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Nuwara family fights secret plea deal with Israeli officer who killed their teenage son during Nakba Day protest

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JERUSALEM — After a near six-hour hearing, Israel’s Jerusalem District court decided to adjourn proceedings until April 22, regarding the killing of Palestinian teenager Nadim Nuwara, 17, who was shot dead by an Israeli border police officer in May 2014.

Nuwara was shot and killed by Israeli officer Ben Deri during a demonstration marking the 66th anniversary of the Nakba outside of the Ofer detention center near Ramallah. Mohammad Salameh, 15, was killed alongside Nuwara during the protests, though no one was arrested in connection with his death.

Following Nuwara’s killing, which was widely publicized after it was caught on CNN and CCTV surveillance camera footage, Deri was arrested and initially charged with second-degree murder.

However, his charges were later significantly reduced, when the Israeli prosecution struck a surprise plea deal with the officer in January 2017 where he pled guilty to negligent murder and aggravated assault charges.

The Nuwara family contested the deal, as it was reached without their knowledge, and were expecting the court to reach their final decision on Tuesday.

Nadim’s father Siam told Mondoweiss of a grueling, six-hour long court hearing in which he and his family were “forced to face the murderer for the first time” in real life.

“My family and I feel very frustrated, and my wife is very sick right now,” Siam told Mondoweiss, adding that “the judge was a good listener, but he gave the defense a very long time to speak.”

Siam reiterated his rejection to Deri’s plea deal, saying that the “unlawful killing” of his son should carry a sentence of 13 to 20 years in prison, while under the negligent murder charge Deri will face only zero to five years.

The prosecution requested that Deri be sentenced to 20 to 27 months in prison, a request that allegedly infuriated Deri’s lawyer, Zion Amir, who insisted on a more lenient sentence, though he did not specify his suggested sentence, according to The Jerusalem Post.  

The Jerusalem Post reported that Amir asked the court to permit his client to break off from the plea deal, though the court rejected the request.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Nadim’s father Siam expressed concern that Deri will receive an unfairly lenient sentence.

The Jerusalem Post quoted Siam, who addressed the court during the hearing, as saying “If Nadim had killed Ben Deri and was convicted of negligent homicide, would the court act the way it has with Ben Deri?”

“I fought hard for my son and for every Palestinian child,” Siam told Mondoweiss, expressing that Nadim’s case is representative of the larger systematically criminalization of Palestinian youth at the hands of Israeli forces that leads to their untimely deaths.

Israeli security forces initially denied responsibility for the Nadim’s death on the grounds that live fire wasn’t used during the demonstration, despite eyewitness testimony and video evidence of the killing.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said at the time that it was possible that the video had been doctored, without providing an explanation on how the teens were killed.

The Israeli army claimed that the video was “edited in a tendentious manner” and “does not reflect the level of violence that occurred at the disturbance,” despite surveillance camera footage showing that at the time he was shot, Nuwara was not actively engaged in the clashes.

After Nuwara’s killing, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, told CNN in May that he suspected the deaths of the teens “may have been staged.”

Following countless conspiracy theories and denial of responsibility on the part of Israeli officials and agencies, an autopsy of Nuwara’s body was conducted, and showed the youth had in fact been hit and killed with a live bullet.

The indictment against Deri states that the Israeli officers present at the demonstrations were given clear orders to fire only rubber bullets at the protesters.

Deri and his defense team claimed that he mistakenly killed Nuwara, and that he “did not know” he was firing live rounds after “accidentally” switching out the rubber bullet magazine with live bullets.

In the aftermath of Nuwara and Salameh’s death, Human Rights Watch concluded that their killings were carried out “willfully” and could possibly amount to war crimes.

The Israeli court system has received international criticism for its longstanding policy of immunity for Israeli forces, amidst a widespread distrust of the system among Palestinians.

A joint investigation by Israeli rights group B’Tselem and Hamoked in 2016 reported that Israel’s court system routinely postpones or slows down investigations regarding violations against Palestinians, with the intent of pushing families or individuals to eventually drop their case.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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4 Responses

  1. Citizen on January 10, 2018, 4:40 pm

    I guess that’s what our US politicians mean by “Judeo-Christian values” in action?

  2. just on January 10, 2018, 5:33 pm

    Thanks, Yumna. I just finished reading an excellent and comprehensive article by Joshua Leifer over at +972:

    “‘There is no justice in Israel — it’s always postponed’

    The Nawara family expected to hear the sentence of the Israeli soldier who killed their son, Nadeem. Instead, they were forced to sit quietly while the soldier’s lawyer argued that it was not his client but Nadeem who was guilty of a crime. …

    The Beitunia shootings have also become a prime example of how, even when faced with overwhelming evidence, many Israelis, and especially those who are professional defenders of the state and its policies, refuse to believe that Israeli forces can do any wrong.

    As part of the sentencing proceedings, Ben Deri’s lawyer, Zion Amir called several character-witnesses to testify on Deri’s behalf and persuade the judge to grant him a lenient sentence. Amir, a well-known criminal defense lawyer, has made his career defending right-wing extremists and some of Israel’s most unsavory characters: former President Moshe Katzav, convicted of rape; the Jewish youths who burned the Dawabshe family to death in the West Bank village of Duma; and the Israelis who killed Haftom Zarhum, an Eritrean asylum seeker, in a lynching following a terrorist attack at the Be’er Sheva central bus station in October 2015. Amir has worked with the Honenu legal group, which represented the three Israelis who burned to death 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in 2014.

    Three of the five witnesses that Amir called to the stand had been Deri’s commanding officers; the fourth was an army human-resources officer whom knew Deri well, while the fifth was a high-ranking police munitions expert. None of them seemed to understand that by signing the plea bargain, Deri had admitted to killing Nadeem, nor that the charge of negligent manslaughter was two-fold: not only had he fired a live round instead of a rubber-coated bullet, but he had fired at someone who did not present an immediate danger.

    The army officers spoke about the shooting as if it were theoretical. “I don’t believe this event occurred,” one of Ben’s commanding officers said. “Ben was the most moral soldier in the unit,” another claimed, adding, “I didn’t believe the things that were reported.” “If one of my children would grow up to be like Ben, I would praise God,” the third commanding officer said. “He did his job, he fired a rubber bullet. I put him on the front, and I would do it again,” the third officer concluded. The judge intervened to remind them that Ben Deri had, in fact, admitted to causing Nadeem’s death. For a moment, even Zion Amir looked embarrassed.

    Then the high-ranking munitions expert took the stand. “There’s no such thing as a scene that’s free from danger,” responding to Amir’s prompts to describe the situation from the soldier’s point of view. “From our perspective, anyone at the scene [of a protest] presents a threat.” It is rare to hear the Israeli military’s view of Palestinian protesters so clearly and nonchalantly articulated.

    Blaming the victim

    As the hearing dragged to a close, the prosecution presented its recommendations quickly: a strong sentence, including jail time, not simply for the crime but to deter future negligence. The lead prosecutor, a tall woman with jet-black hair, pointed out that the defense witnesses and Deri himself had shown little remorse or willingness to take responsibility for the killing.

    When it was time for the defense’s closing arguments, however, Amir put on a show. Draped in the billowy black robe that Israeli lawyers wear in court, and with white hair that descended to his collar, Amir assumed the role of a kind of cartoon villain. He had already demanded that the judge order veteran Haaretz journalist Amira Hass to sit in the back of the room because her typing disturbed him, and continued to throw threatening looks in Hass’s direction throughout the trial. Now, he demanded that the judge force Assali, who was translating for Nadeem’s father, to move seats or leave the courtroom. People talking behind his back made him feel threatened, Amir said.

    His closing remarks were long-winded. He claimed to “express the cry of soldiers who defend their homeland.” He stressed, “We are in a war for our lives here, I’m not exaggerating.” He asked that the text of the court proceedings be edited so that Avner Gvaryahu, the executive director of Breaking the Silence, could not use them against Israel at the United Nations. He threatened to withdraw the plea bargain. He asked the judge for a light sentence and to rule out jail time, calling the prosecution’s recommendation “a call for punishment that cries out to the heavens in its injustice.” He demanded the judge accept new material that would strengthen the case against Deri having to serve any time — even community service.

    Halfway through Amir’s remarks, he switched from defending his client to, perversely, casting blame on Nadeem. The teenager’s face was covered by a keffiyeh when he was killed — why, Amir asked, “perhaps because he wanted to a commit a crime?” “Something in the deceased’s behavior was meant to threaten,” Amir charged. He claimed Nadeem had thrown stones, adding that stone throwing is a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum. “No one should call a 17 year old who goes to a protest to throw stones a good boy,” Amir declaimed. It was as if Nadeem was being tried for getting killed. …”

    much more @

  3. Brewer on January 10, 2018, 6:13 pm

    Abdullah was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier, then crushed to death under a military jeep. Now the military is demanding compensation from Abdullah’s family for damages to the jeep.

    • johneill on January 11, 2018, 8:29 am

      brewer, it’s reminiscent of the (likely apocryphal?) story of chinese bureaucrats billing families for the bullets spent killing their dissident daughters, fathers, aunts, in-laws, grandparents, etc. the cultural revolution appears to be on its way to israel, the way reactions to even slightly-oppositional ideas are becoming increasingly hysterical.

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