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Hillel must put Jewish diversity and social justice above Israel allegiance

Just as Israel has banned BDS supporters from entering the country and demonizes those who show dissent, Hillel has sent a message to Jewish students that it only recognizes a certain type of Jew, and sees the rest of us as disposable.

By Ally Fernandez

I am exactly the kind of Jew whom Naftali Bennett thinks should not exist. I am a proud, Puerto Rican, feminist, Jewish woman of color who stands in solidarity with Palestine and supports the call for BDS. I am the product of an interfaith and interracial marriage, a strong Ashkenazi mama and an amazing Boricua dad, making me fully Puerto Rican and Jewish, not fractions of either.

I grew up in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, where I knew very few Jews outside my family. When I began my freshman year at Vassar College in New York state, I immersed myself in the Vassar Jewish Union, our campus Hillel chapter. Having spent my life on an island that faces deep economic and social crises, and which grapples with lack of sovereignty and the legacy of colonization, my gut reaction when hearing about the Palestinian cause differed from that of my Jewish classmates. But luckily for me, in the spring of 2014 — before I arrived — the Vassar Jewish Union (Vassar College Hillel) became one of the first Hillels to officially ‘open’ and drop Hillel International’s exclusionary “Standards of Partnership.”

While I am still often placed on the outside of my Jewish community due to my racial and class-based experiences of Judaism and my political views, my experiences with the VJU have enabled me to access Jewish communal resources and have furthered my commitment to Judaism and open discourse. And I have had the opportunity to learn so much more than I ever could from the narrow view that Hillel International currently promotes.

Throughout my years at Vassar, I’ve learned about Jewish history, religion, and traditions, and formed friendships with Jewish students with a range of experiences and viewpoints. I’ve engaged in some of the hardest and most productive conversations here, right in our Bayit and through the lens of my Jewish identity. I am a leader in my campus chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, and have worked on campaigns with Students for Justice in Palestine and other student of color-led movements for BDS and Palestinian human rights.

In short, I am deeply engaged...

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Teaching about the Holocaust in an Arab-Jewish school

How do you teach the universal lessons from national disasters throughout history, while preserving their uniqueness and respecting the pain of those connected to them?

By Guy Aloni

The tension leading up to Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Hand in Hand bilingual school in Jerusalem, where I teach, is the same every year. Teaching about Holocaust remembrance within a shared Jewish-Arab space is a complex and sensitive task; our Jewish students, just like those at a Hebrew-only school, feel that it’s an intrinsic part of their Israeli identity and they hurt on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Our Arab students, meanwhile, feel that the day is reserved for others — that it doesn’t belong to them and that all they are required to do is show respect to the occasion whenever it arises.

This sense of discomfort comes from the duality of this moment in Israeli discourse — to this day, the Holocaust plays a central role in justifying the establishment of the State of Israel for the Jewish people, itself a formative event that Palestinians view as a catastrophe, the Nakba.

How do we overcome this duality? What do we do when it’s clear that Arab students feel empathy and sadness towards the human suffering of the Holocaust’s victims and their families, but cannot ignore the part it played in the devastation of their own people? As teachers, the first step is to process our own dilemmas.

The idea that the Holocaust can teach us a universal lesson has a key role in solving this paralyzing duality, and I suggested as much to my colleagues last year when we were planning the ceremony and classes we would hold on Holocaust Memorial Day in our school. While each collective disaster in history is unique, I argued, if we want to learn from the Holocaust and work to ensure it won’t happen again, we need to understand the historical context in which it took place. In other words, although we need to remember the uniqueness of the Holocaust, we shouldn’t be afraid to draw parallels to other episodes in history in order to identify similar characteristics and to battle those too.

For example, teaching about apartheid in South Africa and making precise comparisons to the current political situation in Israel-Palestine is important — not in order to assess whether there is an apartheid situation here, but rather to see...

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Settler attack showcases impunity of Jewish extremists

In all my years as of activism, I have never seen or experienced such hatred as I did last Friday, when masked settlers attacked a group of Ta’ayush volunteers with clubs and stones.

By Guy Hircefeld

It’s been almost 10 years since I became involved in activism, much of it with Ta’ayush. I very quickly understood that my country is governed by a group of messianic, extreme and violent people whose aim is the establishment of a Jewish state — and that the entire “democratic” system is at their service, no questions asked.

Ta’ayush activists have, over the years, been detained, arrested and harassed. We’ve suffered from varying levels of violence. I thought I’d seen it all in terms of the collaboration between the “democratic” establishment and the messianic radical right, until last Friday, when we were attacked by a group of Jewish terrorists from the Baladim outpost.

Palestinian shepherds living in the al-Auja village have taken their herds to graze on the nearby hill for decades. But physical violence and theft of their sheep began almost immediately after the re-establishment around a year ago of the Baladim outpost, next to the Kochav HaShachar settlement. The Israeli police did nothing in response to complaints submitted by Palestinians, while the shepherds were forced to stop taking their herds to graze on the hill.

So the shepherds from al-Auja approached Ta’ayush to see if we could accompany them when they took their cattle out. We had already been in contact with the police to inform them we’d be in the al-Auja area that Friday to escort Palestinian shepherds, because there was no legal reason that they shouldn’t be able to take their herds out to graze. In response, a member of the security forces visited the village to tell the families they shouldn’t work with Ta’ayush. (It’s worth pointing out that if the police and army did their job, there’d be no need for us to accompany Palestinian farmers and shepherds in the West Bank.)

Nonetheless, we took our first trip out with the al-Auja residents two Fridays ago. After we’d been out for a while, we realized at that we were being watched by seven settlers from the Baladim outpost. We notified the police, telling them we feared there would be violence and asking them to come to the area.

About an hour later...

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Wave of settler violence hits Palestinian villages in West Bank

Settlers from the radical Yitzhar settlement attack Palestinians in Urif and Huwwara, just one day after Israeli activists were assaulted by masked settlers in the Jordan Valley.

By Yael Marom

Dozens of Jewish settlers assaulted Palestinians in two separate West Bank villages on Saturday, just one day after settlers attacked and injured left-wing Israelis in the Jordan Valley.

Israelis from the radical Yitzhar settlement carried out two waves of attacks on the village of Urif, near Nablus. Four Palestinians were injured in the initial assault, and although residents of the village alerted Israeli security forces about the violence, the soldiers and police who arrived on the scene simply ordered the attackers away and did not arrest anyone.

Shortly after, an even bigger group of settlers returned to Urif and started attacking again. A building in the village was damaged and car windshields smashed. This time round, the army entered the village, only to fire rubber bullets at Palestinians who were trying to drive the settlers back by throwing stones at them. According to witnesses, the settlers then started uprooting olive trees, even starting a fire.

A few hours later, Israelis from Yitzhar set out for a further round of violence, this time in the village of Huwwara, also close to Nablus. They threw stones, smashed windows and attacked Palestinians, injuring three — including a woman who received a head wound. According to B’Tselem, her injury was serious, although not life-threatening.

Zacharia Sadeh, of Rabbis for Human Rights, said that the settlers who attacked Huwwara passed an IDF outpost on their way to the village.

“They should have reported the settlers heading down [to the village], and they could have prevented three people from being hurt,” he said. “The security forces make no effort to stop these attacks on Palestinians, and do nothing to protect the lives of Palestinians.”

On Friday, a group of Israeli activists with Ta’ayush were attacked by masked settlers from the Baladim outpost, also known for its extremism. The activists, who were in the Jordan Valley in order to assist Palestinian shepherds who were under threat of violence from the settlers, were attacked with stones and clubs, leaving five injured.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman commented on the violence on Sunday, but only condemned the fact that an Israeli army officer had been attacked by settlers, and ignored the assault on Palestinians. Rabbis for Human Rights, responding to Liberman’s...

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Autonomy for Palestinians in Israel is as relevant as ever

As the Jewish majority increasingly prioritizes Israel’s Jewishness over its democracy, autonomy is necessary for achieving full equality in both individual and collective rights.

By Said Zeedani

Autonomy for Palestinians in Israel was first introduced more than 25 years ago as a fair, democratic compromise, a golden mean, between two conflicting impulses, neither of which can be fully satisfied: integration on the one hand, and independence on the other. The former emphasizes the individual, the citizen with full equality of rights (civil and political). The latter emphasizes collective identity and with it collective rights, including autonomy.

There are some who might say that the time for the idea of autonomy for Palestinian citizens in Israel has come and gone. On the contrary, it is especially important these days as those in power in Israel put more and more emphasis on the Jewish character of the state, and are advancing discriminatory and exclusionary legislation and policies. At the same time, although perhaps not at the same pace or intensity, representatives of the national-cultural minority are emphasizing their distinct collective identity. The result of these processes is not exactly conducive to integration — at least from the perspective of those in power.

So as to avoid misunderstanding, the idea of autonomy was first introduced a generation ago, and is being proposed here again, based on the following points of departure:

The Palestinian challenge in the face of increasing persecution

Firstly, the final and declared goal is to achieve full and equal democratic citizenship rights: full equality between individuals and full equality between the two national-cultural groups. In other words, the idea of autonomy is the realization of the principle of full and equal rights within the framework of the a democratic state. Therefore, it is not an expression of an irredentist tendency. Achieving full equality of rights requires taking two complementary yet parallel paths in order to reach the same end-point. On the one hand, collective rights complement individual rights, and on the other hand compensate for their deficits. Anyone who believes that full equality can be achieved by pursuing the one path without the other is mistaken.

The Jewish character of the state is responsible for the deficiency of democracy and liberalism as far as Israel’s Palestinian citizens are concerned, and that is what makes the demand for autonomy appear logical, convincing and fair. Anyway, autonomy, as I conceive it, doesn’t involve...

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For settlers, there's no reason not to break the law

How Israeli authorities avoid their duty to indict settlers who build illegally on other people’s land.

By Yossi Gurvitz/Yesh Din

In August 2009, the residents of Kfar Aqeb, a Palestinian village near Ramallah, noticed 12 illegal structures being built on their land near the settlement of Kochav Ya’akov. The residents urgently petitioned the High Court of Justice, assisted by Yesh Din, demanding the court order an immediate halt to the construction. What happened next is a microcosm of the behavior of the law enforcement apparatus in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The IDF’s Civil Administration issued work stoppage orders on August 4th, and on August 16th also issued a closed military zone order, prohibiting Israeli civilians from entering the area. The state informed the court of those orders on September 2nd. But just one day prior, on September 1st, the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council informed the court that all of the buildings were already populated by olim hadashim (new Jewish immigrants) and were already connected to infrastructure. Israel’s enforcement policy automatically refuses to enforce demolition orders against residential buildings if they are already populated.

Given the regional council’s statement, the justices prohibited both further construction as well as connecting the buildings to other facilities. They assumed no one would dare to lie to the High Court.

They assumed wrong.

How do we know? Because the police had no choice but to open an investigation into the suspected violation of Civil Administration orders. After they closed the case, Yesh Din asked for the file. Our office has quite a few people who have seen just about every dirty trick in the book. But this time, even their jaws dropped.

A simple examination of the case file showed that two of the residents – olim hadashim – arrived in Israel on September 10th, i.e. over a month after the work stoppage orders were issued, three weeks after the closed military zone order, and a week after the High Court issued an interim order prohibiting further construction. And oh, yes, about 10 days after the regional council informed the court that the houses were populated. And just so there is no misunderstanding, the contract with the new residents was signed on the day they entered the apartments – nine days after the regional council provided the court with a statement containing clearly inaccurate details. One resident,...

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The impossible choice faced by East Jerusalem Palestinians

Palestinians in East Jerusalem live in an ongoing state of limbo: either stay where they are and risk having any additions they make to their homes demolished, or move away and lose their residency status.

By Suleiman Maswadeh

It was a day I’ll never forget. I was 14, and my father invited me to “visit a friend” with him. I initially refused, but he insisted it was urgent — his best friend needed help, and we had to assist him.

I left our house in East Jerusalem feeling curious and peeved at the same time. As we made our way through the alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City, I realized where we were going, and when we arrived at our destination I saw that the building we’d come to had been partially demolished. Several people were crying and wailing, while others helped my father’s friend to clear out what remained among the destruction.

At first I thought a bomb had hit the area, or that a section of the house had caught fire and caused part of the building to collapse. But my father told me that the Jerusalem municipality had issued a demolition order against a new floor of the home that had been recently built, which left me with a pile of questions: Why was it forbidden to build? And if it’s forbidden, why did my father’s friend decide to build? And why on earth did he demolish his own house, rather than the municipality doing it?

There were no answers to these questions. I didn’t want to bug my father so I decided to help the family with what was left in the house. Yes, at the age of 14 I helped someone destroy their dream — a beautiful house into which he’d poured money, time and effort. I saw the owner of the house, his brother and a friend breaking up and removing what was left of the walls, with tears streaming from their eyes. I saw how agitated they were and so didn’t dare ask why they were doing it and not the municipality.

Many hours passed and the demolition was finally finished. Tiredness was etched on the faces of my father and the others, although not on mine. At the end of the day we consoled the owner of the house and went home. During the journey, I showered my father with all the questions...

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Palestinian citizens of Israel are key to resisting the occupation

If Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, those who have grown up in Israeli society and lived alongside Jewish Israelis, were to truly organize and leverage their unique position, it would be impossible to break without ripping off the mask of apartheid.

By Rida Abu Rass

Over the years, both the Israeli and Palestinian Left have learned to lower their expectations — to live on crumbs of hope. So who is left to lead peace negotiations? Trump? We’ll see what he has to offer, and probably be disappointed. In Israel there is not a single leader capable or ready to lead a real, broad political movement to end the occupation — setting aside for a second that there is no majority of Jewish Israelis lining up to join such a movement. In Ramallah we have one of the least popular leaders in the history of the Palestinian struggle. So who will save us?

Palestinians in the occupied territories have grown tired of organized resistance. Two intifadas were enough. True, Palestinian resistance is still alive to a certain extent in Bil’in, Ni’lin, in the South Hebron Hills, and elsewhere, but in order to bring about real political change, more organized and far broader resistance would be needed. In a sense, Israeli deterrence has worked, and you won’t find too many people who dare resist the Israeli army these days. Not even armed resistance is a prospect these days. Salvation will not come from the occupied territories.

So that’s it? Should we pack our stuff and find a foreigner to marry? Not quite yet. There is one last source of hope: young Palestinians — citizens of Israel.

Palestinian citizens haven’t yet truly flexed their muscles. Not with all their might, and the key to ending the occupation is in our hands. Whereas Palestinians in the West Bank see Jewish Israelis at checkpoints, we learn, work and shop with them. We have had the privilege of developing an intimate working relationship with Israeli society. Furthermore, we have all been sentenced to live with the rising tide of racism in Israel, whether in civilian clothes or in uniform. Palestinians in Israel are motivated and eager to make real changes. We have a large stake in Israeli society, albeit oftentimes an unwelcome one, and are familiar with the Jewish population.

Marwan Barghouti has been calling for wide, popular and nonviolent resistance to the occupation for years. We...

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What Christians of the Arab world are facing this Easter

From the church bombings in Egypt to the restrictions on movement in Palestine to an exodus from Iraq, Christians of most Middle Eastern countries are at serious risk.

By James J. Zogby

This year there will no Easter celebrations for Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt. Out of concern for their security and out of respect for the 45 Christians who were victims of two horrific suicide bombing attacks on Palm Sunday, their bishop declared that Easter services would be limited in his diocese to mass, “without any festivities.”

That Holy Week began for Egyptians with news of those bombings served as a powerful reminder of the threats faced not only by Egypt’s Copts but by other Christian communities in the Arab World.

It is only in Lebanon where, both because of their numbers and the unique characteristics of that country’s political system, Christians live in relative security. But in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, or Palestine, 2000 year-old Christian communities are at risk.

The situation in Palestine is unique. There, Christians and Muslims alike, are being strangled by the harsh Israeli occupation. They’ve lost land, livelihood, and the freedom of movement. This Holy Week, for example, only with great difficulty will Christians from Bethlehem, Bir Zeit, or Ramallah be able to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem to walk the Stations of the Cross or to pray at the Church of the Sepulcher. Many Palestinians can see Jerusalem from their homes, but they are separated from the city by a 28-foot wall, restrictions imposed by occupation forces, and humiliating checkpoints. As a result of these near unbearable hardships, many Palestinian Christians have emigrated to the West causing a precipitous decline in their presence in the Holy Land.

The situation faced by Christians in Iraq and Syria is quite a different story.

In Iraq, the remnants of that country’s once thriving Christian church live in fear. Americans who only recently discovered Iraq’s ancient churches, do not realize that before the Bush Administration’s disastrous 2003 invasion, there were 1.3 millions in Iraq. Despite assuming some religious trappings, Saddam Hussein’s ruthless dictatorship was secular and, therefore, provided Christians some degree of religious freedom.

One result of the U.S. invasion that overthrew Saddam’s regime and the dismantling of Iraq’s state apparatus was to unleash a civil war of armed sectarian militias, a feature of which was the “ethnic cleansing” of entire neighborhoods of Sunni and Shia Muslims...

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Israel's online pot market lights up as decriminalization looms

In the wake of an Israeli government vote to decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana, an enterprising legalization activist has created a virtual marketplace for buyers and sellers of cannabis.

By Yael Marom

Whether they’re after skunk, White Widow or Lemon Haze, Israelis can now purchase the cannabis of their choice with about as much ease as any other kind of plant. In the days following the Israeli government’s vote to move to decriminalize recreational marijuana use, thousands of Israelis joined so-called “Telegrass” groups on the Telegram messaging app, initiated by activists who been campaigning for legalization. Cannabis merchants can, through these groups, openly sell their wares to the Israeli public for the first time.

There are still some technical issues, some lingering fears, and a lot of sensitivity among users of the service, but that hasn’t stopped increasing numbers of people from joining “Telegrass,” which runs 24 hours a day.

About a year ago, Amos Dov Silver — who launched “Telegrass” — decided to use his Facebook page to connect buyers and sellers of marijuana. Silver, whose years-long battle for legalization saw him playing cat-and-mouse with the authorities and going through arrests and release, now lives in California. When the number of responses on his Facebook page started to grow, Silver came up with a new method, suggesting to sellers that they open fictional Facebook accounts and offer their goods from there, while tagging him in their posts.

Buyers were now able to find sellers, and sellers could verify their customers’ identities through their own Facebook profiles. Silver makes no profit from these sales, but he still makes sure to check the identity of the sellers who tag him, in an effort to confirm — as far as possible — that they’re not scamming their buyers, whether through theft or the quantity or quality of their goods.

This small venture quickly grew. “After the first seller came the second, then the third and fourth,” Silver says. “Today there are around 20 sellers active on a daily basis, and a similar number who are slightly less active.” But each seller who tagged him had their own questions and issues, and Silver recently decided to try and professionalize, developing another business model in which the sellers would manage themselves.

So at the end of March he published a Facebook post announcing that buyers and sellers could now...

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The endgame lurking behind Netanyahu's new settlement policy

Netanyahu’s new settlement policy doesn’t just pave the way for massive construction in the West Bank — it also, with the blessing of a right-wing U.S. president, risks freezing Palestinians out of the diplomatic process entirely.

By Mitchell Plitnick

On March 30, the Israeli government announced that it had approved the first new settlement in 20 years. The new settlement is part of the government’s compensation package to the settlers of the recently evacuated outpost named Amona. The Israeli courts had ordered the demolition of this illegally built settlement for the first-time way back in 2006. This February, Amona was finally removed.

But despite the controversy over the new settlement, it’s not actually the first new one in 20 years. True, it’s the first settlement in that time that the government publicly planned and did not claim to be part of an existing settlement. But in that period, outposts that were ostensibly illegal under Israeli law have become legal when they declared themselves part of an existing settlement somewhere in the same general area. More recently, outposts have been legalized retroactively under a new law. So, this is the “first new settlement” only in the most technical, and largely meaningless, sense.

More important are the steps that both the Israeli and US governments are taking in the wake of the Israeli announcement. These are the real indicators of the policy taking shape in the discussions between the Trump and Netanyahu governments.

At a meeting last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel would adopt a new policy for settlement expansion to mollify the US administration. This policy would have four points:

1) Israel will build in “previously developed areas.”

2) Where such construction is not permitted, Israel will allow expansion in areas adjacent to the developed areas.

3) “Where neither of these criteria are met, due to legal, security or topographical constraints, Israel will allow construction on the closest land possible to developed areas.”

4) Israel will not allow the creation of any new illegal outposts.

This is what Netanyahu presents as a policy of restraint. In fact, however, the policy amounts to unrestrained growth. As Hagit Ofran of Peace Now points out, “If it’s permissible to build in the built-up area, adjacent to it and close to it – then, in practice, it’s possible to build everywhere.” But...

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When remembering the Sabbath day enables settler violence

Settler violence on the Sabbath is not uncommon in the West Bank: Israeli civilians feel emboldened to attack Palestinians, knowing that law enforcement will refrain from taking serious action until the following week. 

By Yossi Gurvitz, for Yesh Din

They came riding on a horse, two Israeli civilians armed with firearms. One of them jumped off, drew a box cutter, and informed the Palestinian shepherd, B., that “this is our land.” As if to prove the point, he added that he would kill the sheep as well. The two Israelis began throwing stones at the animals, killing one of them with a direct hit to the head. The herd began running away in panic, and B. saw two of them falling down, their legs broken. One of the attackers began hitting sheep in the eyes with a stick.

The place: Khirbet Tel Al Hime, Tubas Region, Jordan Valley. The date: February 17, 2017. Khirbet Tel Al Hime is a small enclosure located some 250 meters west of Road 90, the major north-to-south highway in Israel-Palestine that runs through the West Bank. Around 30 people, all of them from the Ayoub family, live there, and have been living there since 1962.

Until the last few months, say the residents, they had few problems, and none with settlers — though the army did demolish some of their tents from time to time. They shepherded their flock and made cheese from the milk, selling it in the nearby town of Tubas. There is no infrastructure in place, and even the water has to be delivered in tanks from another town. But, all in all, the residents say it wasn’t bad.

All this changed in September 2016. The army raided the enclosure and demolished it. Almost at the same time, a new Israeli outpost was built nearby. Experience tells us that outposts built “accidentally” and without coordination with the Israeli authorities do not survive. So far, this new outpost is still standing.

One suspects we see the old method, the one described in Yesh Din’s The Road to Dispossession report, in action: first, the army allows Israelis to take over land, then turns a blind eye when they use ideological violence against Palestinians, all of which is part of an attempt to push them into despair...

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When shooting a teen in the back is a 'professional error'

An IDF brigade commander shot a Palestinian teen who threw a rock at his jeep, while the boy was running away, and then left him bleeding on the road. Initially, the colonel claimed his life was in danger. With each subsequent interrogation, the story changed. The military police determined the incident was a ‘professional error’ –  bad aim – and closed the case despite evidence that tells a very different story.

By John Brown* and Noam Rotem

On July 3, 2015, Col. Yisrael Shomer, then-commander of the IDF’s Binyamin Brigade, was driving towards the Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank. Mohammad al-Kasbeh, a 17 year-old Palestinian, threw a large rock at the windshield of Shomer’s vehicle, and started to flee. The Binyamin Brigade commander stepped out of the car, fired two bullets into the back of the fleeing boy, and left him wounded and bleeding on the ground without offering any help. Kasbeh died from his wounds. The military police file was closed with no indictment filed, and Col. Shomer was promoted to commander of the IDF’s Southern Command.

Now, for the first time, our investigation reveals that a subordinate soldier who was with Shomer at the time of the shooting testified to Military Police investigators that neither man was in immediate danger, and that his commander failed to follow the protocol for arresting suspects. Furthermore, while Shomer claimed that the boy was holding an object, the soldier testified that that the boy held nothing. Video analysis of the incident, made possible by these testimonies, also showed that the entire shooting was documented, and contradicts Shomer’s claim that he fired in the air.

What follows is a review of the Military Police’s file, the changing versions of the officer’s testimony (especially after B’Tselem released video footage documenting the shooting), the contradictory testimonies of the soldiers who were with Shomer that day, and the decision of the Military Advocate General (MAG) not to file an indictment against the IDF colonel.

Last month, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) filed an appeal to the High Court of Justice demanding that the army prosecute Shomer for murder, or at least negligent manslaughter. The appeal is based on the military’s own investigation file, reviewed in this article, and the crux of the argument is that Col. Shomer was not in mortal danger when he fired into the boy’s back.