Court petitioned to finish probe into Palestinian's death

Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed by a tear gas canister fired by soldiers during a demonstration in 2009, but the investigation into his death has not been completed.

Bil'in demonstration 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Bil'in demonstration 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
The mother of Bassem Abu Rahmah, killed by a tear gas canister fired by soldiers during a demonstration near Bil’in, has filed a petition with the High Court of Justice to “end the procrastination” in the investigation into her son’s death.
The petition was announced by B’Tselem on Monday.
Abu Rahmah, whose story was featured in the film 5 Broken Cameras, was killed in April 2009, but the investigation into his death has not been completed.
The petition demands that Military- Advocate General Maj.-Gen. Danny Efroni be ordered to reach a decision in the case and prosecute the soldier who fired the grenade and all those bearing command responsibility for the killing of Abu Rahmah.
In the petition, which was filed jointly with the Bil’in village council, B’Tselem and Yesh Din, Subhiya Abu Rahmah demands an urgent hearing in view of the fact that almost four years have passed since her son was killed.
Abu Rahmah was killed at the age of 30 in April 2009 when he was struck in the chest by what the petition called “an extended-range tear gas grenade,” during a demonstration against the West Bank security barrier in his home of Bil’in, near Ramallah.
The IDF responded on Tuesday saying that “the petition still has not been received by the military advocate-general.
When it is received, it will be reviewed and a response will be filed with the court.”
The statement continued, “Investigation of this event, in which IDF and Border Police forces took part, is complex and being handled by the military advocategeneral in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice,” following an investigation by the Military Police.
“During the investigation, a large amount of testimony was collected from different authorities and many other investigative activities,” the statement said.
The IDF said that after the evidence was given to the military advocate-general, he requested the collection of additional evidence.
According to the petition, three video segments filmed during the demonstration prove that Abu Rahmah was situated to the east of the fence, did not act violently and did not in any way endanger the soldiers who were present to maintain order.
The petitioners also attached an opinion prepared by experts in forensic architecture and 3D imaging from London and New York who have analyzed the films documenting the incident and determined that the grenade was aimed directly at Abu Rahmah.
The experts also assist Western nations with reviewing crime scenes, including scenes for the war crimes cases from the former Yugoslavia.
The expert report found that the kind of canister used had specific properties, including its own thrust, which meant it could not have hit a wire on the security barrier and have rebounded to hit Abu Rahmah as the IDF initially claimed.
Next, the experts found that if the canister had been fired according to regulations, it would have flown over the protesters’ heads and landed far behind them.
Accordingly, the petition concludes that the deceased did not pose any threat to the soldiers, and that the shooting constituted a criminal offense.
The petition also concludes that the soldier who fired the grenade should be prosecuted and, “depending on the results of the investigation, it is possible that his commanders should also be prosecuted.”
Next, the petition alleges the video segments show that other soldiers fired gas grenades directly at demonstrators during the protest, in the presence of senior officers and in complete contravention of the open-fire regulations.
According to the petition, the previous military advocate-general, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit, initially refused to instruct the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) to open an investigation into the killing.
The petition says that he changed his mind “only after a threat to petition the High Court of Justice and the publication of the expert opinion.”
The MPIU opened an investigation in July 2010 and several additional investigations have since taken place.
In March 2012, the military advocategeneral notified the petitioners that additional evidence and testimony were being gathered.
In July 2012, he notified the petitioners that all relevant evidence in the case as to whether to prosecute any of the soldiers involved had been collected.
Despite those activities, no decision has been taken to prosecute any suspects or to close the file, and the IDF statement did not address any changes that might have occurred in its position on the case over the course of the investigation.
B’Tslem said the petition was filed after the military advocate-general was “given a last chance” to make a decision on the case about a month ago.
The petitioners said that the “refusal to reach a decision in the case over such a long period is unreasonable in the extreme, in part in view of the obligation under international law that an investigation into a grave human rights violation must be effective, take place without delay and be completed promptly.”
Next, the petition said that “the failure to reach a decision is dangerous and conveys the message to IDF and border guard personnel engaged in dispersing demonstrations that even if they shoot and kill demonstrators, they will not bear criminal liability. Such a message reflects contempt for the lives of Palestinian civilians.”
In a press release, the petitioners added that the delay in investigating Abu Rahmah’s killing “is just one example, albeit a particularly extreme one, of the slow pace of investigations and decisionmaking by the military advocate-general, which often extends over several years.”
A B’Tselem spokesman said that the delay is problematic for several reasons, including harming witnesses’ ability to recall events; the gathering of evidence; for Abu Rahmah’s family, who said it was in need of compensation for the wages Abu Rahmah would have earned; complicating any prosecution since soldiers eventually leave army service, which would mean that the State Attorney’s Office would have to take over parts of the case; and hamstringing the family’s ability to seek relief since they cannot even appeal until the military advocate-general, at the very least, decides to close the case.