“Israeli soldiers did not fire directly at Razan al-Najjar, a Palestinian medic who was killed on Friday during protests on the Gaza border, a preliminary military investigation found”, Yaniv Kubovich reports for Haaretz.
The probe is not concluded, it is only in its early stages. Yet they can already tell us about this unequivocal finding. It was an accident. From Haaretz:
“The probe was based primarily on interviews with soldiers who were on the scene. As part of the inquiry, which the military said hasn’t concluded yet, the military examined who opened fire during the event and how much ammunition was used. The investigation found the soldiers opened fire at other demonstrators, and not directly at Najjar.”
Here is the tweet from the Israeli Defense Forces.
During an initial examination of the incident that took place on June 1st, 2018, in which a 22-year-old Palestinian woman was killed, it was found that a small number of bullets were fired during the incident, and that no shots were deliberately or directly aimed towards her
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) June 5, 2018
Now, why should we not believe this? The “most moral army in the world” said it, that couldn’t possibly be wrong, right?
Well you don’t have to go far back in time to understand why Israeli army investigations have a huge credibility problem.
The case of the Samir Awad
This week, in the case of the 2013 killing of 16-year-old Samir Awad of Budrus when he posed absolutely no danger (8 bullets in the back, including one to the head), the state prosecution decided to drop the charges earlier this week, charges that had been watered down to “negligence”.
As John Brown notes in the detailed account (Hebrew, Haaretz ), the investigation proved to be full of lies. First the force claimed to not have used live fire at all, but only means for dispersing stone-throwing demonstrations. Except that stones were not even thrown there. After it became clear that the boy died of his wounds, the version was changed into them shooting non-lethal warning shots and that Samir merely fell and died of his fall. When it was revealed from the autopsy that Samir had died from a bullet to the head, the version was changed into one wherein Samir supposedly posed a lethal threat to the lives of the soldiers. In the end, the forensic examination was so sloppy, that it could not be determined which of two soldiers fired the lethal shot.
It took a whole lot of effort to get to indictment, with the help of B’Tselem, and it ended only with a charge of “negligence”, but even that was dropped. The defense’s threat to open up the can of worms regarding many other cases was apparently too serious a threat for the state. (The defense had said that mere indictment in this case would be discriminatory, since they could show 110 other cases, some even more egregious, and only 3 resulted in indictment, including the Elor Azarya and Ben Deri cases that were filmed and publicized).
Israeli legal human rights organization Yesh Din said in a statement issued in response:
“The prosecutor’s announcement of the cancellation of the indictments against the two soldiers involved in the killing of the youth Samir Awad constitutes another example of the impunity enjoyed by soldiers who wound Palestinians.”
“The bottom line is that the military system protects soldiers who violate the law and wound Palestinians, while leaving Palestinians defenseless.”
Gaby Lasky, a lawyer who represents the Awad family, commented:
“[The decision to withdraw the charges was] another case of whitewashing the killing of Palestinians. A teenager was shot in the head with his back to the soldiers on his way to the village where he lives. There are no legal orders that permit shooting at the upper body under such circumstances, in which there is no danger to the lives of the soldiers or other people and no danger whatsoever. If there are rules of engagement that permit such shooting, then those rules themselves are illegal.”
“Falling off a bike”
In the case of the December 2017 shooting in the head of 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi (Ahed’s cousin), who miraculously survived, an Israeli general seriously claimed that Mohammed’s injury was simply due to his falling off his bike.
Major General Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), claimed on a Facebook post that Mohammed was not hit by a bullet, but rather fell from his bicycle. Mordechai is the highest direct authority of the Israeli occupation, and he wrote this on the COGAT official Arabic Facebook page. “A culture of lies and incitement continues for young people and adults in the Tamimi family”, he wrote. The post was plastered with a red stamp saying “fake news” in Arabic. This ran against forensic evidence, of which there was no lack of. The army had simply managed to extract a “confession” from Mohammed, obtained under the usual criminal duress. There is no shame here.
Assumption of innocence
Israelis seem to love this assumption of innocence when it regards soldiers. The myth of the “most moral army in the world” is so addictive, that there is a reflexive proneness to believe anything that may confirm it, and to assume this innocence in advance. As I had mentioned two days ago, this assumption even comes from prominent Haaretz journalists, as in the actual case of Razan al-Najar. Asaf Ronel of Haaretz simply assumed that “it’s unlikely that a sniper deliberately killed Razan al-Najjar” – with absolutely no evidence to back it. Such assumptions are so common in Israel that they are hardly noticed anymore.
It is extremely rare that Israeli military cases involving killings actually get to indictment, and it usually requires an actual close-up filming of the event (with the shooter and the victim) to qualify it for some sort of indictment (as in the Azarya case), or sometimes extreme legal pressure from organizations and also international pressure, as in the case of the killing of British photographer and human rights activist Tom Hurndall in Gaza, 2004 (see on that in the link above re. Azarya).
Should we thus take the army by the word, and assume that the soldiers simply killed Razan al-Najjar by accident? That would be an extremely irresponsible thing to do. The army proclamation of innocence is meant for those who are already Hasbara-junkies, those who already believe the “most moral army” in advance. Because Israeli soldiers “are not murderers”.
H/t Hala Gabriel, Nasser Butt