Israeli Army Closes Probe Into Death of Palestinian Protestor

Military advocate general cites lack of evidence in 2009 death of Bassem Abu Rahmeh, whose story was documented in the Oscar-nominated film Five Broken Cameras.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Israel's military advocate general has closed the investigation into the circumstances of the death of a Palestinian during a demonstration in the West Bank village of Bil'in in April 2009, citing a lack of evidence.

Bassem Abu Rahmeh died after being struck in the chest by a tear-gas canister fired by a Border Policeman while protesting the separation barrier. His story, and that of the village, were documented in the Oscar-nominated film Five Broken Cameras.

The prosecutor for operational affairs submitted Military Advocate General Danny Efroni's opinion to the State Prosecution at the end of July. Efroni instructed to close the investigation after concluding that there was insufficient evidence to pursue legal steps against the soldiers involved.

Notice of the closure of the investigation, four and a half years after Abu Rahmeh's death, became known following the State's response the High Court appeal filed by Abu Rahmeh's mother last March. The appeal demanded that the military advocate general explain why no indictments were filed against those soldiers involved in the shooting.

A concurrent investigation was being conducted with the Judea and Samaria District Police due to the fact that Border Policeman were involved in the incident. The State's response indicates that in this case as well, the prosecution decided to close the police investigation against the suspected Border Policeman, after finding that the identity of the perpetrator could not be ascertained. As such, there was not sufficient evidence to warrant the pursuit of criminal proceedings.

The investigation was marred by difficulties from the very beginning: The military police only launched the investigation one year after Abu Rahmeh's death, in July 2010, and only as a result of appeals made by Israeli human rights organizations B'Tselem and Yesh Din. They based their appeal on video footage from the protest, as well as opinions of experts who determined the fire was directly aimed at Abu Rahmeh.

"The deputy state prosecutor also reached the conclusion that there is not enough evidence to prove that the fire was in breach of military order," the State Prosecution's lawyers explained.

The IDF Spokesperson reiterated the military advocate general's conclusion that there was insufficient evidence, and stressed that the investigation was complex and exhaustive. An Israeli military official added: "The investigation into the circumstances of Bassem Abu Rahmen's death, which recently concluded, was comprehensive and included testimonies from several eye witnesses and the examination by experts of forensic findings and video footage documenting the incident. It should be noted that in light of the High Court's pending case and the involvement of Border Policemen, the deputy military prosecutor of criminal affairs examined the materials and the legal opinions and reached a similar conclusion."

Bassem Abu Rahmeh on the ground near Bil’in after being hit by an IDF tear gas canister in April 2009Credit: Lazar Simeonov

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