Officer indicted in Ni'lin shooting

Four human rights groups and a Palestinian protester who was shot in the foot with a rubber bullet from point-blank range while bound and blindfolded appealed on Thursday to Military Advocate-General Brig.-Gen. Avi Mandelblit to reconsider the "light charge" he filed against the two soldiers responsible for the shooting. On Thursday morning, Chief Military Prosecutor Liron Liebman filed an indictment in the Special Military Court in Tel Aviv, charging battalion commander Lt.-Col. Omri Burberg and a soldier under his command with "unbecoming conduct" for shooting Ashraf Abu Rahme in the toe. The incident occurred on July 7, during a protest by villagers from Ni'lin, near Modi'in Illit, against the construction of a section of the security barrier that leaves 2,500 dunams (250 hectares) of their land on the "Israeli side" of the fence. The letter to Mandelblit was written by attorney Limor Yehuda, who is in charge of West Bank affairs for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The other three organizations that protested were B'Tselem, Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights and the Public Committee against Torture in Israel. "We demand that the procedures taken against the battalion commander, Lt.-Col. Burberg, as well as the soldier who fired the bullet, reflect the gravity of the deed. This includes putting Burberg on trial for the crimes he allegedly committed because of his responsibility for the deliberate shooting of a bound and blindfolded man," Yehuda wrote. She called on the IDF to postpone legal procedures against Burberg until it considered her request. According to unconfirmed reports, the army and attorneys representing the two defendants have already agreed to a plea bargain whereby the soldiers will receive suspended sentences and not serve time in jail. The two have already been punished within the army for the shooting. Burberg has been transferred out of his battalion while the soldier has been demoted from first sergeant to private. According to the indictment, after Abu Rahme was arrested, bound and blindfolded, Burberg spotted him and said, "Well, now will you stop protesting against the IDF?" Abu Rahme replied that he did not speak Hebrew. Burberg then turned to the soldier and said, "What do you say we take him off to the side and shoot him with a rubber bullet?" According to the indictment, he did so because he suspected that Abu Rahme understood Hebrew and wanted to scare him. The soldier replied, "I have no problem shooting him with a rubber bullet." Burberg then ordered Abu Rahme to get up on his feet and steered him towards an army jeep. As he passed by the soldier under his command, he ordered him to ready a bullet for firing. The soldier replied that his rifle was ready for shooting. Burberg then stood in front of the jeep holding Abu Rahme by the shoulder while talking to a border policeman. In the meantime, the soldier aimed his rifle at Abu Rahme and fired, all according to the indictment. Yehuda wrote that the charge of inappropriate conduct for such grave actions "conveys a troubling message about the value of human life and bodily integrity." She quoted from a High Court of Justice ruling involving Yehuda Meir, an officer who was convicted of beating helpless Palestinian civilians during the first intifada. "Harming a bound and helpless person is a shameful and cruel act and calls for an appropriately severe response," the justices wrote at the time.