‘Why should we give Israeli investigators a gun to shoot the victims again?’: B’Tselem ends cooperation with Israeli military citing total lack of accountability

Israel/Palestine
on 35 Comments

When Mohammed Kusba, a 17-year old Palestinian, was gunned down by Israeli soldiers near Qalandia checkpoint in July 2015, the Israeli military said Kusba had launched a barrage of stones at an army vehicle. But human rights worker Iyad Haddad tracked down CCTV footage of the incident, showing the youth throwing a single rock at a military Jeep as it sped off. The car returned and a soldier shot him dead. 

As a field researcher for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Haddad turned over the recording to army investigators, the body responsible for prosecuting forces in criminal wrongful death trials. 

Finding the evidence ended as a fruitless errand.

After viewing the tape the commander told a military inquest his soldier had poor aim, and intended to shoot the Palestinian youth in the leg and not the head, Haddad relayed. 

Because of this and similar cases, B’Tselem declared today that “there is no longer any point” to submitting complaints to Israeli’s army judicial system. The decision ends 25 years of the human rights organization bringing cases to Israel’s military court and supporting investigations into the killings of Palestinians.

The decision to end army cooperation follows stalled and faulty investigations in more than 700 cases since 2000, which resulted in a 3 percent conviction rate. The rights group has in effect given up on believing in the system’s ability to correct itself, or provide accountability.

“We provide them with all of our evidence, but we feel sometimes that they use the evidence and testimonies that we provide them to find a contradiction, not to find justice,” Haddad lamented. “Why should we give the Israeli investigators a gun with which to shoot the victims again?”

Soldier misconduct is prosecuted in special military tribunals. Palestinians cannot file complaints directly against the Israeli military, nor can they schedule times to give witness statements independently. They rely on groups like B’Tselem to advocate on their behalf.

Aside from low conviction rates, B’Tselem now believes filing cases in army courts can cause further harm to Palestinian victims. The group said it will cease “lending legitimacy to the occupation regime and aiding to whitewash it,” in a report published today that outlines what it described as major deficits in the prosecuting process.

“We hoped that in this way we were helping bring justice to the Palestinian victims and to establish deterrence that would prevent future similar incidents,” B’Tselem wrote. 

The group indicated it initially operated with the understanding that complaints were a path to accountability. It hoped changes in army protocol to protect the lives of Palestinians would follow. 

Those hopes died out slowly and over the course of many years.

B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli said the organization debated taking action since 2013, “a long term experience of case after case where you see again and again that the authorities are simply not providing accountability and justice,” she told Mondoweiss.

“The fact that the system isn’t working and isn’t providing accountability isn’t anything new. It’s just that in the past we didn’t  really feel that we had an alternative,” she said, noting, “now we feel that there is no other option.”

The rights group said flatly: “B’Tselem’s cooperation with the military investigation and enforcement system has not achieved justice.” 

B’Tselem’s director of field research Kareem Jubran related that he personally made an about-face  after repeated humiliating experiences of informing tearful families of slain Palestinians that their cases had closed without charges levied against any officers. In a number of those instances, Jubran recalled investigations ended after cumbersome scheduling for witness accounts, often thwarted because of “bad weather,” or a lack of coordination from the Israeli military.

Because Israel’s army inspectors do not have a base in the West Bank, and Palestinians are not allowed to receive a permit to enter Jerusalem for the purpose of giving a disposition, oral statements are made at a Civil Administration post outside of Ramallah. Jubran said many times investigators did not inform the reception office at the post that they were expecting Palestinian witnesses, who were in turn prohibited from entering the military compound.

“In all of our work we tried all of the time to convince victims to make complaints. We hoped that we could achieve accountability and justice,” Jubran said.

“We started to feel shame from the victims and the witnesses when we took testimonies and when people made complaints. We feel ourselves, as field researchers that we are lying to the families, that they are experiencing the death twice,” he continued.

In the future, B’Tselem will continue to record and investigate human rights violators, including their camera documentation project. This feature of their work has perhaps been the most successful in conveying evidence of crimes.

In March a B’Tselem volunteer filmed the killing of an unarmed Palestinian in Hebron who was lethally shot at close range by a soldier who is now standing trial for manslaughter charges. After the incident the Israeli military said in a statement, forces on the ground suspected the deceased— ‘Abd al-Fatah a-Sharif—may have worn an explosives belt.

The B’Tselem video showed an incapacitated a-Sharif laying on the ground as a soldier approached and fired at him point blank.

“The fact that cameras are essential in raising awareness to these issues is nothing new,” Michaeli said, “it was such a clear cut case.”

The video spurred the military to promptly launched an investigation, Israel’s Prime Minister made a statement warning the public not to assign guilt, and the shooter was charged. The United Nations envoy for Middle East Peace called the killing an “apparent extra-judicial execution of a Palestinian assailant.”

But in other cases with video support investigations were closed without any charges filed. Michaeli cited two notorious killings of nonviolent peace activists by soldiers: Basem Abu Rahme in Bil’in and Mustafa Tamimi in Nabi Saleh, and stated that the facts in both cases were clear. She said, “It seems that the authorities literally bent over backwards to not prosecute certain soldiers and commanders for these killings.”

About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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35 Responses

  1. John O
    May 25, 2016, 3:10 am

    A country that has for the whole of its existence ignored international law, will inevitably stop obeying its own laws.

  2. Marnie
    May 25, 2016, 5:53 am

    If B’Tselem won’t report incidents to the army anymore, but continue to video, who will these videos be presented to – the ICC or the UN?

    It seems that netanyahoo and company have pushed the self-destruct button….4, 3, 2, 1…….

  3. Kay24
    May 25, 2016, 7:15 am

    This is reality. Israel is a rogue nation and behaves like it is above any laws, their killers get away with all crimes, and it keeps proving that there is no democracy over there when it comes to the Palestinians. One rule for the Chosen and cruelty for others.

    When is the world going to admit to this, and start treating it like the pariah it is? When will the international community stop being a tool in Israel’s crimes, accept the fact that Netanyahu is not interested in peace, but prefers the status quo, and will keep doing so until Israel has stolen all the land their greedy heart desires, and they have got rid of the Arabs from all Palestinian territories?

    ONCE AGAIN BIBI SHOWS THE WORLD JUST HOW MUCH HE WANTS PEACE:

    http://www.juancole.com/2016/05/reiterates-opposition-conference.html#comment-378323

    He makes excuse after excuse and keeps blaming the other side. Time for world leaders to
    get wise (not US leaders of course, they have sold their souls to the Devil).

  4. eljay
    May 25, 2016, 7:19 am

    When Mohammed Kusba, a 17-year old Palestinian, was gunned down by Israeli soldiers near Qalandia checkpoint in July 2015, the Israeli military said Kusba had launched a barrage of stones at an army vehicle. But human rights worker Iyad Haddad tracked down CCTV footage of the incident, showing the youth throwing a single rock at a military Jeep as it sped off. The car returned and a soldier shot him dead. …

    Israel: Summary Executions ‘r Us

    • oldgeezer
      May 25, 2016, 8:42 am

      @eljay

      Yeah and zionists always wail about bloodthirsty Arabs. Israel is exceptional in it’s bloodthirst. A blight unto nations. It is an interesting debate as to exactly when and why it went off the rails whether before or after conception. It is not a debate as to whether it is off the rails.

      • eljay
        May 25, 2016, 9:35 am

        @oldgeezer: I honestly don’t know that Israel is exceptional in its blood-thirst, but what really blows my mind is that a state so overtly and unapologetically belligerent, intransigent, colonialist, (war) criminal and religion-supremacist enjoys so much support.

        The serial rapist should be so lucky!

      • oldgeezer
        May 25, 2016, 11:09 am

        @eljay

        Certainly a hyperbolic statement on my part but the bottom line is that they are certainly filled with hypocracy when complaining about others.

      • eljay
        May 25, 2016, 12:03 pm

        || oldgeezer: @eljay Certainly a hyperbolic statement on my part but the bottom line is that they are certainly filled with hypocracy when complaining about others. ||

        Yes, they most certainly are.

    • pabelmont
      May 25, 2016, 10:15 am

      eljay:

      The fact that the soldier shot him (long) after he had thrown a stone (and no report that the stone hit anything, was there?) shows that this shooting (whether toward the head or the leg) was PUNISHMENT and not an attempt to prevent harm to the soldiers.

      American police also seem to be confused about their rights and duties: whether to punish folks they consider to be wrong-doers or whether to arrest them (or whether to do neither). PUNISHMENT is supposed to be the business of jailers AFTER a trial, etc.

      • eljay
        May 25, 2016, 10:24 am

        || pabelmont: eljay: The fact that the soldier shot him (long) after he had thrown a stone … shows that this shooting … was PUNISHMENT … ||

        I agree. I didn’t see it as anything other than that.

      • Pixel
        May 25, 2016, 11:03 am

        …or kill them for fun or sport.

      • anti_republocrat
        May 25, 2016, 4:46 pm

        What do you expect? US police are trained in Israel or by contractors from Israel.

  5. Talkback
    May 25, 2016, 8:21 am

    “no longer a point”? Then it’s a case for the International Criminal Court.

    • silamcuz
      May 25, 2016, 9:39 am

      The ICC is funded by the West, who also fund Israel.

      • Mooser
        May 25, 2016, 11:43 am

        “The ICC is funded by the West, who also fund Israel.”

        Oh, we got trouble. West starts with a capitol “W” and that stands for…pool!

      • Kay24
        May 25, 2016, 12:22 pm

        For sure. The US keeps twisting those international arms, just so the rogue nation does not get any resolutions against them, investigations, or condemnation. Must be nice to have a sugar daddy like the US who pays for your whims and fancies, and then protects you from any kind of sanctions you damn well deserve.

  6. Mike Hite
    May 25, 2016, 11:49 am

    B’Tselem should post the videos of Israeli soldiers committing atrocities straight to the internet. Trying to work with the Israeli government is a waste of B’Tselem’s staff time.

    • Kay24
      May 25, 2016, 12:24 pm

      I agree. I am sure many here notice that they have that annoying habit of “investigating” themselves and their murderers (of Arabs of course), and find no one guilty. Rogue nation?

    • anti_republocrat
      May 25, 2016, 4:48 pm

      They should send the videos to Betty McCollum, D-MN. The rest of us should contribute to her re-election.

    • genesto
      May 26, 2016, 4:22 pm

      Excellent idea.

  7. Shmuel
    May 25, 2016, 12:32 pm

    Felicia Langer, 26 years ago (almost to the day):

    “I want my quitting to be a sort of demonstration and expression of my despair and disgust with the system, and maybe as a proof that something must be done to grant protection to the Palestinians in the occupied territories,” she said, speaking smoothly in accented but precise English. “Because for the Palestinians, unfortunately, we can’t obtain justice.”

    “I realized that all this time, by bringing Palestinians to the courts, I had been legitimizing the system, but the system had not brought the Palestinians any justice,” she said with glistening eyes. “And I decided I couldn’t be a fig leaf for this system anymore. It was very painful for me to see this, but I couldn’t avoid it.”

    For full interview, see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1990/05/13/israeli-defender-of-arab-rights-quits-in-despair-and-disgust/a5502121-11a3-4ce6-a297-efae8838ab74/

    Note the similarity to the title of B’tselem’s report: “The Occupation’s Fig Leaf: Israel’s Military Law Enforcement System as a Whitewash Mechanism” http://www.btselem.org/publications/summaries/201605_occupations_fig_leaf

    • eljay
      May 25, 2016, 12:39 pm

      || Shmuel: Felicia Langer, 26 years ago (almost to the day) … ||

      Much respect to Mrs. Langer.

    • gamal
      May 25, 2016, 10:07 pm

      I remember Felicia’s “Theft is legal here (Israel) you know”

      ” Based on her diary notes she wrote several books, which were translated into numerous languages: “With my own eyes”, 1974; “These are my brothers”, 1979; “From my diary”, 1980; “The story written by the people”, 1981; “An age of stone”, 1988.

      Early on she had predicted violent reactions against the ongoing occupation. Therefore the outbreak of the first intifada did not surprise her. As her work and endeavours became more and more fruitless, she closed down her office in 1990 in protest to make public that the legal system in Israel had become a farce.

      She emigrated to Germany where her son had settled down in Tübingen. Temporarily she worked as a lecturer at Bremen University and later in Kassel.

      Her main concern has always been a just and fair peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, and for this goal she is still as active as before, writing books and articles, giving interviews and lectures, taking part in public discussions etc.”

      http://www.felicia-langer.de/eng.html

    • Annie Robbins
      May 25, 2016, 10:21 pm

      wow — Felicia Langer. thanks for the links shmuel and gamal. i had never heard of her before.

  8. Mooser
    May 25, 2016, 12:58 pm

    Oy gevalt that picture! Knal geyt di vizele

  9. Ossinev
    May 25, 2016, 3:36 pm

    @Mooser
    Sorry don`t understand Hebrew ? but are you intimating that the IDF soldiers are laughing because they have just had some fun live shooting practice or are laughing because they are looking forward to having some live shooting practice.

    In either scenario they surely look the part of the most victimised , moral etc in the history of the world.

    • Mooser
      May 25, 2016, 5:52 pm

      “Sorry don`t understand…”

      Pop, goes the weasel! They look like a jack-in-the-box.

  10. anti_republocrat
    May 25, 2016, 4:41 pm

    The first thing I thought about on reading the first few paragraphs of this article was my own frustration when various groups ask me to contact my Representative or Senators on some issue. My experience from the past is that I am usually ignored. The only time I felt like my action may have had some small effect is when I went to a sounding session with my Representative regarding the threatened bombing of Syria in 2013. Obama did call it off, but I suspect his decision had much more to do with the UK Parliament’s decision not to support him and the US military’s opposition than it did with my lobbying.

    • genesto
      May 26, 2016, 4:25 pm

      Time is much better spent on efforts other than contacting Reps in Congress. Take my word for it.

  11. xanadou
    May 25, 2016, 9:14 pm

    This is disapointing news, but not a surprise. I do hope, however, that B’Tselem will continue their important work documenting the carnage. One option would be to create a list similar to ‘The Counted’ published by The (UK) Guardian, which lists the killings by the US police (2016 so far 400 dead) :
    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database

    Would that the NYT had the necessary equipment to face the reality for themselves and its readers. One wonders if there is anyone on the planet with the courage to publish such an accounting of slaughtered Palestinians.

  12. poster1
    May 27, 2016, 12:32 am

    I certainly agree with B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli’s statement above: “… you see again and again that the authorities are simply not providing accountability and justice.”

    The Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG) court seems especially prone to deceptively sidestepping pressing criminal charges when wartime allegations are brought before it. You can see an example of this at the MAG court’s website where summaries of cases are provided. Here’s a link for a particular time range that was during Operation Protective Edge: http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/IsraelGaza2014/Pages/Operation-Protective-Edge-Investigation-of-exceptional-incidents-Update-3.aspx Scroll down to Section 3 “Allegation Concerning the Deaths of 31 Individuals as a Result of Strikes on the House of the Al-Salak Family and Its Surroundings in Shuja’iyya (30 July 2014).” The concluding sentence is “…case to be closed, without opening a criminal investigation or ordering further action against those involved in the incident.” This conclusion was based on: “…the MAG found that the fire was carried out in a manner that accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements.”

    If you go to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) website covering the “Al-Salak Family allegations you will see a detailed rebutting of the MAG’s case. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoIGaza/A_HRC_CRP_4.docx

    I have a particular interest in this case since I belong to a group here in North Carolina working to put together an incident report involving gross human rights violations occurring during Operation Protective Edge. We are requesting our congressman to submit this report to the US State Department for Leahy Law vetting.

    We provide details of the incident and the UNHRC’s rebuttal of the MAG’s case at this link: http://www.aimeproject.org/ah/fact_finding_plus_schema.doc

    We are looking to strengthen the case. If anyone reading this could suggest credible sources for additional information on the Al-Salak Family case, we would greatly appreciate it. A particular challenge we are facing is determining what IDF unit was involved in this incident and a determination as to whether the unit received US assistance. These are requirements for successful Leahy Law vetting.

    To compound the difficulties of achieving “accountability and justice,” the Israeli government has denied UNHRC inspectors access to Gaza.

    While justice may not be brought to those who killed 31 people during the Al-Salak family incident, by pursuing Leahy Law vetting, we can, if successful, remove some of the complicity of our government in those murders. Sad to say also, if we are successful, it will be the first time to our knowledge that the application of Leahy Law has resulted in the sanction of an Israeli security unit. A very sad commentary on our government, which furthermore is doing what it can to prevent Palestinians from bringing cases to the International Criminal Court.

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