Israel’s military has suspended a soldier in connection to the deaths of two Palestinian teenagers at a West Bank protest on May 15 after a CNN video clip revealed he had fired his weapon at the same time one of the children was shot and killed, Israeli and Palestinian media reported.
“The soldier, a member of an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) communications division, apparently fired his bullet around the same time that one of the Palestinians, Nadeem Nowarah, 17, was killed. However, the IDF has found no evidence proving that this soldier’s bullet caused Nowarah’s death,” Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported Wednesday.
Sixteen-year-old Mohammad Odeh (previously reported as Mohammad Abu Thaher) was also shot and killed at the protest.
Medical reports from Ramallah hospital doctors who treated the boys, Israeli rights group BT'selem, international rights group Defence for Children International, and a spent bullet discovered by Nowarah's father in his son's backpack after his death all suggest live ammunition caused their deaths.
Despite the suspension, Israel denies that any of its soldiers fired live ammunition and has not accepted responsibility for the killings.
After the initial report of the soldier’s suspension, Israeli media clarified that the punitive measure was taken because he was a non-combat soldier not authorized to use any weapon unless under direct threat – not an indication of his guilt in the shooting deaths.
The Jerusalem Post reported an army source as saying, “The incident is wholly unrelated to the deaths of two Palestinian rioters during the clashes.” It added that the IDF said the soldier was suspended for “illegally firing bullets at a wall.”
The debate over whether or not live ammunition was used against unarmed protesters at the protest is a distraction from the main problem, according to Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
“I think first and foremost, regardless of what type of ammunition is used, the result of the incident is that two children who were not posing any threat to soldiers at the time they were shot were killed by Israeli fire,” Munayyer said. “That is cold blooded murder.”
Surveillance video obtained by rights group Defence for Children International showed the two children shot just over an hour apart in almost exactly the same location. Neither appeared to pose any threat to Israeli soldiers, as they were several hundred yards away from IDF positions and simply walking during a period of calm.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon dismissed the video as a fake, saying there was a “high probability that it was fabricated.” An op-ed in Israeli news source Arutz Sheva went so far as to question why Nowarah put his hands out to break his fall after being shot, saying the event was "clearly faked."
Israeli rights group BT'selem posted the entire, uncut version of the video on its Facebook page in response to such claims.
The United States and the United Nations have called for a full investigation into the deaths of the two teens. In February, an Amnesty International report described a “harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the West Bank.”
The IDF said an investigation into the deaths is underway. They did not respond to Al Jazeera's request for comment, but the IDF's North American media office had said in an earlier emailed statement that “a preliminary investigation determined that live fire was not used by security forces. This incident remains under investigation.”
The IDF called the demonstrations on the day of the teens’ deaths “violent” and said Palestinians had burned tires and thrown rocks, so security forces used riot dispersal means to restore calm.
“The soldiers are sitting there with guns from a high position pointing them at kids with rocks – they’re clearly in the position of power here. The videos show what amounts to an execution,” Munayyer said. “We have to remember that Palestinians have a right to protest the occupation. The soldiers have no right to open fire on them in this way.”
The right to resist occupation is supported by the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and the Fourth Geneva Convention.