An autopsy on the body of a Palestinian teen shot and killed at a West Bank protest last month has confirmed that his death was caused by live ammunition, Israeli and Palestinian media reported Thursday, after a rights group called the killings an “apparent war crime.”
Nadeem Nowarah, 17, and Mohammed Odeh, 16, were both fatally shot in the chest on May 15 near Ramallah while commemorating what Palestinians refer to as the "Nakba," or catastrophe — the traumatic event in 1948 that saw close to two thirds of the Palestinian population turned into refugees during the conflict over the creation of the state of Israel.
The shootings were captured on surveillance camera footage — released by the Geneva-based rights group Defense for Children International — which showed that neither of the teens posed any threat to Israeli security forces at the time of their deaths.
The Israeli military has continued to deny that live fire was used that day, and a high-ranking Israeli politician suggested the footage of the shootings was faked.
Nowarah’s body was exhumed on Wednesday and an autopsy was performed at the Palestinian Institute of Forensic Medicine, a source close to the matter told Palestinian news agency, Maan News.
The autopsy was carried out by a team of specialists led by the head of the institute, Saber al-Aloul, as well as experts from Denmark, Portugal and the United States. Two Israeli doctors also took part in the procedure, according to Israeli and Palestinian media reports.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Nowarah’s body was still in good condition and doctors could clearly see the entry and exit wounds, as well as fragments of the bullet still in the teen's body.
Samples of the fragments will be analyzed further in preparation for an official report that will be published soon, according to the Maan report. The Jerusalem Post said on its website that the results “so far indicated that Israeli Defense Force (IDF) forces were responsible.”
Earlier medical reports, eyewitness accounts and a bullet found in Nowarah’s backpack, which he was wearing at the time of his death, had already indicated that the teen was killed with live ammunition.
But the Israeli military officials denied that such bullets were used at the protest. Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, has suggested that the surveillance video capturing their deaths was faked.
The Israel Defense Force (IDF) spokesperson’s unit told Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper and website, that the issue is under investigation, adding that it was unlikely that the bullet could be matched to a weapon. The Israeli military did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment at the time this article was published.
An Israeli soldier was suspended after CNN video footage was released showing the solider fire his weapon in Nowarah’s direction moments before his death. But the military said the suspension was unrelated to the death, saying the soldier was suspended for firing a rubber bullet without authorization.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement on Monday calling the killings an "apparent war crime" and called on Israel to prosecute those responsible. In the absence of Israeli action, the rights group said Palestine could seek justice at the International Criminal Court.
HRW said the IDF’s claim that no live fire was used that day “does not stand up to scrutiny.” It added that there has been a pattern of Israeli forces shooting Palestinians who posed no imminent threat with live ammunition.
In the absence of an Israeli investigation into the killings, Nowarah’s family launched a petition on May 29 on Avaaz.org, a community petition website, called “No Visas for Killers.” The petition, which already has nearly 20,000 signatures, aims to prevent the U.S. and European Union from granting visas to whomever is found responsible for the teens' deaths.
"I want justice, I believe in justice, and I will pursue justice for my son with all that I have left,” Nowarah's father, Siam, wrote on Avaaz’s website.