Palestinian Protester's Death an 'Exceptional' Incident, Say IDF Officials

Mustafa Tamimi, 28, sustained head injuries after being hit by a tear gas grenade that was fired at close range by a soldier from inside a patrol jeep in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

The injury on Friday and subsequent death of a Palestinian demonstrator in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh was an "exceptional" incident, according to Israel Defense Forces officials.

Mustafa Tamimi, 28, sustained head injuries after being hit by a tear gas grenade that was fired at close range by a soldier from inside a patrol jeep. He died Saturday morning.

nabi saleh - Miki Kratsman - December 12 2011
Miki Kratsman

Figures in the army's Central Command said the soldier claimed he "didn't see" Tamimi. But even if that is true, the IDF's rules of engagement prohibit the firing of tear gas grenades from a rifle pointed directly at demonstrators or from a distance of less than 40 meters away. They also stipulate that the shooter must use the rifle sight and verify that no one is in the line of fire. Central Command and the Military Police are conducting separate investigations into the incident.

Tamimi was taking part in a regular weekly protest by villagers against the expropriation of land for the nearby settlement of Halamish when he was hit in the head. He was transported by the army to Petah Tikva's Beilinson Hospital, Rabin Medical Center, where he died of his injuries the following morning.

The Military Police investigation is being carried out in compliance with a policy introduced during the past year under which the Military Police look into all civilian deaths in the West Bank.

Sources in IDF Central Command said Sunday that the soldier who fired the grenade claimed at the operational investigation that he "didn't see" Tamimi because his visual field was obscured by the gas mask he was wearing. According to the sources, the soldier said he did not notice when Tamimi, who was running after the jeep, entered the line of fire.

Meanwhile, a deputy battalion commander in the Givati Brigade has told the Judea Military Court that the IDF has a more forgiving policy when it comes to firing crowd-dispersal means at the Nabi Salah demonstrations. The court is trying Bassam Tamimi, one of the organizers of protests at the village, for inciting others to throw rocks at the soldiers assigned to disperse them.

In September, Maj. Michel Dahan, a deputy battalion commander in Givati's Rotem Battalion, testified in the case about the way the soldiers dealt with the weekly protest. "The village's main intersection ... is defined as a closed military area, and the march was not allowed on the [village's] main street," Dahan told the court. "As soon as it arrived we would declare the gathering illegal. When the crowd did not disperse we would use crowd-dispersal means. After that, some of the crowd would leave and some would start throwing rocks at the soldiers. At that stage a kind of game would begin between the people throwing rocks and the soldiers trying to apprehended as many of them as possible before sunset," Dahan said.

The officer's testimony reflects a very lax policy toward the use of crowd-dispersal means such as tear gas or "the skunk," a foul-smelling liquid, which are designed to prevent injuries and property damage at demonstrations in the West Bank but are not meant to be used to disperse crowds within the villages themselves.