Opinion

Why B'Tselem Stopped Cooperating With Israeli Military Investigations

Israel's whitewashing machine did not surprise us: The soldier who riddled a 15-year-old boy with bullets won't be prosecuted

Mother Amal Badran, left, takes a last look at her son Mahmoud, 15, during his funeral in the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Tahta, near Ramallah, June 23, 2016.
Nasser Nasser/AP

Amal, the mother of Mahmoud Badran, was probably worried. She worried the way any mother of a 15-year-old boy worries about her son. She worried that the cousins would fool around too much on that hot summer evening in June 2016 at the water park in the West Bank town of Beit Sira.

She worried that 21-year-old Ahad, the only one of the seven young people out that day old enough to drive, would have trouble maneuvering the twists and turns of the narrow road on the way to the tunnel. It was the tunnel that we dug for them with the generosity of lords and masters, so they could crawl under the highway that we paved for ourselves on land that we stole from them.

Just maneuver the winding road, a tunnel, a few more minutes and the boys would be home to a worried mother in the village of Beit Ur al-Tahta in the central West Bank. But Mahmoud Badran didnt return home.

On that sweltering night, as they were making their way back from the water park, an Israeli soldier riddled the car with bullets. From the shoulder of the highway, looking down at the car traveling on the narrow road on its way to the tunnel, it was an easy target.

Mahmoud was killed on the spot. The driver Ahad and one of the seven cousins were seriously injured, while two were moderately injured. The injured found shelter in the "fabric of life" tunnel that we dug for the nation of subjects whose life – and death – we control.

As fate would have it, several weeks before the army, which we sent to the territories to rule over the inhabitants, killed Mahmoud, human rights group B'Tselem announced that it would stop filing complaints with Metzah, the Military Police investigation unit, on behalf of Palestinians who were harmed by the security services, including cases of killing, wounding or abuse.

This decision came after more than 25 years of B'Tselem trying to work with the military law enforcement system; our efforts included thorough investigations, gathering testimony and collecting medical documents. But in almost no cases was anyone prosecuted.

Based on this experience, we at B'Tselem couldn't help but reach the conclusion that cried out from every case that was closed without results: This is a whitewashing mechanism. Its goal is not to carry out justice or give an accounting of the facts, but rather to dissolve, blur and cover up. In the end there are explanations worded in long and tortuous sentences, in legalese, which translated into Hebrew all say the same thing: Palestinian blood is of no value.

We concluded our investigation of the killing of Mahmoud with the following words. Although the army announced the opening of a Metzah investigation to clarify the circumstances of the incident, just as B'Tselem claimed in a report about a month ago, the military law enforcement system serves mainly as a whitewashing mechanism, and therefore we should not pin many hopes on the belief that this investigation will lead to a systemic change in the armys policy and the administration of justice.

The killing of Mahmoud and the injuring of the teenagers who were with him in the car was one of the first cases in which we refused to continue to participate in the theater of whitewashing. Instead, we investigated the incident, published the testimony for the public, and specifically presented our assessment of the true function of a Metzah investigation into such cases.

Since then 19 months have passed, and with them more casualties. Files were opened, files were closed. The whitewashing mechanism continued to do what it has always done. I know the facts and I'm familiar with the figures, so I had no hope of justice – not from Metzah, not from the military prosecution and not from the courts.

And still, when a few days ago Haaretz published an article stating that this case was also expected to be closed, it was impossible not to cry out at the way the killing of another Palestinian was being whitewashed. It's being whitewashed even though these were teens on their way home from a summer outing, even when it's completely clear that there is no way to explain such a barrage and the bullets' deadly consequences.

And after the shock, there is no choice but to state the naked truth once again: Violence for which no price is paid is one of the foundations of the occupation. Without it, the regime will collapse. Anyone who feels that the temporary continuation of the current situation is a reasonable option is also ready to accept the continuation of the horror and the whitewashing.

Thousands of Israelis who use Route 443 every day pass over the tunnel without noticing it. They may glance for a moment at the place where the officer stood and from where the bullets were fired, and perhaps for a second, from the corner of their eye, theyll see the place where Mahmoud died. There is no memorial or any other landmark there.

Let every Arab mother know that the fate of her sons has been handed over to the nation of lords and masters that believes that it deserves to rule. After all, the highways are ours and the bureaucracy that knows how to wash the blood away is ours, and the tunnels and the bullets with which we shower them are theirs.

Mahmoud Badran was 15 years old when he died. May his memory be a blessing.

Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of human rights group B'Tselem.