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When shooting a 14-year-old boy in the neck is a minor infraction

Firing live ammunition at civilians is a crime, more so when minors are involved. Such an incident should not end with a disciplinary procedure but with a criminal investigation. That is not what happened.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

Illustrative photo of an Israeli soldier aiming his weapon at Palestinian protesters. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of an Israeli soldier aiming his weapon at Palestinian protesters. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

At the end of last July, J., a boy from the village of Silwad, set out with his brother and two other boys to visit family friends in the western side of Silwad, a distance of about one kilometer from his house. One of the boys was asked to deliver a bundle of clothes to the family. They reached the house, handed the bundle over and headed back. On their way, they met a friend shepherding his flock and sat down next to him. And then J.’s world turned upside down.

He noticed three soldiers coming out of the trees behind them, blocking the path they had intended to take home. Soldiers on the village roads are not a common sight, so the group changed its course, and started climbing the nearby mountain.

As they reached a bend in the path, they heard gunshots. The group scattered instantly. J. himself says he went into shock, since this was the first time he had heard gunshots so close to him. He was slower than the others. He heard a second volley and then felt a hit in his right arm; a third volley came and a bullet hit him in the neck. J. managed to walk a few more steps and then collapsed by the wall of a house. He was evacuated to a hospital in Ramallah where it was determined that the bullet entered the right side of his neck and existed through the left. He was hospitalized there for four days.

J., a 14-year-old Palestinian boy who was shot through his neck and arm. (Photo courtesy of Yesh Din)

J., a 14-year-old Palestinian boy who was shot through his neck and arm. (Photo courtesy of Yesh Din)

Yesh Din wrote to the IDF demanding an investigation into the incident. Four months later, the IDF sent an answer that can only be described as infuriating. The debriefing of the incident, wrote the Prosecution for Operational Affairs, showed that on the same date there were clashes between IDF forces entering the village and residents, who allegedly threw stones at the troops. The Military Advocate General reached the conclusion that the shooting took place in accordance with the rules of engagement, “with the exception of a minor deviation at the end of the incident.” Nowadays, that is how the IDF refers to the shooting of a live bullet into the neck of a 14-year-old boy. Accordingly, Yesh Din was informed that disciplinary measures were taken against the commander of that force. Not that we were informed of the results of the disciplinary measures.

Um, no, no. Firing live ammunition, even at protesters, is not in accordance with the orders, unless the soldiers’ lives are in danger. The IDF doesn’t even try to claim that J. and his friends were threatening the lives of its troops. Also, this wasn’t one shooting: J. counted three separate volleys. Furthermore, from the description given by the IDF, it seems J. and his friends weren’t even in the area where the IDF soldiers were attacked, assuming they were indeed attacked.

The firing of live ammunition at uninvolved civilians is a crime, more so when minors are involved. Such an incident should not end with a disciplinary procedure but with a criminal investigation. Accordingly, Yesh Din attorney Emily Schaeffer appealed and demanded the opening of an MPCID (Military Police Criminal Investigations Division) investigation ASAP. Recently, Yesh Din learned that the appeal was rejected. The prosecution is of the opinion that though the shooting after the first volley – as J. and his friends fled – was improper, given that the officer in question was dealt with in a disciplinary procedure and was even fined, the very existence of the disciplinary procedure exhausts the need for a criminal investigation. We’re uncertain whether the sum of the fine was 10 cents, as per the infamous fine of the colonel responsible for the Kafr Qassem massacre – and we don’t know because the prosecution didn’t mention the sum.

But even if the fine was serious and not a joke – though if it was serious, why didn’t the prosecution note the sum? – we cannot accept a disciplinary procedure as a replacement for criminal law. After all, if the bullet that hit J. had deviated from its course by just a few millimeters,and the boy had joined the long rank of minors killed by the IDF, a criminal investigation would obviously have been opened. How can putting a bullet in the neck of a person, who was admittedly uninvolved, end with a disciplinary procedure and a fine?

During the Vietnam War, a common phrase among American soldiers was the “Mere Gook Rule,” meaning that whatever you may do to the foreign population, nothing will happen to you. These aren’t humans, these are merely Vietnamese. When the IDF subscribes to the notion that shooting a 14-year-old boy in the neck is just “a minor deviation [from the rules of engagement] at the end of the incident,” it sends that same message to its troops: these are mere Palestinians. Do with them as you will. Nothing will happen to you. At worst, you’ll face a disciplinary procedure.

And when that’s the message conveyed by the military prosecution to its ground troops, the prosecution itself becomes an accomplice to the crime.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

Related:
Four bullets to the back of the head
Near impunity for IDF soldiers who kill Palestinians

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    COMMENTS

    1. bob wisby

      Imagine if Jews walking in Tel Aviv were the casual practice targets for a militia of spoilt, racially hyped, devil-may-care occupiers who saw them as little more than tin-cans. Oh, there’d be an outcry. The UN forces would be here tomorrow to disarm those boys.

      Reply to Comment
      • directrob

        Not if the occupiers would be an important strategic partner of the US.

        Reply to Comment
        • bob wisby

          Point taken.

          Reply to Comment
        • bob wisby

          …second thoughts, I’m not sure how well ‘Strategic Partner’ describes Israel’s relationship with the US. We have no oil and the US has troops all over the region anyway. Not sure what they need Israel for really. Maybe they don’t but they know we have nukes. As Sharon said once, when cautioned by a fellow MK to remember that the Arabs have all the oil, “Yes, but Israel has the matches”.

          Reply to Comment
          • directrob

            The Americans probably need someone who is willing to play with matches. Not their first bad friend…

            Reply to Comment
    2. bob wisby

      “Not their first bad friend…”

      Their only other friend in this region being Saudi ‘chop,chop’ Arabia. What’s the saying, ‘tell me who your friends are and….’

      Reply to Comment
    3. “When the IDF subscribes to the notion that shooting a 14-year-old boy in the neck is just “a minor deviation [from the rules of engagement] at the end of the incident,” it sends that same message to its troops: these are mere Palestinians. Do with them as you will. Nothing will happen to you. At worst, you’ll face a disciplinary procedure.

      “And when that’s the message conveyed by the military prosecution to its ground troops, the prosecution itself becomes an accomplice to the crime.”

      An unpublicized disciplinary action has little to no deterring power. Soon the incident is forgotten, and even those directing involved in the action find no one speaks of the event. Nor can their be any assurance of fair process when the review is cloaked; it is impossible to tell whether network connection have influenced decision, or whether the accused is punished for reasons external to the charged event. There is no reason to assume the “crime” was treated as such even under the military’s own terms. Justice hidden is PR control, not justice.

      Structurally, the “prosecution itself becomes an accomplice to the crime.” Even if, in this case, it were not true, it would eventually become true of some later event. Prosecution of justice is not solely for the event at hand, but for the future.

      In the present case, MAG offers no rationale for passing over the use of lethal force. Offering none, there can be no admonition to the IDF to prevent future episodes. An informal “what you can get away with” rules. If this is so in the use of lethal force, more so much it be true in lesser matters, such as detention and interrogation. One conceptual breach of the shield portents others–so silence prevails.

      I do not see how young men and women given the capacity of lethal force are better off in this silence. Without moral control force corrupts.

      Reply to Comment
      • “more so much” should be “much more so”. Have no idea how that come out.

        Reply to Comment