Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Israel: Military Police to investigate killing of Bil'in demonstrator from firing of tear-gas canister

rhe IDF and the killing of Bassem Abu-Rahmeh mike hitchen onlineSource: B'TSELEM - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

Three videos prove the canister was fired directly at Bassem Abu-Rahmeh, but the army ordered the investigation only after threat of High Court petition

The Judge Advocate General (JAG), Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, ordered the Military Police Investigation Unit to investigate the circumstances of the killing of Bassem Abu-Rahmeh, from the West Bank village of Bil'in , who was killed when a high-velocity tear-gas canister struck him during an anti-barrier demonstration in the village on 17 April 2009. Until today, the JAG's Office refused to order a criminal investigation into the incident. The JAG announced the change in his position in a letter to the Abu-Rahmeh family's attorney, Michael Sfard, who had threatened to petition the High Court of Justice, and after receiving the findings of forensic special imaging experts, proving that the canisters were fired directly at the protester in violation of the open-fire regulations.

30 year-old Abu-Rahmeh was killed by an extended-range tear-gas canister that struck him in the chest. This is the same kind of canister that critically wounded American protester Tristan Anderson a month earlier in the village of Ni'lin . Immediately following the incident, B'Tselem conducted an extensive investigation, collecting and analyzing video footage and stills images of the incident, and demanded a criminal investigation. Three video cameras that filmed the demonstration proved that Abu-Rahmeh was on the eastern side of the fence, was not acting in a violent manner, and did not endanger the soldiers in any way. The footage also showed that during the protest soldiers fired additional tear gas canisters directly at demonstrators, in blatant breach of the open-fire regulations, in the presence of high-ranking officers.

The initial decision not to investigate the incident ignored the video footage and relied on the soldiers' statements given in the operational debriefing, which contended that the canister that struck Abu-Rahmeh had hit a wire on the Separation Barrier and changed direction. The experts' opinion, which was based on a spatial analysis of all the video footage and on other material, refuted this claim. It determined that all the scenarios that the army raised indicate that the canister had been aimed directly at the person. Furthermore, the experts also analyzed the characteristics of the specific canister and concluded that, had the soldier who fired it acted in accordance with the binding regulations, the canister would have landed hundreds of meters behind Abu-Rahmeh.

Ahmad Abu-Rahmeh, Bassem's brother, speaking on behalf of the family, said that, “We are very pleased that an investigation will finally be opened. It should have been done the same day, and it is clear that the army opened an investigation only because it was forced to do so. For a year and a quarter the army was trying to cover up the shooting of a non-violent demonstrator, who was shot for no reason at all, and certainly there was no reason to kill him.”

B'Tselem and Yesh Din expressed satisfaction with today's decision but noted that the delay was inexcusable , saying, “ We hope that the lengthy period that has passed since the incident will not negatively affect the investigation, and that the Judge Advocate General's decision of today can provide justice for the Abu Rahmeh family and the village of Bil'in.”