Here's What Happens With the Investigations the Israeli Army Launches When It Kills Innocent Palestinians

Almost every time Israeli soldiers kill a Palestinian in the territories, the army announces the opening of an investigation by the Military Police. But a look back at incidents reported here over the past year reveals that such inquiries rarely conclude – if they ever began

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Gideon Levy
Alex Levac
Gideon Levy
Alex Levac

Only one case was urgent for them, for the law enforcement authorities in the territories. Amazingly, their investigation ended quickly and the suspects were even put on trial, accused of committing serious crimes. That was the exception – the anomaly of anomalies – that proves the rule. Five officers of the Border Police who are suspected of abusing Palestinians on 14 different occasions in July at the separation barrier near the Meitar checkpoint near Hebron, beating them bloody and robbing them, were indicted within less than a month of committing their crimes. We need to wait and see what the verdict the Be’er Sheva District Court will hand down, but the serious indictments and the speed with which they were filed is unbelievable.

The actions the five Border Police officers are charged with are appalling, but they didn’t kill anyone. The body that worked so speedily in their cases is the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct, known as Mahash in the Hebrew acronym. That is the same unit that has been dragging its feet unforgivingly for four months in the investigation of the killing of Eyad Hallaq, the young Palestinian with special needs who was shot to death senselessly by two Border Police officers as he lay on the ground in the Old City of Jerusalem.

That should have been one of the speediest and simplest inquiries that Mahash has ever conducted. There were security cameras at the scene – though the footage mysteriously disappeared – there was at least one eyewitness, there are solid facts. The identity of the two officers who took part in the killing is known – they are walking about freely – but the end of the investigation is nowhere in sight, and even when it does conclude, it’s unlikely that anyone will be brought to justice for the execution of a helpless person.

Khairy Hallaq at home, with photos of his son, Eyad.
Khairy Hallaq at home, with photos of his son, Eyad.Credit: Alex Levac

Mahash worked fast in the case of the abusive behavior of the Border Police at Meitar, but only because they robbed their victims, and that’s something the occupation authorities don’t like. The law enforcement units of the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police have always accepted killing, murder, unwarranted shooting and abuse with far greater understanding, if not complete disregard, than they do looting. The only soldier who was tried, and even sentenced to prison, after Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip (in 2008-2009) was a Givati infantry brigade soldier who stole credit cards and cash from a Palestinian. None of those who killed some 1,400 Palestinians, among them women and children – that is, the ones who carried out the shelling and the bombing during the operation – was punished. That’s IDF morality.

This week we looked into the progress of investigations of a few of the cases in which IDF soldiers killed or seriously wounded Palestinians, about which this column wrote in recent months. Not one investigation has ended, we were told – not even the ostensibly simplest of them, not even in cases that happened many months ago. The soldiers who did the shooting remain free; some have already completed their military service.

The agony of the bereaved Palestinian families is thus augmented by a painful feeling of injustice because those who shot or killed their loved ones are not even being brought to trial and will almost certainly never be punished. It’s hard to argue with the feeling of being wronged that is experienced by virtually every bereaved Palestinian family, which seeks at least a measure of belated justice for its loss.

Ask Rana and Khairy Hallaq, Eyad’s parents, who have petitioned the High Court of Justice over the endless foot-dragging of the investigation into their son’s killing. They, too, know that it is extremely unlikely that their son’s killers will face a criminal trial.

This week, Haaretz submitted to the IDF Spokesman’s Unit a list of other cases in which Palestinians were killed or seriously wounded during the past year or so – all of which raised a suspicion that they were unnecessary and criminal acts – and inquired as to how the investigations were proceeding. The result is dismaying, even if could have been expected. Not one inquest has concluded. They will all conclude, obviously, with consignment to oblivion, made to disappear, to gather dust in the archives. With nothing.

A funeral for members of the Sawarka family killed in overnight Israeli missile strikes that targeted their house, the town of Dir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, Nov. 14, 2019.
A funeral for members of the Sawarka family killed in overnight Israeli missile strikes that targeted their house, the town of Dir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, Nov. 14, 2019. Credit: Khalil Hamra / AP

Last November 14, almost a year ago, in Operation Black Belt, the air force bombed the home of Noor Sawarka in Dir al-Balah, a city in the Gaza Strip. Noor, an 11-year-old girl, was then in the sixth grade. The air force killed her parents, Yusra and Mohammed, and her two brothers Muaz, 7, and Waseem, 13. Her uncle Rasmi, his wife and their three children were also killed in the attack; all were killed in their sleep. Only Noor was awake, having been roused by the noise of the planes before they bombed her home. Nine people, completely innocent of any crime, killed in their beds.

In cases of air force bombings, there is no need for the Military Police to investigate, of course. These are pilots who are involved. Moreover, the force’s self-investigations, which are not of a criminal nature like those of the Military Police and put no one on trial, apparently suffice. The trenchant conclusions of the Gaza attack were made public last December: “The target was identified as an Islamic Jihad training facility.” A ramshackle tin hut, its walls made partly of plastic sheeting – a threatening military target indeed that deserved to be bombed from the sky. That information was enough not to spark an inquest, to try anyone, still less to punish anyone.

“The operation created conditions to improve the situation in Gaza,” the air force investigation found, although there was acknowledgement that “non-combatants were injured.” How about medals to the airmen who killed nine members of a family? Nine dead souls, a family annihilated, orphaned children. No one is guilty.

Palestinian mourners carry the body of Omar Badawi, 22, during his funeral at the al-Aroub refugee camp in the West Bank city of Hebron, Nov. 11, 2019.
Palestinian mourners carry the body of Omar Badawi, 22, during his funeral at the al-Aroub refugee camp in the West Bank city of Hebron, Nov. 11, 2019.Credit: Majdi Mohammed / AP

Three days earlier, on November 11, 2019, Omar Badawi, from the Al-Aroub refugee camp in the southern West Bank, went outside to extinguish flames that were licking at the wall of his home – a fire that had started when youths tried to throw a Molotov cocktail at soldiers but hit the house instead. As video footage of the incident shows, Badawi, who was 22 at the time of his death, was holding a towel, with which he hoped to put out the small fire. The moment he stepped outside, soldiers positioned in the alley across the way shot him to death. Maybe they thought the towel was a missile, or a shell. The IDF Spokesman’s Unit provided the following response at the time: “The incident in question is under investigation, following which the findings will be forwarded to the military advocate general. Naturally, details cannot be provided at present concerning an ongoing investigation.”

That was 10 months ago. This week that unit informed me that the investigation hasn’t yet concluded. What’s so complicated about it?

Abd el-Rahman Shatawi at an intensive care unit in an Israeli hospital
Abd el-Rahman Shatawi at an intensive care unit in an Israeli hospitalCredit: Alex Levac

Two children were shot in the head in Kafr Qaddum, west of Nablus, a few months apart. On July 12, 2019, an IDF soldier shot Abd el-Rahman Shatawi, who wasn’t yet 10 years old and is small for his age. The boy was standing at the entrance to the home of a friend during the weekly demonstration in the village, which was not nearby. The soldier fired shots from the top of a hill at a considerable distance, directly at the child’s head. Prof. Gideon Paret, the director of the intensive care unit at Sheba Medical Center, in Ramat Gan, to which the boy was brought, thought there was hope for recovery back then, but it was not to be. Abd el-Rahman remains in a vegetative state in a rehabilitative center in Beit Jala, outside Bethlehem. Here’s what the IDF Spokesman’s Unit said at the time about the remote shooting of a 9-year-old boy in the head: “… In the course of the event, a Palestinian minor was wounded. The incident is being investigated by the commander. At the conclusion of the investigation, the findings will be transmitted to the military advocate general’s office for further examination.” This time a Military Police investigation wasn’t even required, as the incident was under “investigation by the commander,” a process that is of course above all suspicion. Yet, the inquiry into the shooting of this little boy also hasn’t concluded and it’s been well over a year.

Qusay Shatawi, near where his friend Mohammed was shot.
Qusay Shatawi, near where his friend Mohammed was shot. Credit: Alex Levac

About half a year later, on January 30, 2020, Abd el-Rahman’s 14-year-old cousin, Mohammed Shatawi, was shot in the head. During the weekly demonstration in Qaddum, he hid behind a rock; a soldier shot him in the head when he peeked out from his hiding place. He, too, was in a vegetative state when we visited him in the children’s ICU at Hadassah Medical Center, Ein Karem, Jerusalem. This time the IDF didn’t even bother to launch an investigation. What is there to investigate here? The Spokesman’s Unit made do with a harrowing response: “A claim about a Palestinian who was wounded by a rubber bullet is known about.” The claim is “known about.”

Sgt. Tarek Badwan's son, Tayim, stands next a memorial poster for his father.
Sgt. Tarek Badwan's son, Tayim, stands next a memorial poster for his father.Credit: Alex Levac

Last February 6, officer Sgt. Tarek Badwan was standing at the entrance to the Palestinian police station in Jenin, where he serves, talking with friends. Suddenly an Israeli soldier fired a round from a distance, killing him. At first the IDF tried to claim that there had been shooting from the direction of the station, but the video clip taken by the Palestinian police showed Badwan standing innocently with his buddies in the door of the station. The IDF quickly dropped its account and made do by stating, then as now: “The investigation has not yet concluded.”

Nidal Harashi, Bader's father.
Nidal Harashi, Bader's father. Credit: Alex Levac

Nor has the investigation concluded into the killing in February of 20-year-old Bader Harashi, who went to the separation barrier near the village of Qaffin, north of Tul Karm, to demonstrate against the so-called Trump plan. “You should be ashamed of yourself. Why are you here? Go back to your village, to your wife and family,” Harashi shouted in Arabic to a soldier, apparently a Druze, standing a few meters from him. According to an eyewitness, the soldier retorted, “I came here to break your head.” The soldier then left, but returned a few minutes later in a jeep, opened the door and fired one round into Harashi’s head, killing him.

No reason to rush into an investigation here. What happened, after all? And indeed, we were informed this week, the criminal investigation division of the Military Police is still looking into the case, which is incredibly complicated.

Zeid Qaysiyah’s mother Barlanet shows a photo of her deceased son on her cell phone. Her other son, Jihad, sits next to her.
Zeid Qaysiyah’s mother Barlanet shows a photo of her deceased son on her cell phone. Her other son, Jihad, sits next to her. Credit: Alex Levac

Last but not least, there was Zeid Qaysiyah, the 17-year-old from the Al-Fawar refugee camp, south of Hebron, who dreamed of becoming a professional singer, and in the meantime sang on the street using a simple sound system that his mother bought him. On May 13, a force from the elite Duvdevan special ops unit raided this out-of-the-way camp to execute a mission of supreme security importance: the arrest of an intellectually disabled 18-year-old, Ayman Halikawi, who had written a provocative Facebook post. The famed unit failed in its mission, however: Halikawi wasn’t home. Instead, one of its soldiers shot Zeid Qaysiyah, who was standing on the roof of his house with his little brother and young cousins to watch the events on the street from a distance. The soldier fired from a long way off, at a roof from which he was separated by yet another roof – a place from which no stone could have hit the troops. The bullet slammed into the face of the young singer, killing him instantly. His voice will never be heard again, The IDF Spokesman’s Unit stated: “After the incident, a report was received about a Palestinian who was killed, and a Military Police investigation was launched. At its conclusion the findings…”

Of course, you already know how this story continues – and also how it ends.

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