On February 20, Israeli soldiers seriously injured a Palestinian teenager near Baytin in the West Bank, after they shot at a vehicle the army spokesperson said was travelling in their direction, an event that was largely relayed in the media as a car-ramming attempt.
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But Haaretz has found that, based on observation, interviews with the people involved and video evidence, the car and its occupants posed no danger to the soldiers at the moment they shot the car.
The soldiers were reportedly pursuing firebomb throwers, when they encountered four Palestinian teenagers from nearby Deir Dibwan riding in a car without license plates. The driver, Seif, 15, works in a garage and had borrowed the car. He was driving without a licence.
Mohammed Sarameh, also 15, sat in the back and was shot in the back and left thigh. A day after the incident, Sarameh was on a respirator in an induced coma. Last week, Sarameh told Haaretz that he has no feeling in one of his legs and he also had trouble speaking; his medical file confirms he cannot move his limbs and has sustained many injuries in his abdomen. He is still in hospital and awaiting more surgery.
According to two of the boys who spoke with Haaretz and another who gave testimony to B'Tselem, they were on their way from Deir Dibwan to Baytin around 8:30 P.M. that evening, when they noticed a military jeep traveling from the opposite direction on the two-way and narrow road. Out of panic, Seif attempted a U-turn but hit a rock on the side of the road. The car came to a stop.
According to the teenagers, this is when soldiers got out of the jeep and fired into the air, and then at the vehicle.
The army has changed its version of events about the incident. A military source told Haaretz that one of the soldiers in the jeep was on the ground when the car sped up in his direction and the soldier fired several shots into the air before the car tried to do a U-turn and got stuck on the rock.
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A look at the car shows that signs of entry appear only on the back of the vehicle. If the soldiers shot while the car was careening toward them, there should be bullet holes on the front or sides of the vehicle.
While Sarameh was taken to hospital for treatment his friends in the car were held for questioning and released three hours later. Inquiries by Haaretz the next day found that none of the youths in the car were considered to be suspected of any attacks or attempted attacks.
Two video clips show the car stuck on one of the rocks and idling, facing away from the soldiers. The youths said that once the soldiers understood that one was injured they took him out of the car and had him taken to Israel for medical treatment.
Two of the young men said a soldier hit Seif, the driver, with his rifle butt. The owner of the repair shop where Seif works told Haaretz he arrived at the scene by chance about two hours after the incident and identified the car as his. He said he saw the youths at the scene but not their faces because of the darkness; but he confirmed noticing Seif's bruised face the next day.
The IDF Spokesperson said in response: “On February 20, 2020 the IDF carried out an operation to prevent hostile terrorist action near the village of Baytin. During the incident, gunshots were fired at a suspicious car. The incident was investigated and preliminary findings show the troops saw a car accelerating toward them and thought it was an attempted car ramming therefore they shot at the vehicle.
After the car came to a stop it turned out there were a number of Palestinian youths inside who tried to flee the military force. The passenger who was wounded by the gunfire was treated on the scene by an IDF soldier and taken to a hospital for medical care.”