An old Palestinian man prevents Border Policemen from shooting at protesters during clashes in Hebron.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The trial of former border policeman Ben Deri, accused of manslaughter in the controversial and videotaped killing of Palestinian Nadim Nuwara, 17, on “Nakba Day” in May 2014 began in the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday with the surprise self-disqualification of Judge Amnon Cohen.
Deri was indicted by the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office on November 23, 2014, for the fatal shooting of Nuwara when scores of Palestinians attacked some IDF soldiers with stones at a protest near Ofer Prison, located between Ramallah and Givat Ze’ev, to mourn the establishment of the State of Israel.
The manslaughter charge is one of the most serious in recent memory against a soldier or border policeman for the killing of a Palestinian while acting in the line of duty, and could lead to significant jail time.
Typically, incidents of killing Palestinians end with no charge, justified by self-defense, or at most result in disciplinary actions for violating rules of engagement or a negligent homicide charge with little or no jail time.
The indictment said that Deri had received permission to fire rubber bullets to disperse crowds throwing rocks.
The officer had two magazines, one with rubber bullets and one with live ammunition, the rubber bullet magazine being clearly demarcated by its red color, according to the indictment.
At some point during the altercation, Deri switched some live bullets into his rubber bullet magazine to be able to fire live ammunition and to hide his violation of the rules of engagement from the other soldiers, the indictment alleged.
Deri was not indicted for the killing of another Palestinian that day.
Video from security cameras on Palestinian properties close to the scene of the May protest showed the two teenagers falling to the ground in separate incidents.
At the time, right-wing activists claimed the scene was staged and deemed it “Pallywood.”
The first witness in the case, a border policeman to testify regarding ballistics issues, turned out to be a nephew of the judge, though none of the parties in the case said they had figured out the connection until minutes before he was due to speak.
While Cohen initially appeared inclined to continue as the case’s judge after having invested several months into the case. Prosecutor Geula Cohen said that the family relation was irrelevant since the witness was testifying primarily about technical ballistics issues, Deri’s lawyer Zion Amir strongly objected.
Amir said that Deri’s appearing as a witness would create “the appearance of impropriety.”
Geula Cohen complained that Amir was simply being oppositional over a technical issues and was “opening fire from all directions” with spurious legal arguments to derail the trial’s progress.
Leaping out of his seat, Amir responded, “Don’t tell me I’m opening fire from all directions, you don’t understand my line of defense.”
As arguments continued, Judge Amnon Cohen pushed Amir to give specific arguments where the witness’s credibility would be an issue, beyond his technical ballistics knowledge.
Explaining that whether Deri’s weapon and bullets had been tampered with was a core issue for beating the state’s allegations tying the bullet that allegedly killed Nuwarah to Deri’s gun and firing, Amir eventually convinced the judge that the witness’s credibility would be in dispute, which could lead to a conflict of interest.
Looking disappointed and remarking that he had not seen his nephew in four years and did not even know he was still in the Border Police, Judge Cohen disqualified himself, which will likely delay the trial for at least a few months and maybe even around half-a-year.
Some of the other details alleged against Deri included that the blood of one Palestinian minor was found on a livefire bullet retrieved from the body and that expert reports have connected the bullet with the border policeman’s gun.
Other pieces of evidence appeared to include wiretapping of the officer’s communications and some other persons involved in the incident.
Palestinians and Israeli leftwing activists said that Nuwara and an additional teenager killed on that day, Muhammad Abu Daher, were shot with live ammunition, which soldiers are supposed to use only when their lives are in danger.
Palestinians said in June 2014 that an autopsy concluded that Nuwara had been killed by live fire. Palestinian, US and Danish pathologists were reportedly present at the autopsy in the Palestinian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Abu Dis east of Jerusalem.Ben Hartman, Khaled Abu Toameh and Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.