In rare move, state to indict former IDF soldiers in killing of Palestinian minor

B'Tselem, group that led charge pressing state to revisit 3-year-old case, was upset over the negligence charge as opposed to more serious charges like murder or manslaughter.

A Palestinian youth throws a stone during clashes with Israeli soldiers next to the scene of a stabbing attack near Hebron on October 26 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian youth throws a stone during clashes with Israeli soldiers next to the scene of a stabbing attack near Hebron on October 26
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Almost three years after IDF soldiers shot and killed unarmed Palestinian Samir Awad, 16, near the West Bank security barrier in January 2013, the state informed the High Court of Justice of its final decision to indict the shooter and at least one additional suspect for negligence in the killing.
The decision to indict soldiers in relation to a killing is a rare move by the state and was supported by the IDF.
B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which led the effort pressing the state to revisit the case, announced the state’s decision on Friday, though the state formally informed the court late on Wednesday.
The state made no public announcement.
In August, the state informed the High Court that it had already held special pre-indictment hearings for the suspect- soldiers on June 21 and June 23 regarding Awad’s death neath Budrus, northwest of Beitar Illit.
It asked the court for a further delay of the indictment deadline – until at least September 10 – as the state had recently handed over responsibility for the final decision to State Attorney Shai Nitzan, due to the case’s “complexity and sensitivity.”
Friday’s announcement included Nitzan’s confirmation of the prosecution team’s recommendation, which, according to the state’s filing, was based on an IDF recommendation issued in March that was kept secret from the public.
Despite the decision to indict the shooter and at least one other soldier, B’Tselem called the charges “a new low,” upset at the expected charges of negligence, as opposed to the more serious charges of murder or manslaughter. The NGO said Awad was unarmed when he was shot in the back while fleeing.
The state explained in its letter to the High Court that although there was a basis for manslaughter or murder charges, the likelihood of conviction on those charges was too low, as Awad’s family never turned over his body. Thus, the state was unable to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that his being shot was the cause of death.
B’Tselem criticized the state’s explanation, saying that even if it were true, the state has created structural problems and trust issues in its past handling of autopsies of Palestinians.
The NGO has also criticized the state for not specifying how many or which soldier would be indicted. The state’s filing to the court still did not clarify those issues.
These developments come after the state was repeatedly pounded by the High Court for its extreme delay in deciding whether to issue an indictment or close the case.
The High Court rejected the state’s most recent request for a three-month extension, ordering the state to decide by mid- April.
The state requested the three-month extension on March 17, two weeks past the High Court’s ordered deadline for a decision, following a December 1, 2014, court order granting the state what was supposed to be a final extension until March 1.
During the December hearing, the 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.
The state attributed part of the recent delay to Nitzan’s directive on July 26 that the deputy state attorney for special matters evaluate the charges recommended by the Central District Attorney, whose office has been handling the case in recent months.
The delay was also caused in part by some new issues raised during the soldiers’ pre-indictment hearings, which the state said required collecting additional evidence and may necessitate bringing charges against additional suspects.
It is unclear whether additional suspects would face charges for direct involvement in the shooting, for cover-up-related offenses or for command responsibility over the shooters.
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.