Former Border Police officer Ben Deri pled guilty to a reduced charge of negligent manslaughter for killing an unarmed Palestinian teenage boy in Beitunia four years ago. He was not charged with the killing of a second boy.
Ben Deri, the Israeli border policeman who shot and killed 17-year-old Palestinian Nadeem Nawara on Nakba Day four years ago in the West Bank village of Beitunia, was sentenced to nine months in prison on Wednesday. He will likely only serve seven.
Nawara and another Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Daher, who died in identical circumstances at the same location an hour apart but for whose death Deri was not charged, were killed from a considerable distance that day and posed no danger to anyone at the time of their murders.
Deri’s unit had been authorized to shoot less-lethal, rubber-coated bullets but instead he loaded live rounds into his weapon. The state had originally charged him with manslaughter but ultimately accepted a plea deal for negligent manslaughter.
As part of the plea deal, Deri claimed he had accidentally loaded live bullets into his weapon. Because of the plea deal, the court was never given a chance to rule based on the plethora of video and forensic evidence against Deri. Nawara’s family objected to the plea deal.
In the hours after the deadly shootings, the Israeli defense establishment, hasbara activists, and politicians rushed to deny that Israeli forces had used live fire that day. Even after CCTV footage documenting the moments of the two boys’ murders surfaced, Israeli officials created and stoked conspiracy theories that the entire scene was staged, that the footage was fabricated or tampered with.
When CNN footage was released showing the shots that killed the boys, it became impossible to deny that Israeli forces had been responsible. One of the bullets was recovered from Nawara’s backpack — it had pierced his chest and exited his back, coming to rest among his schoolbooks and papers.
A police forensics investigation determined that border policeman Ben Deri, 21 at the time, had fired the shot that killed Nawara. No autopsy was performed on Abu Daher. Deri was never charged for killing the second boy. Two other protesters were wounded by live fire that day. Deri was not charged for shooting them either.
Deri was indicted for manslaughter in December 2014. His case had been ongoing since then, prolonged by some 50 hearing delays, cancellations, the recusal of the original judge due to personal connections with a witness, and the delayed appointment of a replacement judge.
The plea bargain was a significant concession for the Nawara family, and it is hard to disagree with them. The various videos from the protest, particularly Deri’s behavior during the incident and after (e.g. his public embrace of right-wing extremists), all point to something more sinister. Even the claim that Deri meant to disperse the crowd, rather than shoot to harm the Palestinian boys, seems like a stretch, as there were hardly any demonstrators at the time the two were killed.
What appears in the CCTV footage is far from the “dangerous scene” of soldiers under a hail of rocks that Deri’s defense described. And there were several other live rounds fired that day, not just the one that killed Nadim, raising the question: how does one accidentally fire live ammunition instead of rubber-coated bullets more than once? “If the judge accepts this plea bargain,” Nadim’s father said in March, “it will prove these are only mock courts that aim to whitewash Israel, portraying it as a state that respects the rule of law.”
“This whole thing is a joke,” Firas Assali, the Nawara family’s lawyer, told +972 earlier this year. “Since the beginning, the prosecution didn’t do its job,” he continued. “This is a green light to the army to continue to treat Palestinians as numbers and targets, and not as human beings.”
Meanwhile, Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, issued a statement following the verdict:
Deri’s trial epitomizes the way in which Israel’s investigative and legal systems whitewash the continued killing of Palestinians. Even in this case, unusual in that charges were pressed and it even went to trial, the whitewash continues. The trial ended with a ludicrously light sentence, which merely serves to underscore the standard message: Palestinian lives are forfeit. Israel will undoubtedly boast of this trial as a fine example of its ability to provide accountability. Damn the facts, it’s propaganda that counts.