Israel drops investigation into Palestinian protester’s death

Israeli officials cite lack of evidence; family and rights groups claim video footage proves criminal offense

Israel’s military said Wednesday that investigators have closed a probe into the April 2009 death of a non-violent Palestinian protester in the West Bank, citing a lack of evidence of wrongdoing. The news drew outrage from Israeli rights groups and the man’s family.

An Israeli border policeman shot Bassem Abu Rahmah in the chest with an extended-range tear gas canister from a distance of around 75 feet. Several videos show him being fatally wounded as he was peacefully protesting Israel’s annexation of his village’s land in the West Bank village of Bil’in.

“It’s very painful news to hear. We didn’t expect the investigation to be dropped because of a lack of evidence,” the protester’s brother, Ahmed Abu Rahmah, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

He said his brother’s death was captured on several separate video cameras, and some of the footage was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Five Broken Cameras.”

“My family, and the entire village, was upset and disappointed by the announcement. But it shows the world that this court is not fair to the Palestinians,” he said.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday cited Israeli rights group B’Tselem as saying the investigation was dropped due to lack of evidence, and Israeli officials confirmed the news in an emailed reply to Al Jazeera’s questions.

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) spokesman’s office said that there was not sufficient evidence to take legal action against any soldiers, or that official military protocol was violated in any way.

B’Tselem criticized the decision to drop the investigation, arguing that the videos made during the demonstration prove that Abu Rahmah was standing on the village’s side of the wall, did not act violently and was not endangering Israeli soldiers in any way -- which would make the killing a criminal offense.

The rights group has said the video footage documenting the incident was analyzed by international experts who determined that the tear gas canister was aimed directly at Abu Rahmah.

B'Tselem said in a press release that their efforts to discover the truth about Abu Rahmah’s death have been “repeatedly thwarted by the sluggish conduct of the [Israeli authorities] … The foot-dragging and procrastination in the case have continued even once the investigation was launched over three years ago.”

The IDF spokesman’s office told Al Jazeera on Wednesday in an emailed response to questions: “After a careful examination of all available evidence, the Chief Military Advocate General has determined that there is not sufficient evidence to take legal action against the soldiers involved in the incident in which Bassem Abu Rahmeh was killed. The available evidence was not sufficient to prove that the soldiers involved in the incident violated official military protocol.”

Another resident of Bil’in, Jaber Abu Rahmah, a relative of the deceased protester, said he was not surprised by the decision.

“It’s not the first case they closed like this. Everyone who was at the demonstration that day saw that this tear gas canister, which has a 500-meter (yard) distance, was shot at him from about 25 meters away -- directly at his chest, and he died immediately,” Jaber Abu Rahmah told Al Jazeera.

“They try to deny and say there’s not enough evidence. What will be enough? To bring Bassem back to life and have him shot again in front of their eyes?”

Bil’in is a West Bank village outside of Ramallah. In 2005, villagers began protesting the annexation of more than 60 percent of their land, where several Israeli settlements now stand.

Every Friday, villagers, international and Israeli activists march from the center of the village to the site of the wall in protest. Scores of protesters have been injured in the demonstrations which sometimes become violent -- protesters face tear gas, water cannon, rubber-coated steel bullets and sound bombs, as well as live ammunition.

Each side blames the other for the violence, with the Palestinians accusing Israeli security forces of shooting first and the Israelis claiming Palestinians threw stones.

In 2011, Abu Rahmah’s sister Jawaher died, allegedly from asphyxiation after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers during a protest.

Israel began constructing a massive concrete wall during an outbreak of violence known as the Second Intifada in 2002. Israel says that it built the wall for security reasons, and that the wall has prevented Palestinian attacks inside its territory.

Palestinians and rights groups, as well as international law, call the wall illegal because it is not constructed on the internationally-recognized 1967 borders between the West Bank and Israel. Instead, the wall snakes deep into Palestinian territory in some areas and annexes Palestinian land.

Many critics accuse Israel of trying to create “facts on the ground” by unilaterally extending their territory into occupied Palestinian areas, using the wall’s route as a de facto border.

Al Jazeera

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