Last week I published a piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books about the killings of Nadim Nuwara and Mohammad Abu Thaher in Beitunia on May 15. In the aftermath of the boys’ deaths, Israeli officials—from low-ranking military spokespeople to the Minister of Defense and the Ambassador to the United States—have claimed that no live ammunition was fired by the IDF that Thursday, that the surveillance video that captured both boys’ deaths was either falsified or edited in a manipulative fashion (the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has since posted the unedited footage, seven and a half hours worth, online) and that the boys may have been killed by an unseen Palestinian gunman. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren suggested last Thursday to an as-usual-fawning-and-unquestioning Wolf Blitzer that the boys may not have died at all. Having seen their bodies, and their grieving families, I can assure you that they did.
In the LARB article I quoted a doctor who treated both boys and who told me that their wounds were without question caused by live fire. Nuwara was shot in the chest, Abu Thaher in the back: both bullets passed through their bodies, leaving exit wounds. The rubber-coated steel bullets used by the IDF can and often do penetrate the skin and can be lethal, but they cannot pass entirely through a human torso even when fired from a relatively short distance. I interviewed four eyewitnesses to the killings, all of whom said live fire was used. (The concussion from a live shot sounds differently than that of a shot when rubber-coated bullets are fired. I have met 11-year-olds in the West Bank who can accurately tell what sort of munitions are being fired by ear alone. All four of the eyewitnesses I interviewed had witnessed many such clashes and knew the difference well.) Three of them testified that they saw Israeli commanders choosing targets and pointing them out to snipers just before each boy was killed.
Last Thursday, to complicate matters slightly, CNN released footage showing a soldier firing his rifle at approximately the time that Nuwara was killed. He fires, another soldier reaches to take the rifle from him, and the camera leaps to the scene in the road, where a group of youths can be seen carrying away Nuwara’s body. It was easy to conclude, as many did, that the soldier caught by the CNN cameraman had fired the killing shot. Yesterday, Haaretz reported that the soldier in question was assigned to a communications division and was accompanying a unit of Border Police at the scene. Robert Mackey reports in the New York Times that the soldier has been suspended: as a “non-combat” soldier accompanying another unit, it was a breach of protocol for him to fire his weapon at all.
One thing is worth noting: the bullet that killed Nadim Nuwara was almost certainly not fired by the soldier caught on the CNN video. It was almost certainly a coincidence that he fired his weapon at approximately the same moment that Nuwara was hit. And he almost certainly was shooting rubber-coated bullets: the video is hazy, but his rifle appears to be equipped with the sort of extension that is attached to the barrel of an M16 to allow it to fire rubber-coated bullets. Mohannad Darabee, one of the witnesses I interviewed, told me repeatedly that he was sure the shot that killed Nuwara did not come from the group of Border Police who had gathered on a driveway just uphill and slightly back from the road. Darabee walked me to the spot where Nuwara fell, and to the spot from which the Border Police (and the now-suspended soldier) had been firing. The corner of a building stood in the way: there was no line of fire that would have allowed those soldiers to hit Nuwara.
However, another, larger group of Israeli soldiers had gathered behind a concrete blast wall on the edge of a parking lot about 200 meters from the spot where Nuwara was hit. (See image above.) It was there, Darabee said, that he saw a commander choosing targets through binoculars. Those soldiers had an unimpeded shot at Nuwara. Forgive me if this is all a bit hard to visualize: The Guardian produced a graphic that maps it all out. But I want to make this very clear, because the waters have been muddied considerably, both through deliberate obfuscation and by speculation about a video that reveals less than it appears to: the fact that the soldier caught on video by CNN was apparently firing rubber-coated bullets only confirms the accounts of eyewitnesses who testified that the bullet that killed Nadim Nuwara was likely fired by another group of soldiers gathered at the edge of the parking lot. Abu Thaher, who was shot about an hour later, and was standing in the middle of the road, easily visible from the Border Police officers’ perch, could have been killed by either group.
This post was originally published on Ben’s blog here, on May 29, 2014.