Opinion |

The Israeli Fantasy Regarding the Deaths of Palestinians

The trial of Border Policeman Ben Dery has dragged on for more than two years. A visit to the courtroom shows the wheels of justice turning very strangely indeed.

Amira Hass
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A screenshot from a CNN report on the 2014 incident in Beitunia.
A screenshot from a CNN report on the 2014 incident in Beitunia.
Amira Hass

The voice of the defendant, Ben Dery, was heard in the courtroom only once. As his lawyer, Zion Amir, was cutting off prosecution attorney Yifat Gefen yet again, two words suddenly rang out in the courtroom: “He’s recording!” So that everyone should understand who was carrying out this terrible crime, Dery – who is accused of killing Palestinian teenager Nadim Nuwara on May 15, 2014 – pointed at the bench on the other side of the courtroom, maybe three or four meters away.

Sitting there was MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List). He was indeed holding his smartphone and fiddling with it. Later that same day, Thursday, he was planning to go to Umm al-Hiran, the Bedouin town in southern Israel, and he wasn’t following all of the hearing’s fine points. Incidentally, Amir was also seen focused on his smartphone while prosecutors Gefen and Geulah Cohen were speaking. A representative of the “Zionist legal aid organization” Honenu, sitting between Amir and Dery, listened quietly.

Tibi, clearly surprised by the allegation, said, “It’s a lie.” That was good enough for Jerusalem District Court Judge Daniel Teferberg, but Amir demanded the phone be checked. Tibi told them to stop fussing; he wasn’t recording. The hearing wasn’t closed and there was an official recording. While it’s true that the prosecution spokesman’s office refused to send Haaretz transcripts of previous hearings, the investigative blogger known as “Eishton” obtained them for the report he published last Wednesday, which – unlike the prosecution – analyzed the tactics of the defense and responded to its arguments.

“Ahmad, Ahmad,” said Amir to Tibi, using that tone of apprehension mixed with forgiveness that adults use with children. “Don’t push too much,” replied Tibi. To which Amir said, “You think you can do here what you do in the parliament.” And Teferberg, who had generally been patient with Amir’s interruptions, disruptions and tongue-lashings of the “girls” (the prosecutors), sounded annoyed. “You are the one turning this into the parliament,” he told the defense attorney, but he also silenced Tibi. Until this case, Teferberg had been a family court judge.

Behind Tibi sat bereaved father Siam Nuwara, who attends every hearing religiously. The court had no translator at this session, so Nuwara was being aided by lawyer Firas Asali. Over the past 32 months, Nuwara had been shocked to hear the conspiracy theories that had been raised: that there was no bullet; that there was no live bullet; that there was no victim; that the victim was not his son; that the live fire had come from a different direction, and more.

Eishton labeled this “Pallywood” i.e., the Israeli fantasy that a sophisticated and malicious Palestinian movie industry stages, films and edits videos in which Palestinians are shown being killed in order to incriminate soldiers and Border Policemen.

Ron Goral, from the police’s digital evidence laboratory, had examined the CNN videos that documented the shooting. He assured the court that everything was authentic, and that there had been no editing. He noted the length of the video: 49 seconds, somewhere between 13:59 and 14:00. “That’s at midnight?” asked Teferberg, as if he’d never seen the videos or understood that the incident took place in the middle of the day.

If the army and police had wanted, they could have brought evidence that another three live rounds had been fired and caused casualties that same day.

An hour after Nuwara was killed, someone from that same force shot Mohammed Salameh in the back and killed him. Someone from that force also shot and wounded another youth seriously, while another teenager was lightly wounded. All were hit in their upper bodies, at a range of some 70 meters (230 feet), in violation of the rules of engagement. If it wanted to, the prosecution could have referred to those shootings, too.

It was meant to be the final hearing in a trial that has dragged on for more than two years. The two sides were on the verge of a plea bargain: instead of manslaughter, the conviction would be for causing death by negligence. The live round somehow ended up in a cartridge of nonlethal rounds, and Dery would admit to being negligent in failing to check his ammunition cartridge.

But the defense attorney discovered that the state prosecution had inserted another clause into the agreement, stating that Dery’s life was not in any danger from the stones being thrown by Palestinian teens (when they were shot, neither Nuwara nor Salameh were throwing stones). Amir refused to sign the agreement and, for now, the trial continues.

If the prosecution was prepared to enter into a plea deal, it’s because it apparently “bought” the theory that:

A) In a rare coincidence, just before he fired the live bullet that got mixed up erroneously and negligently in his cartridge, Dery didn’t load the rifle with rubber-coated bullets; or

B) That the barrel extension was loaded with rubber-coated bullets, but one could fire a live round without it encountering them and without the rifle blowing up in the shooter’s face (a danger that soldiers are constantly warned about). And also, that these two rare scenarios happened four times in the same day.

As Eishton wrote: “A bullet exits a weapon at the speed of 900 meters a second. Upon exiting (and as it enters the barrel extension), it immediately meets the ‘tampon’ [the trio of rubber bullets] moving at a speed of 0 meters a second. We’re talking about a fatal road accident at astronomic speeds.”

Before the next hearing, go read this impressive investigative report (in Hebrew).