IDF soldiers at a temporary checkpoint in the West Bank [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The High Court of Justice on Monday upbraided the IDF legal division for dragging out an investigation for two years into the alleged shooting and death of unarmed Samir Wad, 16, a Palestinian minor in January 2013, such that the IDF soldiers who shot him are already civilians.
Regarding the length of the investigation, Justice Hanan Meltzer said, “what happened here is not proper... 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.”
Meltzer implied this was an issue of both competence and of avoiding bureaucratic issues that arise when soldiers return to civilian life.
Once soldiers become civilians, the general rule is that the IDF legal division can no longer prosecute the individual and the file must be turned over to the state attorney, creating 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.
Going into the hearing, the B’Tselem human rights group, who along with Ahmad Awad, Samir’s father, filed the petition for the High Court to compel the IDF to make a decision about whether or not to indict the shooters, was not satisfied by the IDF legal division’s commitment to decide by February.
Ideally, the petitioners and their lawyer, Gaby Lasky, hoped that a decision would be made sooner, since the case is already two years old.
However, B’Tselem said that it still viewed the hearing as a success since the court is compelling the state and the IDF to make their decisions simultaneously.
B’Tselem said that by not giving the state extra time to make a separate finding after the IDF’s February decision had probably saved months of additional delays.
Still, 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.
Meltzer slammed the IDF legal division for not living up to the “reasonable time” for making legal decision standard set out for it by the quasi-governmental Turkel Commission, which recommended improvements for investigations in February 2013 - which Lasky mentioned in her address to the court.
The court criticized the IDF legal division for not transferring the case to the state attorney earlier since the soldiers had already finished their service and questioned whether the IDF even had jurisdiction over the case at this point.
According to B’Tselem, Awad was killed on January 15, 2013 by live ammunition near the West Bank security barrier in the village of Budrus, around 30 km. from Ramallah, when soldiers fired from close range and struck him in the shoulder and in the back of the head.
The NGO said that the additional shot which 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 according to Lasky, was merely trying to flee.
She said that Awad had crossed the West Bank security barrier illegally, but it is known that many Palestinians do so and are generally arrested, not shot.
But B’Tselem added there were reports that an initial inquiry found that Awad had been shot in contravention of open-fire regulations and that the IDF “had video footage of the incident from separation barrier surveillance cameras.”
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 the IDF forces on the ground “engaged in the procedure for arresting a suspect.
Later, a report was received of a Palestinian wounded by gunfire. The incident is being reviewed.”
Asked for comment on criticism from the High Court regarding the length of the investigation, the IDF did not respond directly to comments about the Turkel Commission’s reasonable time requirement.
However, the IDF noted that 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.”
The IDF also said that the date the court demanded for its decision was one that it had already committed to.