Military to Probe Bil'in Protester's 2009 Death

The Military Advocate General ordered the army's criminal investigations unit Sunday to investigate the death of a Palestinian protester who was killed a demonstration in Bil'in in April 2009, reversing an earlier decision.

Lazar Simeonov

Bassem Abu Rahmeh was demonstrating against the separation fence when he was struck by a tear-gas canister fired by a Border Policeman, and died shortly afterward.

The incident was investigated by Col. Aviv Reshef, who retired from his position of commander of the brigade with responsibility for that area last week. Reshef, who interviewed IDF officers and Border Police in the vicinity at the time of the incident, determined that the canister had been fired in keeping with orders not to aim it at demonstrators, and that Abu Rahmeh might have been standing on a high point or the grenade glanced off the fence and as deflected toward him.

Based on Reshef's probe, Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit decided not to open a criminal investigation.

It was decided shortly after Abu Rahmeh's death to stop using canisters with a range of more than 400 meters because of the danger of striking a person and to use only grenades that could reach 150 meters.

Abu Rahmeh's family and the human rights groups B'Tselem and Yesh Din disputed the findings of Reshef's probe, arguing that video footage of the incident shows that Abu Rahmeh was standing in a place where he could have only been hit if he had been aimed at, and that he was not endangering soldiers or acting violently when he was shot.

Based on the videos, a computer simulation was produced of the trajectory of the tear-gas canister.

The Abu Rahmeh family's attorney, Michael Sfard, was about to petition the High Court of Justice based on the videos when Mandelblit asked him to hold off because he was reconsidering his decision based on evidence he had been given by Yesh Din and B'Tselem.

The Army Spokesman's Office said Mendelblit's about face was normal procedure. "The decision of the Military Avocate General to open a file was made after further information was received with regard to the incident," the Spokesman's Office said. "As other cases show, when more information is received which was not known at the time of the original decision, the Military Advocate General does not hesitate to revisit earlier decisions."

Yesh Din and B'Tselem said in a statement that the decision was made "only due to their insistence of those that approached the army and provided an expert opinion that there was no doubt that Abu Rahmeh was hit after being directly aimed at. We hope that the great amount of time that has passed since the incident will not impair the efficiency of the investigation, and that the Military Advocate General's decision would provide justice for Abu Rahmeh and the village of Bil'in."