Denial is an important and often underemphasized dimension of Israel’s violence toward Palestinians. Israel equally denies historical crimes and daily incidents. Denial has become, in fact, a constant and almost instinctual official reaction to any accusation of wrongdoing. This is not only an offence against truth, but also enables the ongoing perpetration of crimes. If one has done no wrong, one may, of course, continue doing it.
Israel’s denial of the Nakba—the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948—has been legally sanctioned since 2011. The “Nakba law” now imposes harsh fines on public organizations that refer to Israel’s official Independence Day on the 15th of May as a day of mourning. The Nakba is, however, not just a historical fact: it is a daily reality for many Palestinians living under Israeli domination. Despite Israel’s attempt to expunge the Palestinian disaster from memory, every May 15th in the West Bank Nakba denial is countered by protests that often lead to clashes with Israeli security forces.
On Nakba day 2014, 17-year-old Nadeem Nawara and 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Daher were fatally shot while security and TV film cameras rolled, in the town of Beitunia, near Ramallah. The videos showed that the two Palestinian teens were shot while walking unarmed and posing no threat. Despite this footage, the Nakba day massacre was denied, just like the Nakba of 1948 it was commemorating.
Two official forms of denial followed the boys’ deaths. The military and border police declared that they could not be responsible, claiming that they did not fire live ammunition at all on that day. Israel’s Minister of Defense, Moshe Ya’alon, pursued a different argument. He suggested that the killing happened in the context of an armed encounter in which Molotov cocktails were thrown by the protesters. He also claimed, without evidence, that the video footage had been doctored.
In the last decade, videos from conflict zones have proliferated, many shot by citizen activists. Yet more visual material does not automatically produce greater clarity. Often, the evidence for an event does not exist within a single photographic frame or filmed sequence. Rather, it has to be extracted and composed from multiple sources. These processes reveal what is inherent to all evidence: that it is not naturally evident. States often use this fact to obfuscate their involvement in crimes. It was to foreclose any possibility of doubt in this case that Forensic Architecture was commissioned by Defense for Children International-Palestine.
On that day, security cameras installed outside a nearby shop captured the shooting of Nawara and Abu Daher. In addition, a CNN television crew was on site, recording a group of border policemen and a soldier shooting at the time Nawara fell. When the two sources of video are synchronized, we can see that a split second before Nawara falls, a border policeman fires his rifle.
Visible in the video is an extension attached to his rifle for the purpose of firing rubber-coated steel bullets. Israeli firearms ‘experts’ had said that this was proof he could not have fired the fatal shot, as it was impossible to fire live ammunition through this attachment. However, a brochure produced by the manufacturer contradicts this false assertion: it boasts of “lethal firing capacity without removing adapter.”
The rare simultaneous views of killer and victim would be enough to indict in most contexts. So concerted were Israeli efforts at casting doubt on the contents of these videos, however, that it was not only necessary to analyze their visual component, but also to investigate their sound. Audio analysis of several other shots captured on video that day—both of live and rubber coated bullets—reveals that each have characteristic sound signatures. These sound signatures connect the two stories. The shot heard at the time of Abu Daher’s killing had a similar sound signature to the shot that killed Nawara—that is, a live bullet fired through a rubber bullet attachment, possibly from the same rifle used to shoot Nawara.
As the available evidence grew and accumulated in the public domain—including the live bullet found in Nawara’s backpack—Israeli authorities could no longer deny involvement in the Nakba day shootings and a border policeman was arrested. Ben Deri was, however, charged only with the manslaughter of Nawara, not murder. The lesser charge was determined on the basis of still undisclosed extenuating circumstances, despite the fact that he is plainly seen in the video conducting a denial of his own. Deri manually cocks his rifle, an action necessary only when firing rubber-coated bullets, and despite the fact that an empty cartridge had already been automatically expelled from the chamber of his gun after firing in a manner consistent with the use of live ammunition. This would strongly suggest premeditation.
It is extremely rare for Israel’s security personnel to face charges. The fact that there was a charge at all in this case is likely due to the existence of the videos. According to Defence for Children International Palestine, 16 Palestinian children were killed in the West Bank in 2014, none of whom were involved in hostilities. No charges have been brought against the Israeli security forces in these killings. Similarly, no culpability has been admitted in the killing of Abu Daher on that day. Recently, Deri was released from jail to house arrest while awaiting trial.
The timing of the investigation into the deaths of the two teenagers overlapped with this summer’s Gaza war, when hundreds of Palestinian children were killed under the rubble of their homes. Israel began investigating some isolated incidents, largely in order to claim that an international investigation is redundant, as the International Criminal Court will only pursue charges if local investigations have not been undertaken. Convictions are unlikely to be more than sporadic, and Israel denies responsibility for the killing of most of the 2,143 Palestinian dead.
As continuous violations of Palestinian rights by the Israeli government are supported by the same persistent logic of denial, investigating small violations is as important as investigating the large and the historic. Each individual case encapsulates the larger Palestinian tragedy, with suffering compounded by the injury of disbelief. In each, the uphill struggle for justice and accountability is explicit.