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Soldier who shot unarmed protester to death: I didn't see him

Mustafa Tamimi, a moment before he was injured. The weapon that shot him is circled in red, as is the tear gas canister that caused the fatal injury. Ibrahim Bornat can be seen in the edge of the frame. (photo: Haim Scwarczenberg)

The IDF has launched an investigation into the circumstances which led to the death of Mustafa Tamimi,28, of Nabi Saleh during a demonstration against the takeover of his village’s lands by the nearby settlement of Halamish, in the West Bank.

Haaretz reports:

Figures in the army’s Central Command said the soldier claimed he “didn’t see” Tamimi. But even if that is true, the IDF’s rules of engagement prohibit the firing of tear gas grenades from a rifle pointed directly at demonstrators or from a distance of less than 40 meters away. They also stipulate that the shooter must use the rifle sight and verify that no one is in the line of fire.

The army also claimed that Tamimi was throwing stones at the soldiers. From the pictures taken at the scene (above) it’s clear that the protesters posed no danger to those seating in the bullet-proof Jeep.

Israel Defense Forces officials have told Haaretz that Tamimi’s death was “an exceptional incident.” Still, as we have reported here in the past, firing tear gas canisters at protesters from close range (in violation of army orders) is a common practice in the West Bank. A couple of years ago, Palestinian protester Bassam Abu-Rahmeh of Bil’in died after getting hit in the chest by a tear gas canister [video]. A year later, his sister, Jawahar, collapsed from the effect of a tear gas and later died in a Ramallah hospital.

I have seen tear gas canisters shot directly at protesters (including myself) in several demonstrations in Bil’in, in Hebron and in Nabi Saleh.

A 2010 Wikileak cable originally sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv quoted Central Command Major General Avi Mizrachi, warning that the army would step up measures against demonstrations in the West Bank, “even [in cases of] demonstrations that appeared peaceful.” Here is a recent video from Nabi Saleh which shows this policy in action. You can see the army using excessive force agaisnt a handful of protesters who were only singing and clapping.

Related posts on +972:
Mustafa Tamimi: A murder captured on camera
IMAGE: Unarmed protester shot to death by IDF
Nabi Saleh protester hit by tear gas canister dies from wounds
Vicious reader comments left on JPost article on Tamimi
In West Bank, peaceful Palestinian opposition marches on

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    1. Henry Weinstein

      I see, the IDF is helping blind young men to feel part of Israeli society.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      It worked for Rachel Corrie’s killer, why not again?

      Reply to Comment
    3. H. Cohen

      the banality of evil

      Reply to Comment
    4. directrob

      I think it is the moment just after it hit him (smoke does not overtake a projectile that goes at 100 meters per second and also those projectiles should go straight.)
      Apart from that, short range those projectiles (40mm, 200 gram aluminium casing) are as dangerous as a bullet. Not seeing someone is not a very good defense. Shooting those projectiles without proper procedures is a criminal act and as a consequence it is still murder.

      Reply to Comment
    5. AYLA

      I didn’t know about Bassam Abu-Rahmehs sister. HIs poor family. @Noam, this post, after I’ve read so many today, has just put me over the edge into grief. Thank you for your heart. The heart mitigates the mind, and the mind mitigates the heart. I pray we can all stop talking/thinking so much; reason, nor finger pointing, isn’t what’s going to move anything, here. anywhere.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Christopher Whitman

      As a person who was shot at al-Nabi Saleh by the Israelis, I can tell you they absolutely 100% aim at civilians. WHen I was shot, there was not a stone thrown, and the only people in the street were 4 people, including myself, documenting the excessive violence. They aim very carefully before shooting and know exactly what they are doing.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Zack


      I am just wondering if any of you have actually had rocks thrown at you at any point in your lives? I served for 2.5 years in the west bank and encountered dozens of situations just like these, tons of rocks are being thrown at you, some of which are big enough to knock you out or even worse, and I personally have seen many instances where the rocks knock out the bullet proof glass, leaving you incredibly vulnerable. Not to mention the fact that so called “peaceful” rock throwings can escalate into something much more dangerous (such as lets say a “peaceful” throwing of a molotov cocktail (also something that I experienced, not fun) in an instant.

      Regardless of what you think of the occupation, you must think about what is going through the minds of these soldiers at this moment. They must come from a position of power and show their opponents that they are the ones who make the rules of the game. There is little to no room for error, as it could end up with one of their friends being maimed or killed. These troops must make incredibly hard decisions in a split second, and they are only kids. I am not saying that everything the IDF does is right, anything but. There are many situations where the correct procedures arent followed, and sometimes people pay for it with their lives unfortunately and that is a terrible tragedy. These procedures are put in place for a reason, and when it is made known that they were not followed, punishment is swift and harsh.

      Here is my question though, does anyone think that throwing mini-boulders is an acceptable form of non-violent protest? What is so non-violent about it exactly?

      I am not excusing the actions of the soldiers if they did in fact carry out this improper firing of their weapon. They need to be punished, but do you really think that if someone who probably was throwing rocks a few seconds before this picture was taken and who then ran towards the same jeep that had been hit by rocks, it is surprising that there was some type of reaction from the soldiers in the jeep? You play with fire, you’re bound to get burned. I don’t mean to sound callous, but if you mess with an army, regardless of whether its in Israel or Zimbabwe, don’t be surprised when they mess with you back.

      Reply to Comment
    8. @Zack, tons of rocks thrown at you? Yes that does damage the brain doesn’t it?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Too bad they didn’t see the children when they used white phosphorus on them. Let’s say an optician could finally resolve this issue, ok?

      Reply to Comment
    10. sh

      Zack, don’t you have it the wrong way around? The army was messing around with them first by blocking their way when they hadn’t yet exited their own village. Their destination was what had been their own spring before it was stolen by a neighboring settlement. The guys were throwing stones at the back of an armored car inside which were soldiers in protective clothing. You are claiming that they did it just in case the guy would throw a Molotov cocktail? A preventive murder, just in case? If so, one day, not so distant from now, you or I could be done away with just in case.
      No, throwing stones is not an acceptable form of non-violent protest. But shooting tear gas canisters directly at unarmed protesters expressing not entirely unjustified frustration, and in this case, at point blank range, is not an acceptable way of policing. And that is putting it exceptionally mildly.

      Reply to Comment
    11. sh

      @Zack – “I am just wondering if any of you have actually had rocks thrown at you at any point in your lives? ”
      Yes, on the way home from school as a kid. Embedded in snowballs. It would have been nice if those doing the throwing had been disciplined or even arrested. But murdered? Heaven forbid. The problem, Zack, is insanely disproportionate reactions to relatively ordinary problems.

      Reply to Comment
    12. “Regardless of what you think of the occupation, you must think about what is going through the minds of these soldiers at this moment. They must come from a position of power and show their opponents that they are the ones who make the rules of the game.”

      This is exactly the problem. The army believes that it is entitled to make the rules of the game, governing every aspect of Palestinian daily life under occupation. It has no such entitlement and consequently it is not possible to separate stone-throwing incidents from the harsh realities of the occupation. You ask if anybody here has ever had rocks thrown at them. I ask you, have you ever had to live under martial law as part of a military occupation of your community? Seen your agricultural land being eaten up by a settlement? Felt your income dwindling because of it, worried about how to meet the bills, how to cover the children’s educational expenses? Been prohibited from seeing family or friends? The list goes on. Conscripts typically serve in the West Bank for three years, and then they can leave behind whatever discomforts and minor dangers they faced in the Territories. For the people of Nabi Saleh, occupation and dispossession have been their life for years, and this is all they’ve got to look forward to for the immediate future. If war and armed resistance are ever acceptable anywhere, they’re certainly acceptable here; and if you accept the legitimacy of warfare, then you accept occupying soldiers as legitimate targets – whether for stones or Molotov cockails.

      I don’t myself believe this. I am a pacifist, and to me all killing is wrong, no matter whom you’re targeting or what they’ve done. Non-violent resistance is a wonderful courageous thing. But it’s hypocritical for any member or former member of the IDF to try and hold Palestinians to some pacifist gold standard and announce that they deserve what they get unless they live up to it. That’s not non-violence you’re asking for, that’s passivity – and yes, it’s extremely hypocritical coming from people for whom warfare is/was a profession.

      Reply to Comment
    13. aristeides

      Zack – they obviously don’t teach you in the IDF that the job of soldiers is to put themselves in the way of danger. You’ve got guns, you’ve got chemical weapons, you’ve got gas masks, you’ve got armor, you’ve got helmets.

      The people you’re facing have – rocks. And you’re the ones who are afraid? Israel isn’t going to last very long with such cowards in the front lines of its defense.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Miki

      Sure, they didn’t (not!). Just like they also didn’t see Rachel Corrie when they murdered her in cold blood as well.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Abe Logman

      I see this and know that this sort of behavior is universal with “law enforcement”. It chills my blood to know that animals like this run freely amongst us no matter where we live. Police victimize people all the time and other police cover it up so no matter if you are in a tiny village in Palestine or some place light years away, one thing is clear. Those with the least power are growing in numbers and the earth cannot sustain much more of this corruption.

      Reply to Comment
    16. ROSE

      Sometimes I read VICKY and I have the impression that the post is written by me.
      This ZACK is the image of how sick becomes the occupier. He simply does not take in account basic aspects and thinks that the occupation is a RIGHT!
      I have the right to occupy. I have the right to be a soldier in the occupied palestinian territories.

      Reply to Comment
    17. URI

      what you did as a soldier in the West Bank is immoral. I just want that you are aware of it.

      Reply to Comment
    18. directrob

      “These procedures are put in place for a reason, and when it is made known that they were not followed, punishment is swift and harsh.”
      @Zack, here I lost you. Do you have examples were punishment was swift and harsh? Justice needs to be seen.

      Reply to Comment
    19. John Yorke

      The situation is as it is. No matter how convincing each narratives may sound, be it Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, Jewish or even Evangelical Christian, the fact remains that this conflict has endured – and has been endured – for more than six decades now and shows every sign of continuing well into its seventh.

      The ideal solution for this entire dilemma would be to build a time machine, go back to Israel/Palestine in the year 1947 and lay out the consequences of what decisions were being taken at that time. The supposition must surely be that both sides would carefully mull over their differences and opt for a far less confrontational approach with the other. The alternative is the certainty of generations of conflict that we know to have taken place since then.

      Sadly, there is, as yet, no such device available to us and, even if there were, the temptation to ‘tidy-up’ history in many other areas might become too compelling. No telling where we might all end up if that were to happen.

      However, it might just be possible to create a parallel set of conditions that closely mimic this scenario and arrange for them to supplant the extremely confused and rather ineffective arrangements we have now.
      And all this without polluting one single time-stream, past or present. As to the future, that is always there for us to pollute; something we seem to excel at whenever we’re given the opportunity.

      So, for once, let’s try really hard to clean up our act.

      No need to return to 1947; we can start right here in 2011, 63 years on.

      We have to demonstrate what the future will hold for Israelis and Palestinians should they fail to reconsider and improve current attitudes and intentions toward one another.This we do by installing a simple mathematical framework of cause and effect, a time-stream of our very own construction, one that can move and interact with every negative event within the Israeli/Palestinian context.


      We may not be able to change the past and the present becomes that past all too quickly. But the future is ours to make of what we will. We can do some of our very best work there.
      And, in the circumstances, I rather think nothing less than our best will be what’s needed.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Sam

      @Zack – “I am just wondering if any of you have actually had rocks thrown at you at any point in your lives? ”

      YES! While driving around in Haifa on Kippur. 50+ kids pelted my car with mini-boulders. The most frightening minute of my life. Was any action at all taken against them? Hint: no. That was not even a form of protest, just some bored and criminal kids.

      But standards are different when it comes to oppressed persons struggling for liberation.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Zack

      @URI, how exactly do you know that what I did was immoral? I don’t remember seeing you there.

      @Everyoneelse I am not trying to justify their actions, the opposite, I don’t think their actions were justified, and if in fact they committed a crime, they should be punished to the extent of the law. I am not trying to justify the occupation, I myself think it is against everything Israel should stand for. I am just trying to put across the realities that exist, and the fact that the IDF is the occupying force and the Palestinians are the occupied is a reality. Regardless of what you think of the occupation, whether its “right” or “wrong”, does not matter in this argument. Maybe they shouldnt have been there in the first place, but these soldiers are there to implement the directives of their commanders, who’s orders come down from the politicians.

      @ARISTEIDES Yes, they are afraid of rocks, and rightfully so. My good friend was struck by a rock in the head while wearing all of his body armor including a helmet, and suffered from a severe concussion afterwards, and there are many other instances where these peaceful “rocks” have done serious bodily damage to soldiers, so they have every right to be afraid and take measures to defend themselves.

      @SH When I was talking about getting rocks thrown at you, I didn’t mean inside of snowballs as a child, I meant in a combat situation in a unfriendly area of operations while serving as a soldier.

      Additionally, as a soldier it is their job to put themselves in harms way, and yes they do have armored jeeps, guns, and body armor. This argument seems to me to be completely ignorant of the realities. Are soldiers supposed to just sit there and have rocks and god knowns what else thrown at them? Not in the slightest, their job, while protecting citizens is also to protect one another. They aren’t lambs to the sacrificial slaughter.

      I think you guys are missing the point here, my intention was just to show the fact that while if these soldiers did indeed commit a crime, then they should be punished, but the realities of the situation need to be taken into account by us all in order to understand both sides better.

      Reply to Comment
    22. URI


      first you should answer to VICKY, that wrote you the most comprehensive answer.

      You write: “how exactly do you know that what I did was immoral? I don’t remember seeing you there”.

      If you stay 2 years and half with the Israeli uniform in the occupied palestinian territories you are already Immoral, if you like or not. Personally I would be ashamed and I would chose to be a refusnik: they stand up and say NOO! They are ready to pay the consequences: this is what makes them moral human beings.
      Then you write: “these soldiers are there to implement the directives of their commanders, who’s orders come down from the politicians.”…really ZACK? This is exactly what all the criminals in the history used to say: “I fought for Germany during the war, now they want me put to trial for obeying orders.” This is what Erich Pribke said in order to jusifie his actions.
      I am not doing any historical comparison. I am not so naive. But please keep for yourself “the duty to implement the directives of their commanders”: you are a citizen of a country that paid a huge price for this is kind of sick answers.

      Reply to Comment
    23. aristeides

      “Protecting citizens” Zack? And just how is the IDF “protecting citizens” when it invades Palestinian villages and assaults them with chemical weapons?

      Why doesn’t the IDF go assault the illegal settlement that stole the Palestinian property? Because maybe th settlers will throw rocks at you and you won’t be allowed to blow them away?

      It’s really funny how much more dangerous a rock is in Arab hands than in Jewish.

      Reply to Comment
    24. sh

      Zack, the long and the short of it is that the IDF is not a police force. It is basically a human killing machine designed to defend the country’s borders. That Israel has no declared borders for it to defend is just one out of several muddling complications it faces.
      In civilized countries, when tear-gas was lobbed and couldn’t kill because police were generally unarmed bar a truncheon, riot police were often seen standing their ground during protests, equipped with shields and helmets to protect them against the hail of cobble-stones dug up and hurled by angry protesters. They were able to rely on water-cannon (water not skunk) and mounted police to back them up if necessary. They made arrests and clobbered miscreants with a truncheon every once in a while to enforce law and order but killing wasn’t an option.
      The IDF is in the West Bank and East Jerusalem only to protect Israeli Jews while ensuring that the rest of the population submits to its privations without protest. Soldiers seem to be instructed not to expose themselves to any risk, which means that they need not even pretend to try to avoid casualties amongst the unarmed civilian non-Jewish population there. As Jews, of course, we’ve already been the outsider underdog that there was no obligation to protect. I often wonder if that occurs to anyone serving there. Do you think it does?

      Reply to Comment
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