After pressure from Israeli High Court state to re-open investigation into IDF shooting of American peace activist Tristan Anderson

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
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Tristan Anderson
Tristan Anderson in Glen Cove, California, 2011, two years after being critically injured by the Israeli border police in the West Bank. (Photo: Protect Glen Cove/IndyMedia)

The three-judge panel sat before two teams of attorneys with the whole of room waiting for state’s lawyers answer. Everyone including the four row deep audience and a representative from the American Embassey were wondering, will they, or won’t they? Will the Israeli government re-open an investigation into the 2009 near-fatal shooting of American peace activist Tristan Anderson? Will the state finally interview the border police unit that witnesses and video evidence indicated as the responsible? Will officials ever visit Ni’lin, the site of Anderson’s critical wounding, which left him partially paralyzed with significant brain damage?

Such devastation at bare minimum warrants an inquiry into the military’s criminal negligence. That is precisely what was being debated in the highest court of the land yesterday. To investigate or not? Extended range gas cans are required to be fired from a distance of at least 200 meters, but Anderson was hit from around 80 meters, allegedly. Yet only three days after the near-fatal firing, the state closed its probe without indicting anyone.

Back in the Jerusalem High Court, after about an hour of dodging question as to why the Israeli military had failed to investigate all of border police units, the state’s attorneys are fumbling. They say they did investigate all of the military present that day in the West Bank village of Ni’lin. They say that any further investigation will not yield any results. But the human rights prosecutors in this criminal hearing, Emily Schaeffer and Michael Sfard from Yesh Din, were quick to respond. Schaeffer and Sfard have maps and they know the law. “We came back and said number one, you don’t investigate to indict, you investigate in order to reveal the truth,” said Schaeffer. The state has an obligation to investigate crimes and not just toss them under bureaucracy.

“We were walking the judges through the investigation and the incident,” she said. “Literally marking on aerial maps where Tristan was standing when he was shot and where the border police were who were investigated, and where we believe others who weren’t investigated yet were who had access to and the ability, to shoot him,” Schaeffer continued.

The location of the soldiers is critical. They were so close to Anderson a horrible injury was inevitable. More so, if the state probe confirms the distance, it is grounds for criminal charges. Anderson could win his case. Israel could lose. The soldier could go to jail. Changes could be made on the ground. People could stop getting hurt as often and as seriously at West Bank demonstrations.

So in a court room full of complicated architecture, an eye-shaped oculus skylight peered down on the proceedings from the center of the ceiling like in a basilica, a very uncomplicated question is about to be answered. If the alleged shooter was not interviewed, why then, did the state close its investigation? And will they re-open it?

“What do you care,” repeated Deputy Chief Justice Miriam Naor about six times to the government lawyers as they protested taking another look at the facts. Justice Naor wasn’t having any excuses. She said before the trial’s recess if the state didn’t decide to re-open the criminal investigation, her court could order it. That was a big threat and the attorneys knew it.

So they folded. They did the only thing they could do. They stood before the court and announced they will re-open the investigation into the wounding of Tristan Anderson. The four rows of supporters exchanged smiles. But the show wasn’t over. The state attorneys again stated they don’t think investigating will lead to anyone being charged with a crime. Sfard jumped and interrupted. He and Schaeffer had just won, but they want a serious inquiry and won’t take the lackadaisical attitude. “To say this before the investigation has even happened,” said Sfard later, “what should the family understand? What should the police understand? That they are not to conduct an investigation?”

Judge Naor and the two others on the panel concurred with Sfard and railed at the state attorneys. If moral fortitude could produce wind and shake people like trees Na’or would have unleashed a tornado in that courtroom. She was clear; it is unacceptable for the Israeli military to continue skirting their obligations to Anderson’s shooting, to Anderson’s family. She gave the state four months to finish their investigation. The ruling could mean that Anderson’s case is the first of its kind to hurdle pass this preliminary stage.

In the immediate aftermath of Anderson’s injury he spent 15 months in a Tel Aviv hospital, seven of which he was in critical condition, undergoing three surgeries. Then to everyone’s surprise miraculously he emerged went home to California. Though he still carries on with his pre-injury interests in art and politics, Anderson’s life is completely transformed. He requires constant supervision and a strict care schedule. This is his unfortunate fate for taking pictures of unrest while on a long holiday to the troubled Holy Land.

At that time back home in the San Francisco Bay Area, his friends, family and comrades from leftist causes—like the indigenous people’s rights movement—cried “Justice for Tristan! Justice for Tristan!” They wanted to know who shot him, and where was the accountability? His parents are Quaker and needed truth. But truth often seems out of grasp when Israel examines critical wounding or deaths from chemical dispersants.

“We need real accountability for police violence, and for abuse on the part of the military,” said Gabrielle Silverman, Anderson’s girlfriend who was present at the time of the injury. Her voice can be heard in some of the video evidence. Her cries are like pleads of mercy, its hard to listen to the recording. “Soldiers on the ground need to know that their actions carry consequences. That their own hopes and dreams are at stake,” she continued, expressing gratitude from her and Anderson on their hard-working attorneys and the judge’s decision.

Ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, Israel’s separation wall continues today to usurp Palestinian land inside of the West Bank—not on the border as it’s name, “separation wall” would suggest. Fed up with winning in international law, but losing on ground Palestinians took to weekly Friday marches, often in congress with filing cases in Israeli courts to move the path of the barrier. It is in this era that Anderson was in the West Bank. It was in this era that border police used demonstrations as training grounds for new kinds of crowd suppression, and then marketed them abroad as field-tested. There were and continues to be loads of injuries from unsafe use of these weapons: tear gas and rubber bullets.

This rising popular resistance was accompanied by a number of other high profile tragedies, none of which have ended in a guilty verdict against the soldiers. And so there is more than just justice for Anderson resting on this trial. Other notable cases like the death of Bassem Abu Rahme who was also shot at close range with the same type of weapon in the West Bank hamlet of Bil’lin, haven’t fared well in court. In fact although Abu Rahme was killed a few weeks after Anderson was injured, his investigation hasn’t been completed either. But in the intervening four years, the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence (BtS) ran their own research and found that even other soldiers know the identity the shooter, and have laughs over Abu Rahme’s death when they watch videos of it they recorded on their phones. One soldier told to BtS of the shooter, “He was kind of pleased with the whole thing, he had an X on his launcher.” 

26 Responses

  1. amigo
    July 11, 2013, 10:21 am

    Israel is a lawless state and like all lawless states it will come to an unhappy (for some) ending.

    1S 1P 1V.

    Tristan is a hero and should be honored in some way.

  2. Mike_Konrad
    July 11, 2013, 11:52 am

    Do you think American cops are any better?

    Try pressing harrassment charges against our American cops and watch your life disintegrate as you are pulled over every 3 blocks for this or that violation.

    This is stand CYA policy found in every police department. Why do you expect the Israelis to act any differently?

    He will not get a dime.

    • Djinn
      July 11, 2013, 10:37 pm

      Is this really the best you can do? Yeah all police services tend to close ranks when they commit serious assault and it’s really hard to get to the truth and see justice done. But it does happen. Just ask Justin Volpe. Has any Israeli ever spent time in prison for assaulting a Palestinians or their supporters?

      Not to mention that given there is NO legal basis whatsoever for Israeli state actors to be in or near Nilin every single thing they do there is illegal.

      • piotr
        July 12, 2013, 10:45 am

        This is from the department “we share our values”.

        Minorities and “white trash” often get Palestinian treatment. Official investigations are, with few exceptions, monuments of whitewash. However, in USA the victims (or their families) regularly get relief in civil trials with awards that are large enough to keep egregious abuses in check. In other words, there is some racism or class bias and misguided guild solidarity (prosecutors and police are natural allies), but the justice system overall has healthy parts.

        I am currently following a case with key words “Bakersfield Silva”. County coroner already concluded that the death of Silva was caused by his heart condition and intoxication and only accidentally happened as he was clobbered by eight cops for the crime of sleeping next to public sidewalk and being “uncooperative”. He also mistreated a police dog that was released on him.

        I realized that I am a resident alien in USA for more than 20 years, I have an advanced degree and I still do not know what is a proper cooperative attitude in respect to police dogs. Quick search actually gave some results:

        link to contracostatimes.com

        Details are a bit vague, but it seems that you should avoid any sudden movements, perhaps protect your throat, and just let the canine to bite you. The police procedure in both cases seemed to be to release the dog and to wait for the occasion to intervene as soon as the lack of cooperation emerges. The subject of the treatment in Contra Costa was sober, and the policemen watched him with drawn guns, while in Kern county they prepared (and used) clubs. My guess is that police will settle the civil case without the trial.

    • talknic
      July 12, 2013, 12:05 am

      Mike_Konrad “Do you think American cops are any better?”

      A) Cops? The article flip flops between “border police” and “Israeli military”

      B) American cops in “territories occupied” I think not.

    • tree
      July 12, 2013, 1:31 am

      Try pressing harrassment charges against our American cops…

      Really??? You are equating being shot in the head with a tear gas canister with “harassment”?

      Rodney King got a 3.8 million dollar settlement from the City of Los Angeles for a much less lethal beating. But no, I don’t think Anderson will get a dime… because the Israelis DO act differently and it is with complete impunity.

  3. Cheryl
    July 11, 2013, 11:54 am

    I read this with extreme pleasure. Finally, the military is being asked to actually do an investigation and the State has been reprimanded for suggesting that they already know the outcome…. Yes, many of us have known the outcome for a long time and in fact have known that this is one of the reasons Israel has delegitamized itself. Maybe, just maybe, the Israeli Supreme Court has finally called a halt to military impunity. We will know when and if a thorough investigation gets accomplished.

    Years ago several of us walked around the halls of the U.S. Congress speaking with various congresspeople and staffers, pointing to the lack of a thorough, credible transparent investigation in the Rachel Corrie, James Miller, Tom Hurndall and Brian Avery cases. We cited Human Rights Watch’s documentation “Promoting Impunity” which delved into the failure of the IDF investigations. The intent of the investigations was never to bring accountability, rather the focus was on lessons to be learned. Huge difference. Those who listedned understood but remained mute.

    I am cheering Tristan and his family and friends and legal team on. Godspeed.

  4. DavidK
    July 11, 2013, 11:58 am

    Great reporting Allison but this “investigation” is a farce. What did Racheal Corrie’s family get? Nothing. Not even a mention in the Zionist controlled maistream media. Israel could nuke Chicago in “self defense” and get unanimous Senate approval.

  5. Annie Robbins
    July 11, 2013, 12:04 pm

    amazing news.

    If moral fortitude could produce wind and shake people like trees Na’or would have unleashed a tornado in that courtroom.

    let’s hope something comes of this. excellent reporting.

    It is in this era that Anderson was in the West Bank. It was in this era that border police used demonstrations as training grounds for new kinds of crowd suppression, and then marketed them abroad as field-tested. There were and continues to be loads of injuries from unsafe use of these weapons: tear gas and rubber bullets.

    palestinians and their witnesses become guinea pigs for weapons manufacturers/’crowd suppressors’. disgusting.

    • Darcha
      July 11, 2013, 3:41 pm

      Is anyone out there in the BDS-minded universe thinking abut getting out more info on the use of Palestinians as weapons-testing guinea pigs? The Israeli marketing that pushes this stuff is the sad, Victim ™ admission that the ‘tough neighborhood’ forces them to be good at this sort of thing, turning a development program into self-defense. I can’t help but wish some Israeli Snowden would leap from the shadows just about now bearing the statistical studies on range versus lethality and the order to try shooting someone in the face at 80 meters to confirm non-lethality. Any weapons industry worth its salt would go to great lengths to have the good, hard data the marketing department needs for its discerning customers. In these times of tightened budgets, they only want as much bang for the buck as they can get.

  6. Citizen
    July 11, 2013, 12:04 pm

    On a directly related note, does anyone know what happened to Emily Henochowicz’s case against the IDF? She was the Cooper Union young lady who was shot in the head by the IDF with a canister, same as Tristan Anderson. She lost an eye. She’s an artist. Also, what’s the latest on the Rachel Corrie parental attempt to get some accountability?

    • Obsidian
      July 11, 2013, 2:34 pm

      @Citizen

      Video proves Ms Henochowicz was accidentally injured by ricochet.

      link to daledamos.blogspot.com

      • amigo
        July 11, 2013, 3:36 pm

        Get your eyes tested obsidious.

        That video proves nothing of the sort.The Cannister ricoched off Ms Henochowicz,s Eye after the iof did their usual dirty work.

        Oh, and do provide us with a somewhat more credible source versus a blogspot run by a Zionist apologist.

        Your desperation shows.

      • justicewillprevail
        July 11, 2013, 6:16 pm

        It doesn’t prove anything of the kind. There’s a surprise.

      • Djinn
        July 11, 2013, 10:39 pm

        Liar

      • Obsidian
        July 12, 2013, 1:25 am

        @Djinn

        Are you calling me a liar, or are you calling the video a liar?

      • talknic
        July 12, 2013, 5:30 am

        The alleged ricochet seems to be a frame or two too early and its final trajectory quite a bit higher than Ms Henochowicz’s head. link to youtu.be

        Anyone with an agenda can fake a few frames of video. Israeli propagandists tho, are notoriously inept link to wp.me

      • Blank State
        July 14, 2013, 6:27 pm

        Oh my. Like you wouldn’t lie about this issue. Uh huh.

      • piotr
        July 12, 2013, 12:28 pm

        Obsidian, can you explain a bit what is actually shown in the video?

        I see that a person run with a red flag, presumably Emily with a Turkish flag, and then another person with a flag lifted the first from the ground, presumably Emily after getting hit. There is also a canister that hits the ground, stays on the ground and ejects smoke, and I think that the commenter of the video takes that smoke as the proof that the canister flew backward toward Emily.

        I would also like to point out that the website is not THE MOST EXTREMIST, but pretty extremist. Most extremist Zionists map their recommended borders of Israel from Nile to Euphrates. This one recommends Palestine/Israel + Jordan + Golan Heights. Presumably, most extremist Zionists would brand Emily as a terrorist who damaged IDF property, a gas canister, as it was minding its job by jumping at it. Pretty extremist guys would conclude that Emily observed the ricocheting very well and yet she insists that the canister was shot directly at her.

      • Obsidian
        July 12, 2013, 1:33 pm

        Hi Piotr,

        I watch the slowed down version of the video and I see at 3 seconds, a tear gas canister hitting the top of the barricade closest to Emily and ricocheting upward and into Emily’s face.

        Was she a target? Quite possibly because I don’t see any other targets from the angle of the closed circuit camera. That said, maybe the target was the concrete barricade itself. Maybe the shooter wanted to use the barricade as a backstop. Who knows?

      • Blank State
        July 14, 2013, 6:26 pm

        What these despicable apologists for the IDF do not mention is that Israel has, long ago, outlawed the use of these high velocity tear gas canisters, yet the IDF continues to use them, without fear of indictment or prosecution.

  7. just
    July 11, 2013, 3:30 pm

    Oh Obsidian– more blaming the victim.

    I pray for accountability and plenty of sunlight– something the thuggish IOF regularly scurries from.

    Deputy Chief Justice Miriam Naor has integrity and conscience, and I thank you Allison for this awesome article and wonderful news.

  8. Blank State
    July 11, 2013, 5:11 pm

    “Video proves Ms Henochowicz was accidentally injured by ricochet.”

    BULLSHIT.

    • Woody Tanaka
      July 12, 2013, 8:52 am

      Of course it is. He’s a zionist. It is an ideology built on nothing but lies, deceit, racism and the worst aspects of the human condition. They are a people without morality or decency.

  9. Cheryl
    July 11, 2013, 6:05 pm

    Rachel’s case has been appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court.

    And, regarding the above video it would be helpful if Emily H. commented on it. It looks to me like this daledamos site has an agenda.

  10. just
    July 11, 2013, 8:05 pm

    Thanks for the info, Cheryl. I hope that Judge Naor hears the case.

    Rachel, RIP. May the world see some justice for the brave souls who stand for what is right and good.

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