So, Israeli soldiers didn’t mean to kill Razan al-Najjar, a Palestinian paramedic who died after being shot in the chest on June 1.
That’s according to a preliminary Israel Defense Forces investigation. The first news report of the ongoing inquiry's findings said that Israeli soldiers did not fire at Najjar. Anyone who was willing to settle for this reassuring announcement, could have reached the conclusion, obviously, that a different side shot her – the Palestinian side, for example. But a subsequent correction said that she was not the target of the fatal bullet, which apparently first hit something else and ricocheted, hitting her. Or perhaps she was hit by shrapnel.
Can the soldiers be believed when they say that none of them aimed his rifle at the paramedic? Can their commanders be believed? “Anything is possible,” a friend with combat experience told me. “It’s possible that the bullet hit a rock and ricocheted off of it, but the probability of that happening is something like 0.01 percent.”
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Uniformed personnel have all the reasons and opportunities in the world to lie. When it’s clear that the other side didn’t have a concealed camera that captured the soldier or the police officer as he aimed his weapon, hit the detainee or made the arrest, one can cling to a lie and have the support of a battery of military jurists who graduated with honors from our law schools. One can cling to the theory of the handcuffed demonstrator who assaulted a fully armed soldier or police officer, and one can cling to the theory that the bullet ricocheted off a random rock or iron post. And one can continue to see our soldiers as upstanding angels who would never even think of telling a lie.
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And yet, there have been cases where photographs proved what we knew all along, what the propaganda machine of the IDF Spokesman’s Office tried to conceal. For example, that the soldiers who killed Hadeel al-Hashlamoun in Hebron in September 2015 lied when they claimed that the young woman posed a danger to them, even after they shot her in the legs and she lay wounded on the ground at the checkpoint. Or that Border Policeman Ben Dery – who was convicted of the wrongful death due to negligence of Nadim Nuwara, 17, on May 15, 2014 in Bitunia – lied throughout the judicial process. The prosecution abetted the lie by ignoring the fact that in the incident the “fighting force” fired not one live bullet, despite the rules for opening fire, but four bullets that killed Nuwara and injured two others.
Soldiers also lie when they arrest Palestinians and claim that they were caught in the act of throwing rocks. It’s generally not worth getting into a battle over evidence in court: If they deny the accusation, the Palestinians who usually remain in custody for the duration of the proceedings will spend more time in jail than they would have had they confessed to a felony they did not commit. But there have been cases in which teenagers were released during the trial and the soldiers’ lies were exposed in court.
When the reassuring announcement was issued, according to which the soldiers did not intend to kill Najjar, in one of the Israeli reports the news announcer added that “the IDF does not shoot at medics or children.” It wasn’t clear whether he was quoting from the official IDF spokesman’s statement or speaking from personal knowledge. In any event, that too is far from the truth. On May 14, a medic from the Palestinian Civil Defense died as the result of lung collapse after being shot by IDF soldiers; persistent gunfire deterred his fellow medics from reaching him.
Shortly before that incident, a very precise bullet hit the left leg of a physician who was at the site with other medical personnel – and who was wearing his green hospital scrubs. The bullet entered on one side, below the knee, and exited from the other side, grazing his right knee. The doctor and his patients were lucky that no blood vessels were hit and no bones were shattered. But a soldier shot him. It was a direct hit, not an innocent bullet that ricocheted off of some random rock before penetrating his leg. In the week of May 13-20 alone, eight medical personnel were injured by live ammunition and six by shrapnel. The absence of Israeli media coverage of the incidents doesn’t mean they did not happen.
After the military establishment solved the problem of Najjar’s killing for the majority of Israelis, it played another winning card: The young paramedic, so it was claimed, was filmed taking part in a terrible act of terror before she was killed: She threw something with smoke coming out of it that appeared to be a tear gas canister. Our media outlets had a field day.
The only problem is that the edited video clip issued by the IDF Spokesman’s Office in Arabic shows some woman (her face can’t be seen) throwing a short distance a smoking grenade that someone else had handed to her. No brave soldier who might have been injured is visible. What we see is typical Palestinian ingenuity: Instead of fleeing from the tear gas grenade fired at them by soldiers, they simply catch it and throw it away from them. Abdullah Abu Rahman of the West Bank village of Bil’in was indicted nearly a decade ago on weapons possession charges after holding an exhibition of large numbers of empty tear gas and percussion grenades fired by soldiers to disperse demonstrations by unarmed residents against the separation barrier that deprived them of their land. So why not declare the paramedic a terrorist, posthumously?