Probe All Civilian Killings, Not Just the Embarrassing Ones

For example, a soldier killing a 20-year-old Palestinian this month should be investigated, not just the incident at the Allenby Bridge.

Lior Mizrahi

First it was an attempted terrorist attack. A Palestinian at the Allenby border crossing got off a bus, yelled “Allahu Akbar” and ran toward a soldier, trying to snatch his gun. Soldiers and other security people rushed to the scene and, considering the situation life-threatening, shot the attacker.

That man was reported to be a 38-year-old resident of Nablus. Later it was reported that he actually lived in Amman and was a judge with a PhD. It turned out he was also a father of two and his 5-year-old son was in the hospital in serious condition.

Later we learned that the cameras at the crossing that were supposed to record the event were out of order, and that five bullets had pierced the judge’s body. Although some witnesses have said the man attacked soldiers with an iron rod, another said the incident began as an argument that turned into a brawl that ended in a shooting.

The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement of regret and condolences to the Jordanian people and their government. The Jordanians received the results of the preliminary investigation, and a joint Israeli-Jordanian commission of inquiry was set up. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and President Shimon Peres also expressed their sorrow.

It’s too early to know the chain of events that led to Raed Zueter’s death. Presumably an Israeli-Jordanian team that bases its findings on an investigation led by a brigadier general will conduct a thorough probe that will enable Zueter’s family to know what really happened. Any unjustified suspicions about the soldiers’ actions will be lifted. Hopefully this process will reduce the chances of such an event happening again.

On the same day of the Allenby bridge incident, 20-year-old Saji Darwish was shot in the head by a soldier in the West Bank. According to the army, namely the soldiers who shot him, Darwish was throwing stones at Israeli vehicles. We can’t tell if that’s the case or if a soldier’s life was in danger when the young man was shot, or if nonlethal methods were tried first. It’s doubtful this will ever be established.

Unlike the incident at the Allenby crossing, Darwish’s death has not been the subject of an investigation. Judging from experience, such an investigation probably wouldn’t lead anywhere. According to UN sources, 27 people, most of them unarmed, were shot dead by Israeli security forces in 2013. According to human rights group B’Tselem, the Military Police investigated many of these incidents, but charges were laid only once.

The past year was not unusual in this regard. After the second intifada, the army’s policy was not to call for investigations when Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli forces.

But a petition by B’Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel changed all this. Since 2011 the military advocate general’s policy has been for investigations whenever a civilian is killed. Still, such probes are sluggish and ineffective. Only a small number of investigations lead to prosecutions, and even fewer result in deterrent punishments.

The Turkel committee that looked into the raid on the 2010 Gaza flotilla criticized the way the military investigates itself. In its recommendations published in 2013, the committee said inquiries into army killings of civilians should be professional, prompt and supervised by civilians.

A team headed by a former director general of the Foreign Ministry, Joseph Ciechanover, is discussing ways to implement these recommendations. Hopefully the team will take the proposals seriously and the government will do everything to ensure independent, effective and unbiased investigations in all cases, not just ones that embarrass us diplomatically.

Serious investigations and full punishments for soldiers who disregard regulations or act illegally should be in the interest of the defense establishment. A policy of winks and nods can only do it harm.

If the government is interested in the image projected by Israel and its foreign policy, it must show that it conducts a thorough process of self-examination. It mustn’t make do with expressions of sorrow after someone’s death.