The case of a 9-year-old Palestinian boy shot in the face by border police officers in East Jerusalem has been closed due to lack of evidence, the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct announced Thursday.
According to witnesses, Malek Issa entered a shop after getting off his school bus in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah in February. When he exited the shop and crossed the street, he was shot in the eye with a sponge-tipped bullet and collapsed. Witnesses said there were no clashes between Palestinian residents and Israeli forces at the time.
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During the course of the investigation, two Jerusalem police officers from the riot control unit were questioned under suspicion of involvement in the shooting: the police officer who fired the gun, and another officer who was tasked with helping him aim.
According to one of the two officers investigated, he fired at a wall in order to calibrate the sights in case he needed to use his gun later, a practice that is not unusual in operational activities. He said he saw the bullet hit the wall, not the child, and said he believed the boy was hit by a stone or by a car. He maintained that nobody was in the vicinity of the wall when he fired the weapon, although Issa told the investigators that he himself was nowhere near the wall.
The two testimonies made it difficult for the Justice Ministry unit to take a definitive position on whether the sponge-tipped bullet caused the serious injury. Although the Institute of Forensic Medicine’s stance is that Issa’s eye injury matches one that could be caused by a sponge-tipped bullet, it could not conclusively rule out the possibility that it was caused by a stone.
The Justice Ministry unit came to the conclusion that in criminal proceedings, there remained reasonable doubt that will benefit the officer who shot the gun. When questioned, the second officer said that he did not take notice of the event. The case against him was subsequently closed due to a lack of guilt.
Attorney Dov Gilad Cohen, who represents the officer accused of wounding Issa, welcomed the decision, saying that there was no evidentiary or clinical connection between the sponge-tipped bullet his client fired, in accordance with protocol, and Issa’s injury.
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Malek’s father Wael told Haaretz Thursday that the family would appeal, as did their attorney, Ilanit Kirshenboim. “They ruined my boy’s life,” Wael Issa said. “We won’t give up, we’ll go with this to the end.”
He added that his son suffers from emotional problems as a result of his injury and is struggling in school, to which he has now returned after a long absence. “The officer admitted that he shot, why are they closing the case? There’s no justice in this world.”
After the incident, Malek was fitted with a glass eye, which was paid for by donations. Wael says that the eye fell out while he was in school, and that he did not want to return to his studies afterward.
A security camera video released after the incident shows what happened moments before. People are seen walking on the street, and at a certain point Issa runs towards an area out of view. Then, people are seen running towards the boy, and one of them grasps his head in his hands. Seconds later, Issa, unconscious, is taken into a car and evacuated for medical treatment.
Joint List MK Ofer Cassif responded to the decision, saying that there was no way it could take ten months to investigate the case but for “hiding documents, coordinating testimonies and concealing evidence.” He added that the decision gives “official approval to keep shooting” at Palestinian children.
According to police protocol, sponge-tipped bullets cannot be shot at children, and can only be fired at the lower torso of adults. The protocols clarify that “a hit at the upper body at a range of 50 meters can cause moderate to serious injury,” and that “a hit to the neck and head can cause very serious wounds.”