Father of Slain Palestinian Teen Appeals Decision Not to Try Israeli Officer Who Shot Him

Israeli military court had found that colonel who shot 17-year-old in back after boy hit army vehicle with rock had not committed crime.

IDF military court in Jaffa.
Tomer Appelbaum

The father of a Palestinian teenager shot dead by the commander of the Binyamin division is appealing the decision to exempt the officer from trial.

Mohammad Kosba, 17, was fatally shot by the then-head of the army's Binyamin Division, Col. Yisrael Shomer, last year. In April military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek decided to close the case against Shomer on the grounds that what he did was not a crime.

Ali, father of Mohammad Kosba, this week appealed that decision to the attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit, through advocate Roni Pelli of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Kosba claims that the ACRI received only partial material from the investigation, and it came very belatedly, about half a year after they asked the military police for it, which hampered submission of the petition itself.

In July 2015, when Shomer’s jeep was near the village of A-Ram, Kosba threw a large rock at it. Shomer and other soldiers in the jeep got out and started to run towards Kosba. Shomer shot at him after Kosba had already fled the scene, as security cameras show, and neither Shomer nor the other soldiers gave him any medical assistance.

According to the military police investigation, Shomer fired the shot while in motion, not using the rifle sights, so it was imprecise. He had carried out the procedure for arresting a suspect, including calling out a warning and firing into the air, and then aimed two bullets at the Palestinian’s legs, but the shots proved fatal. The prosecution decided that the shooting had been justified, in keeping with the arrest procedure, but that it had been carried out badly.

With that, the prosecution accepted Shomer’s claim, that his firing inaccurately at the Palestinian while in motion constituted a professional error, not negligence.

However, ACRI argues that Shomer actually provided two versions of events – and in neither was he in any danger from the Palestinian teenager, so at the very least he was guilty of negligence.

Shomer's differing accounts

In his first version given to the military police, Shomer said that before he fired, he saw Kosba holding something in his hand. “I fired two bullets at the knees and below, at a Palestinian who had thrown a block and who also had something in his hand,” Shomer testified. “It is important to me to say that despite the danger to our lives, I acted judiciously to minimize the damage.” He also said the boy may have taken the bullets in the torso because he bent over.

Questioned later, Shomer said he hadn’t identified a Palestinian boy in his sights, just loosed off the shots inaccurately.

D., Shomer’s radio operator, told a third version of events, saying he didn’t see Kosba holding anything, nor did he see the boy bend over while running. “After I disembarked from the vehicle then I heard the commander firing. The commander reached the Palestinian he’d shot, saw he was dead and told us to leave,” D. said. He added that he had shouted to the Palestinian to stop but hadn’t had a chance to fire warning shots because his commander already “fired three shots and the guy fell.”

Asked if the Palestinian had posed a life-threatening danger after throwing the rock at their jeep, D. answered, “After he threw the rock and we disembarked from the vehicle, that Palestinian individually was no danger to our lives, in my view. He himself was no danger, though the surroundings, in which about 300 Palestinians were crowding, did endanger our lives.”

He added that he had not heard Shomer shout for the Palestinian to stop and fire warning shots, but noted that this might have been because of surrounding noise.

The officer in charge of firepower in the army, who is the highest authority on firing techniques, was asked whether firing a gun while in motion as Shomer did, without using the gunsights, is proper. “I cannot say it is,” he told the military police. “Hypothetically, it’s negligence.”

Attorney Pelli hopes that the attorney general will require the Binyamin commander to undergo trial after all, for manslaughter, or at least negligent homicide.

In his appeal, the father notes that the so-called “professional error cost Mohammed Ali Kosba his life. Shomer admitted that he had deviated from the open-fire procedures by shooting at the back of a minor fleeing from him, while running, without aiming, after the deceased posed no threat to him anymore. After the shooting, the commander did not trouble himself to summon help for the 17-year-old, lying there bleeding, badly wounded.”

The gaps in the versions of the incident and the fact that none of the three soldiers present saw or heard Shomer holler for Kosba to stop or fire warning shots before shooting him cast extreme suspicion on Shomer's version, the appeal maintains.