Only The Hague Can Deal With Israel’s War Criminals

The lenient handling of the army’s shooting of an unarmed 16-year-old shows that the International Criminal Court is the address.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
An archive photo of Israeli border police and soldiers near the separation fence in the West Bank, March 24, 2014.
An archive photo of Israeli border police and soldiers near the separation fence in the West Bank, March 24, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

It was murder. There’s no other way to describethe killing of the teenager Samir Awad, and there’s no reason to keep on sanitizing the words.

Murder. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe what Israeli soldiers have done. But at the separation barrier near the village of Budrus late on the morning of Tuesday, January 15, 2013, a murder was committed.

Samir, 16, had finished a science test and gone with six friends to where the fence had a breach. It was a test of courage they played: To get near the fence that imprisons their village. His friends stayed back and he crossed the breach. He didn’t know that armored-corps soldiers were lying in ambush between the cacti and the ditch alongside the barrier.

They shot and wounded him in the thigh. Bleeding and terrified, he fled for his life toward the village. One of the soldiers grabbed him by the arm, but he broke free. He made his way up the rocky hillside and they shot him again, this time from behind. They shot an unarmed and already wounded youth with two live bullets. It was a distance of about 10 meters; one in his back, one in his head.

The picture of the body left no room for doubt: He was shot from behind. The next day, when I arrived at the scene, all that was left were bloodstains on the rocks — and a new ambush of soldiers, whose commanders ordered them to fire tear gas "in direct fire” at any youths who approached the fence. The bereaved father Ahmed was at home wearing a shirt of the Modi’in Ecological Farm, where he lectured once. He was crying bitterly.

The months passed and the Israel Defense Forces of course didn’t lift a finger. After about a year the father, with the help of the rights group B’Tselem, petitioned the High Court of Justice, to require the military advocate general to decide whether to put the soldiers on trial or close the case.

The IDF prolonged the investigation another year, as it always does. The soldiers were released from the army and went back to their civilian lives, the case was transferred to civilian prosecutors, and two days ago there was a decision: The soldiers, it’s not clear who, will go on trial on two grotesque charges — recklessness and negligently handling a weapon.

That’s what an investigation that should have lasted two hours, maybe two weeks or in the extreme case two months spawned after two years — and only because of a lawsuit. The excuse this time: It wasn’t clear which of the soldiers fired.

It’s not hard to guess what would have happened if Samir and his friends had shot at the soldiers and killed one. A brief investigation and the entire “cell” would have been sent to prison for life.

That’s how it is with “the most moral army in the world.” The killing of an unarmed Palestinian youth, who endangered no one, who fled for his life, is considered “recklessness.” Live fire at close range in the back of a fleeing youth is “negligently handling a weapon.” Recklessness and negligence — what a happy pair.

Oy, you reckless and negligent soldiers, the IDF is a bit angry about your recklessness and negligence. Keep firing at youths and keep killing them, the way you do nearly every week. Just don’t do it recklessly or negligently.

This is the example that should finally convince every supporter of justice: only The Hague. Only at the International Criminal Court will it be possible to put on trial those who commit war crimes like the murder of Samir Awad. Anyone who objects to The Hague wants the crimes to continue. Anyone who fears The Hague knows he has a lot to hide.

There’s no chance at all the IDF will ever seriously investigate itself — not the crimes of Black Friday during the Gaza war, not the firing on UN shelters in Gaza and not the murder of Samir Awad, the youth whose father promised he’d pay for his university studies if he did well on his science test. It was held on the last day of his very short life.

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