Palestinians hurl rocks at IDF soldiers during clashes in Ramallah.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Attorney-General’s Office has rejected a deal to freeze the trial against two former IDF soldiers accused of killing unarmed 16-year-old Palestinian Samir Awad in January 2013 to save the state from public hearings over embarrassing information and over its classified rules of engagement.
The decision was passed on to the defense lawyers of the two soldiers on September 15. But it only arose publicly at a hearing in the Ramle Magistrate’s Court on Thursday. The date was not made public and the transcript was not distributed, but it was obtained by The Jerusalem Post.
Showing the international dimensions of the case with outsiders like the International Criminal Court keeping tabs, the rejection letter came from Deputy Attorney-General for International Affairs Roy Schondorf.
Although the defense lawyers for the two soldiers are discussing a plea deal, all signs are that the trial will go forward in November.
Thursday’s hearing, following an April hearing and a December 2015 indictment marked a rare occurrence of IDF soldiers being indicted for killing a Palestinian in what their defense lawyers deemed operational circumstances.
The case has monumental import as the Awad family’s camp say the indictment should have been at least for the more serious charge of manslaughter and claim the IDF and the state wants to sweep the case under the rug, while the defense lawyers argued the two soldiers are being arbitrarily singled out when no other IDF soldiers have been indicted for firing and killing Palestinians in similar operational circumstances in 40 years.
The defense lawyers, Shlomo Rachvi and Idan Pesach, also say they will argue that the IDF and the state were applying the wrong rules of engagement to a complex incident, which occurred rapidly over around a mere 32 seconds, giving the case a whole additional side as it could turn into a public battle over different normally classified IDF rules of engagement.
Rachvi and Pesach had hoped the state would drop the case based on their case to freeze it due to exceptional circumstances, including dangers to national security of classified rules of engagement coming out into the public sphere.
With the case going forward so far, the defense on Thursday also formally denied all of the charges for the first time.
Thursday’s hearing was also attended by Samir’s father, Ahmed Awad. Representatives of the family have expressed heavy opposition to the idea of halting the case, even if they believed the negligent charge was insufficient.
According to the indictment, both soldiers clearly violated the rules of engagement, firing on Awad as he was running away into Palestinian territory with his back to them, having done nothing other than try to cross illegally into Israel and presenting no danger.
The defense lawyers have claimed that the indictment is unjustified because it is based on applying the wrong rules of engagement. The rules of engagement that should have applied, they argued, should have treated Awad as a danger and not just a fleeing Palestinian who presented no danger.
The rules for arresting a suspect, which allow for shooting at the legs, should have been applied, according to the defense.
These developments come after the state was repeatedly pounded by the High Court of Justice for its extreme delay in deciding whether to issue an indictment or close the case.
During a December 2014 hearing, the High Court criticized the IDF and the state for dragging their feet on the investigation, including allowing the two soldiers involved in the shooting to be released from the army before undergoing proper questioning.
Despite the decision to indict the soldiers, the state filed more lenient charges, ostensibly since it could not determine which soldier caused Awad’s death or the exact cause of death, having been unable to examine Awad’s body.
However, B’Tselem said at the time that this was a problem caused by the state, as there have been problems with how it has handled or performed autopsies on Palestinian bodies in the past.
The case has also been problematic for the state as it tries to present its investigative apparatus to the world and the International Criminal Court as objective and prompt in examining alleged crimes by soldiers, and comes at a time when the state’s alleged leniency in dealing with violence against Palestinians is under heavy scrutiny.