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IDF closes investigation into Bil'in killing without indictment

Four years after Bassem Abu Rahme was killed by a tear gas canister in Bil’in, the Israeli army says there is no evidence to indict. Video footage, however, shows that the tear gas canister was fired directly at him, contravening IDF regulations. Last year a former soldier who served in the same unit said the shooter aimed directly at Abu Rahme and even put an ‘X’ on his rifle afterward.

Bassem Abu Rahme Was Killed by a Tear Gas Canister in Bil'in in 2009

An archive photo, taken on July 25, 2008, shows Bassem Abu Rahme during a protest against the wall in the village of Bil’in.

Nearly five years after Bassem Abu Rahmeh was killed by an Israeli tear gas canister fired directly at his chest during a protest against the wall in Bil’in, Israel’s Military Advocate General (MAG) has closed the investigation into his April 2009 death, citing lack of evidence.

The military prosecution claims it was unable to determine the identity of the Israeli soldiers and border policemen involved or whether open-fire regulations were breached. This, despite the fact that as B’Tselem and Yesh Din pointed out in a joint press release condemning the decision, three video segments filmed during the demonstration show that Abu Rahmeh was situated to the east of the barrier, did not act violently and did not endanger the soldiers in any way.

B’Tselem and Yesh Din also point out that 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 army regulations. Footage of Abu Rahme’s death also appears in the Oscar-nominated film “Five Broken Cameras,” directed by Guy Davidi and Imad Burnat.

Late last year, a soldier who served in the same unit that killed Abu Rahme gave testimony about the incident to Breaking the Silence. “…[T]his one time, one of the soldiers simply aimed at someone directly, and [the tear gas canister] hit his chest and he got killed.”

“The guy who shot him … was kind of pleased with the whole thing, he had an X on his launcher,” the former soldier continued. An X on a weapon indicates a “kill.”

A Bil’in village official and family member holds the tear gas canister that killed Abu Rahme during his funeral, April 17, 2009 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The MAG decision, made in late July, was only recently conveyed to the Israeli High Court of Justice. It came in a statement (Hebrew) by the State Attorney in response to a petition filed by Subhiya Abu Rahmeh, Bassem’s mother, together with the Bil’in Village Council and Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din.

In its official statement, the state did not explain the rationale behind its decision, stating simply that “there is not enough evidence to proceed with criminal proceedings against any of the soldiers involved in the incident.” No information was given regarding the findings of the investigation, which the state argued had included “comprehensive and rigorous investigative actions,” or about the accounts provided by the soldiers who had been questioned. Nor did the statement provide the content of the opinions given by military and police experts or their interpretation of the findings from the video footage.

The village of Bil’in, whose residents have been protesting the route of the separation barrier through its farmlands every week since 2005, has has suffered dozens of injuries and arrests. (In 2007, the High Court ordered the wall in Bil’in be moved, although it still cuts off the village from much of its lands.) Two years ago the Abu Rahmeh family lost another member, Bassem’s sister, Jawaher, who died after suffering tear gas inhalation. The army denied tear gas inhalation was the cause of her death.

The investigation into Bassem Abu Rahme’s killing was only launched a year after the incident following demands by B’Tselem and the family’s lawyers. The foot-dragging and procrastination in the case continued, however, even after the investigation began. Only a petition to the High Court finally brought about a decision in the case.

In response to the statement submitted by the State Attorney’s Office, Attorney Emily Schaeffer of Yesh Din’s legal team said:

The decision to close the case 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 at close range. Despite three separate videos that recorded the killing of Bassem, the military investigators and police have failed to find the what caused the death of an unarmed demonstrator. The conduct of the law enforcement bodies in this case is further proof of the feebleness of the authorities in cases of Palestinian casualties. Moreover, it seems there is no intention to uncover the truth or prosecute the offenders, even in extreme cases such as this, in which there is clear-cut and unambiguous evidence. Bassem’s family, together with B’Tselem and Yesh Din, will continue in its struggle to bring the parties responsible for his death to justice.

‘Facts on the ground’ loom over Bil’in as protests enter ninth year
Standing where Bil’in fence stood, change begins to sink in

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    1. Danny

      Knowing what we do about how the IDF goes about the business of occupation, this is a 100% expected outcome.

      As far as I know, the IDF has NEVER brought charges against one of its own UNLESS a third party brought forth incontrovertible evidence AND the criminal in question was a highly expendable unit, such as for example the Druze sniper who shot Tom Hurndall in 2003.

      Reply to Comment
      • TheAZCowBoy

        The Jewish vultures judges in their black robes have never seen an IDF/IAF murder/massacre where they did anything but blame the victim. The dear people of Bil’in/Nil’in have streggled with this ‘spawn of Iblis,’ with little success using bare hands, stones against US supplied tear gas canisters, M-16’s, AH-64D ‘Longbow’ Apache helicopters loaded with AGM-114/117 Hellfire anti-tank missiles designed to take out Warsaw Pact tanks with their 6″ steel plating and reactive armour.But. a;ways remeber: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight – but, the size of the fight in the dog.

        Hazbollah has shown these beastly Jews that a well equipped Arab soldier is ‘more than their match!’

        Allh Ankbar.

        Reply to Comment
    2. You don’t wait a year to begin an investigation in a military culture of silence and expect indictment.

      Here the military has asserted its territory in what I call the implicit War Council constitution of Israel, where the military is indeed a sitting member, members striving for consensus against outsiders as the definition of law. Until the Court sanctions the military for such results there will be no change. But that would mean sundering the War Council. High order judicial independence is presently incompatible with the Israeli unwritten constitution, although there are signs of judicial independence from below (e.g., http://972mag.com/baseless-accusations-activists-acquitted-for-cast-lead-protest/78708/)

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      More of that impunity. An IDF uniform is no more than a license to murder.

      Reply to Comment