State asks more delay in blackeye Awad case despite past court ruling to move it

State seeks extension in more than 2-year-old shooting of unarmed Palestinian minor; Case comes as UN, ICC investigate promptness of Israeli investigations.

March 17, 2015 17:18
3 minute read.
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IDF soldiers at a temporary checkpoint in the West Bank [File]. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The state on Monday asked for an additional three months to investigate the shooting death of an unarmed Palestinian youth, Samir Awad, 16, in January 2013, despite being ordered by the High Court of Justice last December 1 to expedite the case. The court upbraided the IDF legal division for dragging out the investigation for two years, such that the soldiers accused of his death had meanwhile become demobilized.

In December, Justice Hanan Melcer commented on the length of the investigation, saying the state should decide whether to indict the soldiers by March 1. “What happened here is not proper,” said Melcer. “When I was in [the prosecution] many years ago, when soldiers were nearing the end of their service, we made sure that the criminal investigations were completed.”

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The new delay request stands out against the proceedings of the UN Commission of Inquiry into the Gaza War and the International Criminal Court’s evaluation of the promptness of Israeli investigations in general, and the Gaza war in particular.

Once a soldier returns to civilian life, the general rule is that the IDF legal division can no longer prosecute the individual. The file must be turned over to the state attorney, which creates significant delay since the state must learn the case from scratch.

To avoid this situation, the High Court ordered both the state and the IDF to render a final decision on whether to indict the shooters by the end of February and scheduled a follow- up hearing for March 17.

B’Tselem on Monday opposed the state’s request for a further threemonth extension as “arbitrary” and characteristic of how the case had been handled to date.

The state’s explanation of the need for further delay included an affidavit from Lt.-Col. Adoram Rigler affirming that the state had utilized the previous three-month extension for the Operations Prosecution Unit and Military Advocate-General Maj.-Gen. Danny Efroni to make recommendations on the case to the state prosecutor.

According to the state, the State Prosecutor’s Office had only recently received the file and the IDF’s recommendation and forwarded it to the Central District Attorney’s Office for handling the case.

B’Tselem noted that this put the state at odds with the High Court’s December decision, which explicitly called for State Attorney Shai Nitzan to be personally involved in the case along with the MAG to reach a collective decision by the deadline.

B’Tselem had said that not giving the state extra time to make a separate finding after the IDF’s February decision had probably saved months of additional delays.

The state’s request for an additional substantial delay is likely to invite the wrath of the court in that respect.

Even in December, the NGO criticized the IDF for the hold up both in this case and a general pattern of what it called “unexplainable delays” to bury cases or drain them of public attention.

According to B’Tselem, Awad was killed on January 15, 2013, when soldiers fired live ammunition from close range, striking him in the back of the head near the West Bank security barrier in the village of Budrus, around 30 km. from Ramallah.

The NGO said that the shot that killed him “was fired at the unarmed Awad after he had already been wounded in the leg and posed no danger to the troops,” and was trying to flee.

B’Tselem said that Awad had crossed the security barrier illegally, but it is known that many Palestinians do so and are generally arrested, not shot.

At the time of the incident, the IDF’s official response was that “there was an attempt to break through the security fence” and that troops “followed the protocol for arresting a suspect. Later, a report was received of a Palestinian wounded by gunfire. The incident is being reviewed.”

The IDF noted that the Military Police had performed a wide investigation and referred the file to IDF lawyers, who then sent it back to investigators to perform “additional complex investigative actions requiring a variety of areas of special expertise.”

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