'Police negligent in probing fence protest casualties'

Justice Ministry: Death due to direct hit by gas canister could have been prevented.

Israeli riot police 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israeli riot police 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The death of Palestinian Bassem Ibrahim in Bil'in two-and-a-half weeks ago might have been prevented had the police carried out orders to investigate previous incidents in which protesters against the separation barrier were hurt by grenade canisters, a senior Justice Ministry official told the police on Monday. Ibrahim, 30, died when a border policeman fired a canister directly at him and hit him in the chest during a protest at Bil'in on April 17. The protest was one of the weekly protests held by villagers, Israelis and pro-Palestinian demonstrators from abroad against the route of the fence that separates the villagers from much of their agricultural land. According to a statement issued by the Justice Ministry, Yehoshua Lemberger, deputy state attorney for criminal affairs, has asked the police to review the guidelines for dispersing protesters. Lemberger said Ibrahim was one of several protesters in the recent past who have been hurt by gas bombs or grenades "which have aroused suspicions of illegal use of means to disperse protests." According to a knowledgeable source, the Justice Ministry asked the police to investigate four incidents that occurred in Nil'in, another Palestinian village that holds weekly protests. In one case in September 2008, a Palestinian suffered head injuries when shot by a border policeman. In January, a Spanish journalist and an Israeli protester were injured. On March 13, an American citizen, Tristan Anderson, was shot in the face and critically wounded by a tear gas canister. Lemberger added that even if it was right from an "operational point of view" to use gas grenades, bombs and other ordinance, it was wrong to aim directly at protesters. IDF sources said that the direct fire of gas grenades at demonstrators had always been against official military regulations. Military forces operating at Bil'in, the sources said, would continue to use gas canisters since it was an "effective tool" in dispersing violent demonstrations. The sources said that the IDF has always made a distinction between "direct fire" of the canisters at specific demonstrators as opposed to "indirect fire" in the nearby vicinity. "There is nothing wrong with firing gas canisters," one source said. "The problem is with direct fire but that has always been against military regulations." Lemberger also pointed out that investigations of border police conduct in the West Bank are conducted by the police, rather than the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Unit, which does not investigate incidents of shooting involving border policemen unless they take place in Israeli population centers in the administered territories.