The United States urged restraint on Tuesday as anger flared over the deaths of two Palestinian teenagers – allegedly by the IDF – during the May 15 Nakba Day riots by Ofer Prison near Ramallah.
The Palestinian Authority called for an international commission of inquiry into their deaths and denounced the incident as a war crime. It spoke after videos published Tuesday showed that the teens were not engaged in violence at the moment of their death.
Palestinians allege the IDF killed the two teens by shooting live ammunition at them. The IDF, in turn, has claimed that it fired only rubber bullets that afternoon. It charged that the videos were edited to give a distorted view of the situation.
The military prosecution last week ordered Military Police to launch a limited investigation into the deaths. No conclusions have been published.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, however, that the teenagers died during a violent riot in which soldiers and border policemen were in danger.
“Because it was a life-threatening situation, police acted accordingly,” Ya’alon said.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said America was closely following the incident and sought additional information.
“We look to the Government of Israel to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation to determine the facts surrounding this incident, including whether or not the use of force was proportional to the threat posed by the demonstrators,” Psaki said.
“We express, of course, our condolences to the families of those deceased and urge all parties to exercise restraint,” Psaki said.
The PA, the US and Ya’alon spoke after two non-governmental groups published video footage from two commercial security cameras, which focused on the scene from different angles. They showed how Mohammad Odeh Abu Daher and Nadine Siam Nawasreh, both 17, were killed during what seemed like brief moments of calm in an otherwise violent riot.
On Thursday afternoon, Palestinian protesters threw stones and fire bombs, and rolled burning tires at soldiers and border policemen stationed at a distance. Israeli security forces responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Video and photos from the riots showed rising tear gas and masked teens using slings to hurl stones. But according to available footage the two teens were not killed while engaged in such activity.
The absence of visible violence in the immediate vicinity of where they were shot, was first raised in the morning by the Palestinian branch of Defense for Children International. But the more telling videos were released later in the day by the NGO B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
The teens were killed almost at the same physical spot on the street, in two separate incidents. B’Tselem produced two videos, one for each of the deaths.
Both videos used footage from two separate cameras, so that one can see a fair distance down the length of the street from Ofer Prison to a gas station, where such demonstrations typically take place. The time in which the footage was shot appears in the top left of the screen, so that the seconds tick by, as the scene unfolds.
In the video of Nadine Siam Nawasreh’s death at around 1:45 p.m., one can see black smoke from burning tires. But the street is fairly empty, with no soldiers present and few protesters, when the camera starts to roll.
Near the closed store fronts, a dozen or so male teenagers and young adults are milling around, many of them are masked. At 1:44:50 p.m., one teen throws a stone. After that there is no violence, for about 22 seconds.
At 1:45:12 Nawasreh is walking and suddenly collapses to the ground. Footage from the second camera shows an identical story, although there is a half-minute discrepancy in the timer.
The second video, which shows the death of Mohammad Odeh Abu Dahershot, was shot over an hour later. It is almost an exact repetition of Nawasreh death, except that the black smoke is thicker.
Again a dozen or protesters mulling around. One of them, Mohammad Odeh Abu Daher, is seen walking, until he suddenly falls to the ground at about 2:58:49 p.m.
Responding to the new videos, the IDF Spokesman said, “On Thursday, an illegal and violent disturbance occurred in Beitunya.
“The said video is edited in a tendentious manner and does the reflect the level of violent that occurred at the disturbance,” the spokesman said.
The military added that an initial check of the incident and interviews of security personnel who dealt with it found that “no live fire” was used.
Last week, military sources said rubber bullets had been fired in the course of the riot which involved 150 Palestinians.
“The rioting was very serious,” an army source stated. “This was a very aggressive attack on security personnel.”
B’Tselem said that the entry and exit wounds in the two teens were consistent with wounds caused by live fire and not rubber coated metal bullets. This is particularly true, it said, when fired from far away as these bullets were.
“Eyewitness accounts described the sound of live gunfire, which sounds different from rubber-coated bullet fire,” B’Tselem said.
It added that the use of live fire in this situation, in which lives were not immediately in danger, was against IDF regulations.
The PA called upon international legal and judicial institutions to urgently form a commission of inquiry into the killings.
The government said that it was necessary to “force the occupation government to acknowledge its responsibility for this war crime against innocent and defenseless children.”
In a statement, the PA said that the killing of the two teenagers was part of the “occupation’s ongoing brutal crimes against Palestinians over the past 66 years.”
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi stated: “Israel’s use of excessive and indiscriminate violence and live ammunition at nonviolent Palestinian demonstrations constitutes war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law.”
“We call on the United Nations, the European Union and other members of the international community to take immediate action and adopt the necessary punitive measures and initiatives required to hold Israel accountable for the extrajudicial killing of Palestinian civilians, and for its use of live ammunition on Palestinian civilians, among other violations of international and humanitarian law,” Ashrawi said.