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Israel killed 222 Gaza protestors since 2018. Only one soldier has been indicted

As Othman Hiles began climbing the Gaza fence, an Israeli soldier opened fire and killed the unarmed 14-year-old. The soldier’s sentence? Community service.

By Eyal Sagiv

A Palestinian woman seen after after crossing the a fence that had been damaged by demonstrators during the protest near the Gaza-Israel border fence, Gaza Strip, September 28, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian woman seen after after crossing the a fence that had been damaged by demonstrators during the protest near the Gaza-Israel border fence, Gaza Strip, September 28, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Two women and a teenage boy stand close to the fence separating Gaza from Israel, waving Palestinian flags. Four other teenagers approach. One of them, 14-year-old Othman Hiles, is wearing a white shirt and dark pants. He goes up to the fence, touches it, walks along it for a few yards, and touches it again. He puts his foot on the fence and starts to climb. As his second foot reaches the fence, a shot is fired. Hiles is hit in the chest and falls.

A month after Hiles was killed, Israeli Military Advocate General Sharon Afek ordered an investigation into the incident. More than a year later — after Afek had ordered another 10 investigations into the killing of Gazan demonstrators at the hands of Israeli soldiers — the military announced that the soldier responsible for Hiles’ death had been convicted in a plea bargain of “exceeding authority in a manner that endangers human life and health.” The army sentenced him to a month of military labor, a four-month suspended sentence, and demoted him to the rank of private.

We will never know what happened during the MAG Corps meetings the year Afek and his people decided to investigate the deaths of only 11 Palestinian demonstrators, indict only one soldier, agree to an absurd plea bargain and, most importantly, leave the IDF open-fire regulations essentially unchanged.

Not that it really matters. What matters are the facts: Hiles, only 14, was killed more than a year ago on July 13, 2018. What matters is that he was captured being shot on video while climbing the perimeter fence opposite Gaza City during one of the weekly protests held by Gazans almost every weekend since late March 2018. What matters is that since the protests began, Israeli security forces have killed 222 demonstrators and wounded around 8,000 with live fire. What matters is that 45 of those killed were minors, 28 of them under the age of 16, and that most of those killed or wounded were unarmed and were not endangering the soldiers, who were armed and well-protected behind an electronic fence dozens of yards away. There were lookouts, jeeps, crowd control measures, and occasionally, tanks.

Two hundred twenty-two people were killed.

The military has refused to make any essential changes to its open-fire regulations, promising only to investigate “exceptional incidents.” To date, the MAG has identified 11 such cases, according to a military statement. Why eleven? Why these eleven? It’s anyone’s guess.

Some of the incidents were captured on video; others, like the killing of paramedic Razan al-Najjar or teenager Muhammad Ayoub, drew international attention and criticism. Is that why the military chose to investigate these cases? Unlikely. Why not other well-documented and no less shocking incidents, such as the killing of 16-year-old Ahmad Abu Tyour, shot by soldiers after he threw a stone at them while waving at them?

The main purpose of investigating these “exceptional cases” is not to uncover the truth or ensure that no more unarmed, non-dangerous civilians are killed. Quite the opposite: it is to keep up the false show of a functioning justice system and the warped reasoning that killing hundreds of Palestinians and injuring thousands — hardly “exceptions” — is legitimate.

That is why these investigations are devoid of meaning. They always center on the soldiers on the ground — never on the commanders who trained them, or the MAG Corps officials who sanctioned the procedures and open-fire regulations that guide them. Those who bear real responsibility are never brought to trial or even investigated.

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The military, meanwhile, tries not to investigate too hard. Suffice it to examine how the Military Police Investigations Unit — closely supervised by the MAG Corps — handles the investigations: stretching them out for months on end without collecting external evidence, while relying almost exclusively on the accounts of the soldiers involved in the incident (and, in some cases, on the accounts of the Palestinian victims). The MAG Corps is quick to close the case — for lack of evidence (with no effort made to collect it) or for “lack of culpability” — after unconditionally accepting the soldiers’ accounts, even when they contradict each other.

Yet even a successful whitewashing system needs a fig leaf to silence criticism. That is why, once in a while, an investigation does result in prosecution and conviction. Why this particular soldier who killed 14-year-old Hiles? It’s anyone’s guess — precisely because the conviction in this case is part of the systemic farce.

That is why the soldier was not charged with “manslaughter” or even “negligent manslaughter,” but with “exceeding authority in a manner that endangers human life and health.” That is why despite footage of a teenage boy standing almost alone by the perimeter fence in a quiet area — with no grounds for claiming that the sniper shots were not directed at him — the military stated in all earnestness that “the investigation did not uncover evidence that meets criminal criteria and substantiates a causal tie between the soldier’s shooting and the injury to the rioter.”

One can only imagine how decisions are made in the Tel Aviv offices of the MAG, which authorizes open-fire regulations, opens and closes investigations about people killed by those very regulations, and which decides to reach plea bargains too absurd to take seriously.

Meanwhile, in blockaded Gaza? Asmahan Hiles, Othman’s mother, envisions a different reality: “Ever since Othman was killed, I’ve watched the footage over and over, asking myself, ‘What did he do that was so terrible?’ I watch the video and cry my heart out. I ask myself, how did he feel when the bullet pierced his body? Did it cause my little boy a lot of pain? How could he bear the pain of the bullet when it hit him?”

Eyal Sagiv is a data coordinator at B’Tselem. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Itshak Gordine

      Why try to cross a border? In order to enter Israel? and why? The Israeli army has repeatedly warned them not to approach. A UN agency claimed that the protesters were being manipulated by Hamas.

      Reply to Comment
      • David

        Palestinians are illegally occupied and imprisoned in the Gaza Strip. They have the legal right to resist and seek freedom.

        As correctly declared by Human Rights Watch in 2005, the Gaza Strip remains belligerently occupied by Israel. “Israel will continue to be an Occupying Power [of the Gaza Strip] under international law and bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention because it will retain effective control over the territory and over crucial aspects of civilian life. Israel will not be withdrawing and handing power over to a sovereign authority – indeed, the word ‘withdrawal’ does not appear in the [2005 disengagement] document at all… The IDF will retain control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will. According to the Hague Regulations, ‘A territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised’. International jurisprudence has clarified that the mere repositioning of troops is not sufficient to relieve an occupier of its responsibilities if it retains its overall authority and the ability to reassert direct control at will.”

        Also: As the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has declared: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.” The ICRC thus unequivocally stated that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law embodied in the Geneva Conventions. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      It would appear that the soldiers can’t open fire on their own volition and need to get approval from their commanding officer and possible someone even higher up. Where there are high profile incidents or incidents where the soldiers acted without receiving approval the army investigates. In the other cases it is deemed that they have performed their tasks according to the orders they were given and no disciplinary measures are required.

      Hamas is sending Palestinians, including civilians, to breach the border with Israel as a cynical ploy to maintain relevance. Israel will use any and all force to ensure that its border is not breached. If Palestinians don’t want to get shot all they have to do is stay away from the border and not try to infiltrate into Israel. This isn’t the first time that Hamas sends children to die and it is unfortunate but this is how the other side has chosen to pursue its goals. Any and all complaints should be laid at the feet of those in charge of Gaza who push people into situations where they are going to be exposed to harm.

      I especially like the statement that ‘most of those killed or wounded were unarmed and were not endangering the soldiers’. It is meant to obscure the fact that some of those breaching the fence are armed and are endangering the soldiers. One wonders at which point the Israeli soldiers should be opening fire. Is it before or after the person crossing the border is close enough to throw a grenade at them?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Lewis from Afula

      These enemy civilians are trying to invade OUR COUNTRY.
      It is absolutely disgusting that IDF soldiers face punishment (even very mild) for taking out those responsible.
      The Hamastani scum must learn that ISRAEL does NOT BELONG to them.
      When the enemy attempts invasion, they must be rapidly dispatched to meet the 72 virgins.

      I am hoping that a future Likud Government will reform the Israeli courts, thus allowing the IDF to do its job properly.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        It isn’t and never has been your country. I realize you need to repeat this mantra of falsehood to keep yourself together, but its all a lie. One you repeat more frantically and frequently with every criminal act of the occupation forces and its supporters. For shame, Lewis. You know better, but choose to be one of the many useful idiots for the illegal, immoral JSIL. There’s no difference between israeli idiots and amerikkkan idiots, except you don’t wear MAGA hats (do you?). You’ll continue to justify the many crimes perpetrated by the occupation forces and govt of netanyahoooo because to stop means looking at yourself without the zionist filter and I don’t think you are strong enough for that level of self-reflection. I feel a bit sorry for you. As far as the other sycophants of the zionist horde who squat here, only feel sorry for the people you come in contact with.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Re: “It isn’t and never has been your country. I realize you need to repeat this mantra of falsehood to keep yourself together, but its all a lie.”

          Oh dear, Carmen really needs to up her daily dose of tablets. She appears to be reverting to her old delusions again.

          Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordine

          Carmen, You know very well that the notion of “Palestinian people” was invented by the KGB in the 60s. Even the Arab leaders admit it. There has never been an Arab state of “Palestine” in history. Stop disguising the truth.

          Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            Itzak, you know very well you’re a feckless c@nt, but it hasn’t stopped your steady stream of logorrhea. Piss off PAB.

            Reply to Comment
      • David

        Ugly reality:

        To quote Dov Weisglass, then PM Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser:
        “‘The significance of the [proposed] disengagement plan [implemented in 2005] is the freezing of the peace process,’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Ha’aretz. ‘And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda….’ Weisglass, who was one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, was speaking in an interview with Ha’aretz for the Friday Magazine. ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’” (Top PM Aide: Gaza Plan Aims to Freeze the Peace Process, Haaretz, October 6, 2004)

        “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp for right now 1,800,000 people” – Amira Hass, 2015, correspondent for Haaretz, speaking at the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      The usual coarse, dehumanizing, delegitimizing litany of fabrications and excuses here from the right wing peanut gallery, the same wing that, if Jewish settlers are involved, are oh so solicitous, careful, distinction-drawing, discerning, demand the utmost restraint and care from the army, are keen to ask if less-aggressive measures could be used, are exquisitely attuned to issues of respect and care for human life, and every settler is an individual, blessed by god, unique, humanly complex. Take every one of those values and negate them and substitute their opposite when non-settler/non-Jews are involved. Tribal racism is an intractable thing. No one is ever going to change their minds. On the contrary, they revel in not changing them. Israelis in control of Israel now will not change. It’s a national-religious-racist cult dynamic that has gained total dominance. Forceful outside intervention is needed.

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordine

        More jeremiads from Ben. Protesters know they must not approach the border. If they do, it’s at their peril.

        Reply to Comment
      • Firentis

        Oh look who wants to send some foreign army to go kill some Jews and carry out regime change.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          No killing of Jews or Arabs, thank you, and no armies except temporary neutral peacekeepers if necessary. Properly done boycotts, sanctions, divestment and diplomatic pressure, in concert, is the thing. And no regime change. Democratic regime evolution under pressure that increases costs where costs need to be increased rationally and actually stops diverting the true costs to third parties that pick up the tab for Israel and “protect” it from facing reality.

          Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordine

            What advice given to Israel from abroad ..! As you read, it looks like Israel is a small child in distress. But no, following the will of his people, Israel has become a technological, economic and military power. His villains collapse and seek his protection. We have never had so many diplomatic relations, and that makes small Jewish (or pseudo-Jewish) leftists rage abroad. As for the international forces that you advocate, they have been very inefficient in the holy Jewish city of Hebron where foreign observers began to molest Jewish children. Israel asked them to return to Switzerland.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Gordine/Halevy: On the contrary, I would not recommend boycotts and sanctions of a small child in distress. Bizarre that you would read me as seeing Israel that way.

            Your manipulative, meretricious, sleazy settler’s comment about foreign observer molesters of children does not really deserve the dignity of a reply. (You think *we* are children born yesterday?) Especially coming from the champion of an occupation regime that kidnaps and severely abuses children and their mothers and fathers routinely so that adults like you can prattle about “magical evenings in Hebron.” On the backs of abused children you waltz about Hebron in your overlord finery, grumbling about how you can’t find a good tailor to sew you a stylish one befitting your status, but life is good otherwise.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            On the one hand we are a cult and on the other we are expected to respond rationally to your economic pressure that is designed to eliminate our country (as it is seen by said cult). Do people with deeply held ideologies generally respond to economic pressure by surrendering their security? Interesting theory here genius.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The profitable occupation, and why it is never discussed
            https://972mag.com/the-profitable-occupation-and-why-it-is-never-discussed/49497/

            “…Still, there is an even deeper level of meaning to the denial of the profitable aspect of the occupation, one that has to do with the way Israelis – even from the left – conceptualize this conflict: Ignoring the benefit to Israel from the occupation serves to blur its colonialist nature.
            Understanding the occupation as a burden helps portray the current state of affairs as “a tragedy” in which both people are caught, while hiding the connection between the political persecution of the Palestinians and their economic exploitation (cheap labor is another “benefit” of the occupation which I didn’t discuss here). We are repeatedly told that the colonial theory, or even elements of it, couldn’t be used to explain the nature of Israeli control over the West Bank, and the cost of the infrastructure Israel has built in the occupied territories serves as proof. But colonialism always requires expensive infrastructure, which doesn’t mean that it couldn’t serve other sectors or interests of the occupying society rather well.
            A third reason for ignoring the profitable side of the occupation is the implications it has on the legitimacy of sanctions against the entirety of Israeli society – a notion that even leftists (like myself) find very hard to swallow.
            It’s not always enough to oppose the occupation – one needs to understand its appeal as well. I have written in the past on the Israeli addiction to the political status quo, especially on the Palestinian question. I think that an honest analysis of the cost and benefits of Israeli control over the West Bank would support the notion that the occupation represents an Israeli interest, and therefore would never come to an end as a result of an internal Israeli process alone.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            Of course it’s never discussed. Something this wrong (colonialism in the 21st century and all the horrors that go with it)couldn’t be allowed to continue if it wasn’t really just about the ‘benjamins’. Money is the root of most, if not all, evil after all.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Firentis: Regarding “Do people with deeply held ideologies generally respond to economic pressure by surrendering their security?”

            People with shallow, pseudo-security ideologies respond to economic pressure. Israel knows it does not have the stomach to weather a boycott because Israel deep down knows that the issue is not “elimination” but the relinquishing of privilege, grandiosity, supremacism; the relinquishing of territory and a land-worshiping fixation; the relinquishing of apartheid, for something more down to earth, realistic and humane.

            I question how “deeply held” is this ideology you speak of. Breaking the Silence is one sign of trouble in paradise. I shall post another sign, a signal, a canary in the coal mine so to speak, that something is not right with this “deeply held ideology” and the young people growing up nowadays know it, and the proof is in how willing they are to sacrifice, fight, and ultimately lay down their lives for this so-called “deeply held” ideology.

            More to follow.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The sign:

            IDF reveals alarming rise in mental illness-related pre-emptive discharges
            The IDF expressed concern in the light of a 30% rise in the number of pre-emptive soldier discharges on the grounds of mental illness.
            by Tal Lev Ram/Maariv November 8, 2019
            https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Alarming-rise-in-mental-illness-related-IDF-soldier-dismissal-rates-607272

            “…The IDF is having a hard time finding explanations for the troubling data. IDF HR officers are convinced that too often the dismissal is given too easily – and without medical justification, despite not having any authority on the topic of mental illness.
            The central problem, according to the IDF, is that in most cases young people come to the enlistment offices with documents signed by psychiatrists certifying their mental illness, and these mandate that the IDF release them from service.
            IDF officials feel that young people seem to be faking mental illnesses in order to get out of serving. But while their criticisms seem to outwardly focus on blaming their subordinates, or the field of psychiatry, a more interesting criticism that arises from their words seems to be that young Israelis seem less motivated to enlist than in previous years. If more young people are indeed lying in order to get out, what could be the cause?…”

            Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        The only dehumanizing, delegitimizing litany of fabrications and excuses is coming from a Leftist Cuckoo living 5000 miles away.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Itshak Gordine

      Today (November 12th, 2019) the terrorists of the Islamic Jihad hav launched from Gaza dozens of missiles on the Israeli population. Will the leftists comdemn?

      Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        Yep. I’ll continue to condemn the zionist entity for it’s crimes against humanity and won’t stop. Hope that clears things up for you PAB.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Yep. Carmen the self-hater will keep bashing Israel.
          That is the nature of these Far Leftist, Neo-marxist Crazies.
          Everything that Israel does is EVIL.
          Everything that the Gay-murdering, Polygamous, Honor-killing Jihadis do is GOOD.
          These Corbynist fanatics cannot change.

          Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            Lewis, you’re really all over the place now and the CAPS don’t make your point(?) for you. If I don’t agree with you it’s because I’m a self-hating Jew, far-leftist or neo-Marxist jihadi. Pick one and stay with it; I have.

            Itzak – is asking me if I’m palestinian supposed to be insulting or just another distraction? PAB, thy name is itzak.

            Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordine

          Carmen, Are you arab?

          Reply to Comment
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