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IDF investigations: Will there be justice for Tamimi?

IDF policy requires a criminal investigation be launched immediately when military operations in the occupied Palestinian territories cause death. But a defective system essentially ensures that the investigation will not be conducted in a fair and impartial manner, enabling soldiers to continue to act with impunity. This article was first published in The Jerusalem Post and is reprinted with permission.

Tamimi, a moment before he was hit. The weapon and tear gas canister are circled in red (photo: Haim Scwarczenberg)

By Emily Schaeffer

The death of 28-year-old Mustafa Tamimi of the village of Nabi Saleh last month raises questions about the Israeli military establishment’s investigative processes.

Tamimi was only the latest casualty of the IDF’s abundant use of tear gas to disperse Palestinian popular protest. Dozens of people have been seriously injured or killed in recent years, including Bassem Abu Rahma, who died in 2009 after being shot in the chest with a tear gas canister in the nearby village of Bil’in, and Abu Rahma’s sister Jawaher, who died one year ago this week after inhaling tear gas.

Because the tear gas canister killed Tamimi – rather than severely injuring and disabling him – the Israeli military has already launched an investigation. That is an improvement over the Bassem Abu Rahma case, when it took more than a year (and significant pressure from his family, neighbors and Israeli human rights organizations Yesh Din and B’Tselem, all of whom presented the then military advocate-general with a draft High Court of Justice petition) to get the military to investigate.

Today, IDF policy requires a criminal investigation to be launched immediately whenever military operations in the occupied Palestinian territories cause death (excluding armed exchanges). The policy was presumably introduced to boost the system’s compatibility with international legal standards.

But closer examination of Israeli military investigations, from before and after the policy change, reveals that the mere fact of investigation does not guarantee that it will be independent, impartial, professional, effective, prompt and open to public scrutiny.

In fact, Yesh Din’s recently published report, “Alleged Investigation,” reveals major failings in the investigations of the full spectrum of offenses allegedly committed by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians and their property – from looting and theft, to beatings and shootings, to causing death. So serious are these failings that only 6 percent of all cases in which a criminal investigation is opened lead to the indictment of suspected soldiers.

These failings stem directly from the lax investigative tools and methods employed by the Military Police Criminal Investigation Division (MPCID). For instance, the MPCID has no offices in the occupied Palestinian territories, so without NGOs and other agencies, Palestinians have little access to the military justice system. Fewer than 10% of complaints filed by Palestinians reach the MPCID without the intervention of outside agencies.

More significantly, few Military Police investigators speak or read Arabic, they rarely visit the scene of the crime, often neglect to question key witnesses, and hardly ever make use of conventional investigative tools beyond collecting testimonies (such as polygraph tests, line-ups, etc.).

What is more, Military Police investigations suffer from extreme delays, which necessarily damage the potential of the investigations to uncover the truth and lead to the prosecution and conviction of suspects. As a result, for instance, Bassem Abu Rahma’s death is still under investigation. His sister’s death and, for instance, the shooting of a 15-year-old in Hebron on his way home from school in 2008, an incident that caused permanent brain damage, go uninvestigated.

Since 2000, 39% of all complaints received by the MPCID were not investigated at all.

The result of a defective military investigations system is that Israeli soldiers act with virtual impunity, whether damaging personal property during nighttime searches, standing idly by while settlers harm Palestinians and their olive groves, or violating rules of engagement by shooting tear gas at close range directly at demonstrators like Tamimi and Abu Rahma. Meanwhile, the Israeli public sleeps well, believing that the bad apples are weeded out through an effective military justice system.

The Tamimi case presents Israel with an opportunity to make a clear choice. By appointing independent, professional investigators and dedicating the necessary resources Israel can establish itself as a nation that respects the rule of law. Alternatively, by dragging its feet and maintaining a system that is fraught with defects, the country will continue to flaunt international law and its responsibility to protect civilians under occupation and their property.

The Tamimi family and friends can only hope Israel chooses the former and conducts a prompt, thorough and effective investigation.

Emily Schaeffer is an attorney and a member of the legal team of Israeli NGO Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, where she coordinates the organization’s “Accountability Project,” representing victims of crimes committed by soldiers and security personnel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 

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    1. Laila

      I don’t see why there is a need to investigate, its clear; Israeli Army shot & murdered Mustafa Tamimi, doesn’t matter who did it, we know his name will never be released, he will never be taken to court! The killer might actually get promoted for getting rid of one more Palestinian who stand in the way of Israel ethnicly cleansing the Palestinians.

      So with investigations or without, would that relief his family, would that give us back Mustafa or are we ever going to have tea at his house with his company?? NO he is gone.

      And for us, every and all Israeli Soliders represent one body and one system that of occupation, their names, faces and background doesn’t make any difference, they all carry guns and they all dress in army suits, and thats what we Palestinians recognize them with!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Those who will always remember the Holocaust, listen to Laila, above. Palestinians have their stories, and they will recount them as you recount yours. Every family is the most important family. Memories of greater atrocity will not erase their memories; they have their families, as you have yours. In their world, they are all, as you are all in yours.
      Perhaps that is what you implicitly fear: that their memories will be as strong as yours.
      The real fear, for us all, is that we are not unique. And it must become our final hope.

      Reply to Comment
    3. ISRAEL

      This comment has been deleted

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jon Garfrunkel

      It’s a shame that the actions of the IDF lead Laila to feel as she does. For the sake of the integrity Israeli Army — if it still hangs in the balance for some jurors of the world — the investigation must be done.

      This is the press release from the IDF today, FWIW:

      “IDF medics better prepared to save lives in Judea and Samaria”

      Reply to Comment
    5. Bosko

      It is also a pity that the Palestinian Arabs rejected reasonable peace offers from Israel. Had they accepted even one of those peace offers there would be no more victims on either side. Tamimi would still be alive and so would the Fogel family. The father, the infant and a child. All 5 of them.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Bosko

      Oh and the Mother too …

      Reply to Comment
    7. Bosko

      … And the baby.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Since Jewish Authority (apparently) conspired for the elimination of Jesus, all Jews must bear the taint of their ancestors’ act. This makes about as much sense as saying a 20 year old Palestinians must endure what they do because of decisions from the 1910’s to, what, yesterday? Stop forcing people into the prison of your history. For I warn you–they are making alternative prisions for you.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Bosko

      The murder of the Fogel family happened last year. I brought it up because our LAILA delights in enumerating Israel’s sins, past or present at every opportunity. I just thought that a balancing of the books is in order. People ought to know that sins happen on BOTH sides.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Bosko

      Oh and once again. Why isn’t the PA even negotiating without preconditions? After all, if a peace agreement could be reached, there would be less of a chance for either side to sin.
      You don’t think it is worth reminding people of that, often, Greg?

      Reply to Comment
    11. Yes, Bosko, yes. Then list one sin of both as you need. Let no one forget murder and hate have no preferred label. For when “the other side” keeps harping on us vs them they are trapping you as well as themselves.
      I have no solution save for my silly Declaration call. So I look to see how the mutual traps are formed. I find both sides surprisingly (or not) similar in tactics.
      I know you are not a fan of Gandhi, but I recall when he sat with the owner of a burned out house (a muslim). “Why do you sit with him,” some Hindu come to surround the place demanded. Gandhi replied, “because you are out there.”
      List atrocities together, one from each side. That will change the nature of atrocity in this discouse.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Your second post hadn’t come through when I began explaining the true nature of things myself.
      I do not talk much about Israeli/Palestinian state politics because that politics removes the issues of personal harm from civilians; we just have to take one or the other side and root for our team in the ever coming Super Bowl (I hate american football). All I can do, a man without power or position, is advocate that issues be reframed outside of the treaty discourses. As far as I can tell, such discourse is used, internally on both sides (more than two sides with Gaza and those in the camps) to numb us from conjecturing other ways to approach each violent act, from death to lesser things.
      Fight for right within your love and you may be surprised at the long term consequence. Such is my faith.

      Reply to Comment
    13. I tend not to drop a leave a response, but I looked at a bunch of comments on IDF investigations:
      Will there be justice for Tamimi? | +972 Magazine. I do have a couple of questions for you if you tend not to mind.
      Is it simply me or do some of these responses look as if they are
      coming from brain dead people? 😛 And, if you are writing at additional online sites, I’d like to follow you.

      Would you list of all of your social community pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

      Reply to Comment