The son of Samer Sleiman, in whose house police planted a rifle for the filming of the docudrama "Jerusalem District," was recognized by Israel as a victim of a hostile act after a policeman blinded him by shooting him in the face with a rubber bullet. However, the Police Investigations Unit at the Justice Ministry, which probes police misconduct, never identified the policeman and closed the case.
Salah Sleiman was only 11 and a half when he was walking home from the grocery store and found himself at a violent protest in Isawiya in October 2014. He was approaching the protest and wanted to cross the street, he says. A policeman noticed him and he signaled with his hands that he wanted to cross. The policeman shot towards him and missed. Then Sleiman attempted to cross and was shot.
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The rubber bullet penetrated his right eye, but he lost sight in both. He has undergone eight operations for the damage to his face.
Acting through advocate Arie Avitan, the family commenced two battles against the state: One for official recognition of the damage caused and another to identify and charge the offending officers.
About a year ago, the state agreed to recognize Salah as a victim of a hostile act and he began to receive national insurance payments. The other goal proved less achievable.
“When they began the investigation, I went to the internal affairs department and the investigator said, maybe go to the site and photograph the place so we understand what’s what,” Avitan says. “They never went into the field to see for themselves. That tells you about the spirit of the investigation."
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Two months ago the State Attorney’s Office closed the case and the family’s appeal was rejected. They claim the officer used black rubber bullets, which are more dangerous than the blue ones.
Only one policeman was using that type of bullet that day, the investigating unit learned, but claimed he didn't resemble the boy's description, so they closed the case.
“Your client’s complaint is supported by medical documentation attesting to the gravity of the injuries caused to him, but his version of events raises questions,” the State Attorney’s Office wrote.
The office affirmed that the boy was hit by a black rubber bullet and that only one officer was using that type – but said that the officer didn't look like the boy's description. “Following your client’s appeal, photographs of the other policemen were collected and none look like your client’s description,” the letter adds.
It rejected the family's appeal to reopen the case. They explained that due to the failure to locate a suspect similar in appearance to the description, the absence of evidence that the shooting was illegal and the passage of four and a half years since the event – rendering it unlikely that new evidence would come to light – no grounds were found to reverse the case's closing.
On Wednesday afternoon Sleiman and Avitan filed a complaint about the police planting the M-16 rifle in his house.
“My expectations are not high,” Avitan says. “I expect responsibility to be accepted, for somebody to investigate. I want to ask the judge who granted the search warrant [of my home], did he know this was part of a TV show? Did he ask what they were searching for? I expect the police to take responsibility, at the level of the district commander and the police commissioner. I expect the officers to provide an explanation."
Black rubber bullets have killed one person and badly injured dozens over the years – including children. In some cases, they were used against procedure. The police are not supposed to aim rifles armed with rubber bullets at children, the elderly or pregnant women and when they do make use of such means, they’re supposed to aim at the legs.