made indictments in just 21 cases relating to the death of Palestinians, and convicted only 16 soldiers of offences. During the same period, some 5,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the occupied territories.

“Here, we all know that we cannot trust the Israeli court to deliver justice,” says Ayed Morrar, a leader of Budrus’ Popular Committee. “When a Palestinian young boy throws a stone at Israeli soldiers, he will be in jail for five to six months at least. It’s enough for just one soldier to say he saw him. Then compare that to a soldier who kills a child in cold blood. He is jailed for just one month, if he is jailed at all.”

“Samir was killed 16 months ago,” Morrar continues. “Since then, so many young kids here have been sent to jail. But the soldier that killed Samir is still free.”

The absence of charges does not appear, in this case, to be due to a lack of evidence. According to media reports, the military possessed surveillance footage of the incident, and an initial inquiry found Samir had been shot in contravention of open fire regulations. According to Amnesty International, which highlighted the tragedy in a recent report on excessive use of force in the West Bank, Samir’s death “could amount to extrajudicial or wilful killing,” a war crime under international law.

The reason for the apparently perpetual delay, according to the MAG, is the 'complexity’ of the case. But B'Tselem state that this regularly cited 'blanket claim’ of complexity 'is dubious’, and should not be used to hamper efforts to bring those responsible for the deaths of Palestinians to justice.

Although the Awad family are determined, they are far from optimistic about the prospects for justice. If past cases are anything to go by, the likelihood of Samir’s killers ever being held to account is slim. Toward the end of last year, the MAG closed two high-profile investigations into the killings of Bassem Abu Rahme, in Bil’in, and Mustafa Tamimi, in Nabi Saleh. Both men died after being shot at close range by tear gas canisters. Despite clear video footage of Abu Rahme’s shooting - and the fact that it was viewed by cinema audiences around the globe in the Oscar-nominated documentary Five Broken Cameras - the MAG claimed there was “insufficient evidence” to make a decision about his death.

According to Saleh Hijazi, a researcher at Amnesty International, cases like these are extremely worrying. “These investigations are neither independent, nor transparent, not effective,” he explains. “They contribute to impunity, which allows the violence that is taking place in the West Bank to continue.”

In the Awad family home, Samir’s mother Sodiqia knows this only too well. “We are not alone. Families were losing their children before us and they will after us,” she told Palestine Monitor. This year, she says, she visited another son, Abed al-Rahem, who is currently incarcerated in Israeli jail. There, she met another mother, from Jalazone camp, who, like her, had seen one son imprisoned by Israeli forces and another killed “in cold blood,” both in the same year.

“Went I went to the prison I saw that there are thousands of prisoners, suffering very long prison terms bravely and patiently. I believe we can learn from them,” Sodiqia added.

“This case is very tough, and it will take a long time until it is finished, but we must continue to work and struggle long and hard for our freedom.”


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