Witnesses Say Israeli Policeman Shot Sponge-tipped Bullet at 9-year-old Palestinian

Witness of incident that may cause boy to lose his eyesight says he was told to 'move on' when he protested; policeman not yet summoned for statement

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Malek Issa in his hospital bed.
Malek Issa in his hospital bed. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Two Palestinian men from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah testified Wednesday that they saw a police officer shoot a sponge-tipped bullet at a young boy on Saturday.

Malek Issa, 9, was shot in the face during clashes between residents and security forces. After three days in intensive care, he was moved Tuesday to a pediatric ward. He was scheduled for surgery Wednesday afternoon during which doctors expected to remove one of his eyes.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 63

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The first witness, Musa Mustafa, is a bus driver who appears in surveillance camera footage from the time of the shooting. The actual shooting and Issa being hit are not seen in the footage, but the behavior of people on the scene shows that there was a shooting nearby. Seconds later the boy is seen being carried, motionless, into a car. Mustafa said policemen were standing 50 meters away from Issa, who had just emerged from a grocery store and was running home.

“The policemen were standing there, no one was talking to them. I saw the policeman take aim and shoot. After he fired, I opened the bus door and got out. I yelled at him that he’d taken the boy’s eye out, and he told me to move on. Other policemen wanted to beat me up, but I told them there were little kids still in the bus.”

The second witness was Omar Dari, a friend of the bus driver, who was standing nearby. “The boy got off the school bus and went into the grocery. As soon as he came out and crossed the road the policeman shot him. The boy fell to the ground. There was nothing – no one was throwing stones. I don’t know why he fired.”

Malek Issa in the hospital after being wounded, and before the shooting.Credit: Courtesy of Issa family

Mustafa and Dari gave statements Wednesday at the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating police officers. On Tuesday, investigators from the unit went to the scene of the shooting after talking to the boy’s parents in the hospital. The ministry is considering these actions as part of a probing into the incident rather than an official investigation.

Evacuation of Malek Issa after being hit by a sponge-tipped bullet in Isawiyah, February 15, 2020.

The policeman has not yet been summoned to give his own version of the events. He admitted having firing his gun, but said he fired only a single sponge-tipped bullet, aiming at a wall in order to calibrate the sights in case he needed to use his gun later. 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.

Police regulations prohibit firing sponge-tipped rounds at children, and if fired at a human, cannot be aimed anywhere but the lower body. The regulations note that hitting the upper body from a range of 50 meters "can cause moderate to serious injuries, depending on the part of the body that was hit.” Police regulations do state that a trial shot should be fired first, but there are no details as to how this should be accomplished.

Issa remains in Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem. On Tuesday he was transferred from the intensive care unit to the pediatric ward. He was scheduled for additional surgery on Wednesday afternoon, during which doctors would probably have to remove his left eye which was badly injured. They are trying to save his right eye, which could be affected by inflammation spreading from the other eye. Contrary to initial concerns, Issa does not seem to have suffered brain damage and is conscious and communicating with his parents.

In recent days, hundreds of Israelis have donated over 30,000 shekels ($8,800) to help Issa’s family. The boy’s father, Wahel Issa, works in a Tel Aviv restaurant. He left work in order to be by his son’s bedside. He told Haaretz that throughout the recent tension in Isawiyah, he prohibited his children from going out alone, for fear that policemen might hurt them.

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