Omri and Yaron are two soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade’s 202nd Battalion. We are not allowed to know their full names. They said in statements they submitted to the court that revealing their full names could cause them harm when they go out to do reserve duty in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. They would have remained completely anonymous but for the legal proceeding they have become entangled in – anonymous to those for whom Zakaria Daraghmeh, a father of five, is not just an X on a growing list of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers.
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The principle of preserving the anonymity of soldiers who killed Palestinian civilians outside of battle helps every journalist to become a collaborator in the mechanism of shrugging off responsibility and guilt. This is the same bureaucratic and psychosocial mechanism that does precisely the opposite when it comes to Palestinians suspected of having killed Israelis. The army provides their full names, places of residence, family background, the names of the Jews in whose killings they were allegedly involved, and the planning and details of the act. Journalists swoop down on this well-cooked and ready-to-serve information, with a ravenous appetite that vanishes without a trace when it comes to the endless list of anonymous Israelis who killed Palestinians.
Staff Sgt. Omri and Sgt. 1st Class Yaron of the 202nd Battalion, by now in the reserves and maybe college students or new fathers, killed Zakaria Daraghmeh of Tubas in May 2006. The incident took place when Daraghmeh was waiting for potential passengers to cross a large roadblock made of mounds of earth and pits roughly half a kilometer long that the army had made to cut Nablus off from the cities and villages in the northeastern part of the West Bank. Taxi drivers, such as Drameh, drove on one side of the roadblock and waited for the passengers that taxis had dropped off on the other side to climb the mounds of earth, step carefully around the holes, shake the mud and dust off their boots and trouser cuffs, and get into the taxi.
Daraghmeh arrived at the northeastern side of the cut-off road at about 4 P.M. that day. When he got out of the taxi, he left the motor running and asked another driver who was there to turn it off after a few minutes. The drivers explain that this protects the diesel engine.
The mounds concealed what happened 500 meters away. Daraghmeh began climbing the other side, which was topographically higher. He found only one passenger, and together they made their way back to his taxi. At that point, the army jeep arrived. Omri and Yaron (the squad commander) were inside with two other soldiers, whom the state attorney (the defense) never brought in to testify. In the end, Omri shot Daraghmeh in the back. Later on, Yaron and Omri would explain that Daraghmeh and the other man were “runaways” – which rhymes with “suspects,” which rhymes with “terrorists,” which rhymes with fair game.
It never occurred to them that the driver and the passenger did not want the soldiers to delay them for hours, as soldiers often did at such roadblocks, so they ran away from them (as much as anyone could run among mounds and holes). They also said that Daraghmeh had pulled out a pistol and endangered them. The alleged pistol was not found on Daraghmeh’s body. It had vanished.
Suddenly, about seven months after they killed Daraghmeh, a bothersome lawyer by the name of Firas Jabaly brought a personal-injury lawsuit against the state. The lawsuit took them partially out of their anonymity, and Omri and Yaron were asked to answer questions. It is very likely that they felt deprived in comparison with their fellow soldiers, who had killed and wounded tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinian civilians over the years without having their lives’ routine disturbed over it.
As Omri and Yaron testified at the trial, the soft-hearted officials of the investigating Military Police had not even summoned them for questioning and clarification by January 2012. Here is a wild guess: No Military Police investigator questioned them before Military Advocate General Danny Efroni approved the closing of the case in April 2014.
Jabaly and Judge Yousif Sohil asked Yaron and Omri all the questions that a serious investigator should have asked to clarify whether their lives really had been in sufficient danger to justify their shooting Daraghmeh in the back. The questioning exposed all the internal contradictions in their testimony. The judge delicately avoided saying that they were lying.
The legal procedure exposed the state’s stinginess in handing over evidence, as Judge Sohil noted. He ruled that the state must pay damages to the families, court costs and a fee for the lawyer’s services. While the amount of damages is to be determined by December, the state may appeal the verdict, and the process may continue in a higher court.
The soldiers’ sacred anonymity is explained by the fact that they are emissaries of the state, not only of the army. It is a law of nature that any agency that investigates itself will be negligent in such investigations. Civil lawsuits for damages are supposedly a way to bypass this law of nature.
But the state knows very well how to stop such lawsuits by Palestinians from proliferating, particularly by setting court fees so high as to be a deterrent. Daraghmeh’s family managed to raise 9,000 shekels for the court fees (the required amounts are usually several times higher).
Jabaly’s and Sohil’s thorough work exposed another small portion of the leniencies by which many Israelis kill Palestinians, and are allowed to kill, without investigation, trial and punishment.