Israel will pay 2 million shekels ($600,000) to a Palestinian youth from East Jerusalem who was wounded in the eye by a sponge-tipped bullet fired by a police officer. The Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct decided to close the case against the policeman due to “lack of public interest.”
The petitioner was Ismail Khalil, a resident of the Shoafat refugee camp, who was 15 when he was shot by a policeman in 2015. On that day, hundreds of police came to the refugee camp to provide security for the demolition of a house belonging to Ibrahim al-Akari, who had been convicted of a car-ramming terror attack in which two people were killed. Al-Akari’s house was located near a school that Khalil attended, and the principal had decided to cancel school that day out of concern that clashes would erupt between pupils and policemen. Khalil’s father took him home.
As the forces were leaving the camp after the demolition, Khalil was standing beside his house with some friends. Suddenly, they heard gunshots and started to run away. During their flight, Khalil was hit by a sponge-tipped bullet in the eye. He was taken to a local clinic and from there to a hospital in Ramallah. He was later transferred in serious condition to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem, where he was put in the intensive care unit. Doctors had to take out his left eye and he underwent brain catheterization and several operations to repair damage to his skull, including the transplantation of a prosthetic section.
Since he was shot, Khalil has been suffering from a host of health and mental problems. He had to leave his regular school and started attending a school for children with special needs. Three months after the incident, attorney Shlomo Lecker, who is representing the family, filed a complaint with the unit for investigating police misconduct. Seven months after the incident, he got a reply. “After examining your complaint and the entirety of the material we have, and after seriously weighing the relevant circumstances of this incident, we’ve concluded that that a criminal investigation is unwarranted, considering the lack of public interest in proceeding with this file.”
In addition to this complaint, Lecker filed a civil suit against the state at the Magistrate’s Court in Haifa. Lecker argued that the shooting was illegal and contrary to police directives on opening fire, and that there was negligence, hastiness or flippant conduct on the part of the police.
The state argued that Khalil was to blame for his injury by not adhering to police instructions and by not proceeding with caution. The state argued that stones and Molotov cocktails were being thrown at policemen at the time near the site of the incident. Recently, after prolonged discussions, the state agreed to a compromise, according to which Khalil’s family will receive 1.92 million shekels in compensation.
This is an exceptional case of compensation given to people injured by the police in East Jerusalem. According to Lecker, Palestinians have to overcome substantial barriers when seeking compensation in such cases. “Even when they are innocent of any wrongdoing, even according to the state’s criteria, their path to receiving compensation is almost totally blocked,” he says.
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“First of all, the police misconduct unit does everything it can to prevent the investigation of an incident. Secondly, in the absence of a decision that a criminal offense has been committed, the chances of winning a civil suit are slim. This is partly due to a Supreme Court ruling which greatly expanded policemen’s freedom of action, by determining that it’s enough for a policeman to feel subjectively threatened to exonerate him. Thirdly, the courts routinely tend to reject claims for damages by Palestinians against the state,” Lecker said.
Police procedure bars the firing of sponge-tipped bullets at juveniles or into a crowd of people. They can only be fired at the lower extremities of those engaged in rioting or stone-throwing.
In recent years, dozens of children have been wounded by sponge-tipped bullets, including a large number who have lost eyes. In one incident a young boy was killed after being hit in the temple by such a bullet. No police officers have been indicted for illegal use of sponge-tipped bullets.
The Justice Ministry’s police misconduct unit said in response: “After seriously considering the totality of the relevant circumstances, the [unit] came to the conclusion that there were no grounds to open a criminal investigation in this case, and it was therefore decided to close the case.”
In another case, the state and the private security firm Modi’in Ezrahi will pay 230,000 shekels to Mazen Odeh, a Palestinian resident of the East Jerusalem Silwan neighborhood who was shot by a security guard hired by the Construction and Housing Ministry to guard the homes of Jewish residents of the neighborhood. Odeh was shot in the leg in 2010 while on his way to a neighborhood mosque shortly after stones were thrown at security guards.