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HomeMiddle EastIsraeli Group Questions Military’s Account of Palestinian Youth’s Death

Israeli Group Questions Military’s Account of Palestinian Youth’s Death

Palestinians carried the body of Muhammad Hani al-Kasba, 17, during his funeral in Ramallah on July 3, the day he was shot by an Israeli soldier.
By DIAA HADID
July 13, 2015

JERUSALEM — An Israeli human rights group on Monday challenged the military’s account of an episode in which a soldier shot and killed a Palestinian youth who had hurled a rock at his vehicle, saying that video footage and witnesses’ accounts contradicted the army’s version of the incident.

The rights group B’Tselem, which made the assertions, also questioned Israel’s ability to impartially investigate allegations that its armed forces had acted illegally.

Immediately after the shooting on July 3, a military spokeswoman said that Israeli soldiers first fired into the air to warn the stone throwers to stop, and that the episode was under investigation. The military has since said it cannot comment on the matter and that it was under investigation.

The episode has loomed large since the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court. The court will have to decide whether Israel can fairly investigate itself before it opens its own criminal investigation into Israel’s actions during the war in Gaza last summer, as well as investigating suspected violations in the West Bank, as the Palestinians have requested. Fatou Bensouda, the court’s chief prosecutor, began a preliminary investigation on that question in January.

The shooting of the youth, Muhammad Hani al-Kasba, 17, has received unusual attention because Israeli news media outlets have reported that the officer who shot Mr. Kasba, Col. Yisrael Shomer, leads a brigade that oversees a central district in the West Bank.

“It sends a message to all other soldiers in the region: ‘This is how one should behave,’ ” said Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B’Tselem.

The Israeli news media reported that Colonel Shomer had been questioned on Sunday.

Video from a security camera provided by Mr. Kasba’s family to B’Tselem shows the teenager hurling a rock at a vehicle’s window and then running away. Three soldiers then leave the vehicle, with two of them pursuing Mr. Kasba and the third soldier standing near the vehicle. Seconds later, they return to the vehicle and drive away.

Video from the YouTube page of B’Tselem

The video, along with accounts by Palestinian witnesses and photographs of Mr. Kasba’s body that were provided to B’Tselem, indicate that he was not risking the soldiers’ lives when he was shot and killed, Ms. Michaeli said. In a video distributed on social media networks that purports to show Mr. Kasba after he was shot, he is seen lying on the ground with blood pooling around his face, neck and upper shoulders, as people yell for medical help.

Ms. Michaeli said that he had been shot twice in the upper back and once on the side of his face, which she said indicated that he had been running away when he was shot. The witnesses’ statements and the video also suggested, she said, that the soldiers left Mr. Kasba without offering any medical treatment. He was taken to a hospital in the nearby city of Ramallah, where he was pronounced dead.

Thaer al-Kasba, the youth’s older brother, said the family had lost two other children in clashes with Israeli soldiers at the height of the second Palestinian intifada in 2001 and 2002.

On Monday, Israeli news media also reported that six high-ranking military officers had been questioned about episodes in the Gaza war, including one in which an Israeli lieutenant colonel was accused of ordering soldiers to fire on a Palestinian medical clinic.

Israel has increasingly made public the results of such investigations, particularly related to the Gaza war last year, to underscore the strengths of their system.

The shooting of Mr. Kasba was among a number of recent incidents involving attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians on the West Bank during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Ms. Michaeli, the rights group’s spokeswoman, cast doubt on the ability of the military to impartially investigate the shooting of Mr. Kasba. She said it appeared that investigators had not yet interviewed any witnesses, nor had they returned to the scene or requested an autopsy. She said B’Tselem had provided the military with the video footage of the episode.

She said some of the problems with military investigations were the result of incompetence, but that others reflected the reality of life in the West Bank, where Palestinians have been hostile, and sometimes violent, with military investigators, who are perceived as part of an occupying army.

“It raises great concern as to whether the following criminal investigation can actually lead to meaningful justice and accountability,” she said.

B’Tselem and other human rights groups have noted that Israeli military investigations into accusations of crimes committed against Palestinians in the West Bank rarely lead to prosecutions.

“When you look at the broader picture, we find that the system functions — this is terrible to say — the system works as a whitewash mechanism,’’ Ms. Michaeli said.