A Border Police officer charged with causing the death of a 10-year-old Palestinian boy in the West Bank four years ago claims that although he was in a bullet-proof vehicle, he felt he had to respond after stones were thrown at the car.
"If they see you don't respond, it will be seen as a weakness," defendant Omri Abu said last week.
In July 2008, Abu's unit was called to the site of a demonstration against the fence being constructed in the West Bank town of Na'alin, after protesters had breached the fence.
The officers - a commander, two combatants and Abu, the driver - were met with a barrage of stones when they arrived. Abu opened the door of the SUV and fired two live bullets, fatally shooting Ahmed Moussa, 10, in the forehead.
Abu was indicted in May 2010 for causing death by negligence, and the closing arguments of his trial began last week. (The trial took particularly long because witnesses had to be brought in from the Palestinian Authority. )
Abu, represented by attorney David Halevy, testified about the events leading to up to the boy's death.
"They were throwing stones at the jeep in a massive way," he said. "I opened the door to evaluate the situation and felt immediate danger and alarm. The stones were hurled with such intensity that the vehicle rocked, so I saw fit to shoot in the air."
Abu said he and his team did not immediately notice that the child was hit and he did not report about the shooting when first asked about the incident because "it could cause unnecessary investigations. We rejected any possibility that our firing could have hurt anyone."
Asked what factors he considered when he opened fire, Abu said "there was fear the incident would escalate. Even in a bullet-proof car you have to respond. If they see you don't respond they can crowd around us and the incident can escalate to 1,001 other possibilities."
Abu testified that he felt in danger despite being in a bullet-proof vehicle because "these vehicles are only protected to a certain level, and in some cases vehicles have been damaged in the hood ... The windshield also shattered. That's not something you get used to."
But other members of Abu's team negated his claims. One of the officers told the court in December 2011 that they were in no danger from the stones. The commander of the unit testified that he had asked his commander, who was located nearby, for permission to fire rubber bullets. He said Abu, who was sitting beside him, had fired on his own accord. He also said the men in the SUV were in no real danger.
In asking the court to convict Abu, the prosecutor said, "Procedures to open fire refer to a situation in which the defendant is exposed, yet we heard one witness after another saying the jeep was fortified. Therefore the opening-fire procedures did not apply."
The trial is due to continue next month.
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