Israeli sniper gets community service over killing of Gaza boy

Palestinians protest against Israel’s use of snipers to target demonstrators east of Gaza City, 13 July 2018.

Dawoud Abo Alkas APA images

An Israeli soldier has been sentenced to a month of the military’s equivalent of community service and his rank downgraded for firing his weapon toward an unarmed boy during protests in Gaza last year.

The child, Uthman Rami Hillis, 14, died after he was hit in the chest with a live bullet that exited through his back east of Gaza City on 13 July 2018.

Video documenting the fatal shooting shows Hillis climbing a fence along the Gaza-Israel boundary before he falls and other protesters rush to his aid:

Another Palestinian, 20-year-old Muhammad Nasir Shurab, was also fatally wounded during protests in southern Gaza that day.

The video shows that Hillis “posed no direct or mortal threat at the time he was killed,” Defense for Children International Palestine stated at the time.

The soldier’s conviction is the first over the killing of a Palestinian during the ongoing Great March of Return protests launched on 30 March 2018.

The unnamed soldier was convicted of “disobeying an order leading to a threat to life or health” as part of a plea bargain reached on Monday, The New York Times reported.

The Israeli military has not admitted to killing Hillis, claiming that “no proof has been provided that the soldier’s action actually caused” the child’s death, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Unlawful killings

Hillis is among 46 children killed by Israeli occupation forces during the Great March of Return protests. More than 200 Palestinians have lost their lives during the demonstrations.

Only 13 of those killings have been investigated by Israel’s military police.

“But these investigations focus only on forces on the ground, not on decision makers who dictated an illegal and shameful open fire policy,” Sarit Michaeli, international advocacy officer for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, stated on Twitter.

Israeli military officials have admitted that Palestinian protesters in Gaza have been killed without justification.

An independent UN investigation of Israel’s use of force against the Great March of Return found “the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators was unlawful.”

The commission’s report published earlier this year calls on Israel to immediately lift its blockade on Gaza – one of the key demands of the Great March of Return – and to investigate “every protest-related killing and injury, promptly, impartially and independently.”

B’Tselem has long described the Israeli military’s internal probes as a “fig leaf” mechanism that serves to whitewash the occupation.

The group stated this week that the military law enforcement system is “primarily aimed at defending the perpetrators, while creating the illusion of a functioning system so as to deflect criticism.”

B’Tselem pointed to the recent closing of three case files concerning Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank in early 2018. The rights group’s investigation of those cases “found that all three killings were unjustified.”

Ali Omar Nimer Qinu, 17, was shot with a live bullet in the head during confrontations between Palestinians and soldiers near Nablus in the northern West Bank on 11 January that year.

Witnesses told Defense for Children International Palestine that “Soldiers were positioned on a side road near the village entrance when they fired shots from inside a military jeep at several youths standing on a hill.”

“Protesters fled the area and returned shortly after to find Ali on the ground bleeding from his head, a witness told [Defense for Children International Palestine]. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.”

Following the Israeli military’s internal probe into Qinu’s killing, B’Tselem stated that according to the army’s open-fire orders, “shooting to kill is permitted only when the lives of security forces or other persons are in danger.”

“Even then, it is allowed only when there are no other means of averting the danger. This killing was a far cry from meeting these criteria,” B’Tselem added.

“Expressly prohibited”

The military also closed its investigation into the killing of Laith Abu Naim, 16, who B’Tselem says was shot in the head with a rubber-coated metal bullet from a distance of 20 meters on 30 January 2018. The teen was shot while returning to al-Mughayir village after participating in confrontations with soldiers.

“The soldiers left the scene without providing him any medical assistance,” according to B’Tselem, which said the close-range firing of a rubber-coated metal bullet at the upper body “could be lethal and is therefore expressly prohibited by the open-fire regulations.”

The Israeli military also closed the file of Yasin Omar al-Saradih, who was shot in the stomach by soldiers as he ran at them while carrying an iron bar during an army raid in the West Bank city of Jericho on 22 February 2018.

Security camera footage shows the shooting of al-Saradih and soldiers kicking the injured man and beating him with their rifles. Al-Saradih was left dead or dying on the ground for at least 10 minutes, according to Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group that investigated his death.

Amnesty International has stated that failure to provide medical aid–– especially intentional failure – “violates the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment” and as such “should be investigated as a criminal offense.”

Al-Haq said at the time that al-Saradih’s slaying may amount to a war crime, “giving rise to individual criminal responsibility at the International Criminal Court.”

The situation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip has been under preliminary examination by that court since 2015. Its chief prosecutor issued an unprecedented warning to Israeli leaders last year that they may face trial for the killings of unarmed protesters in Gaza.

In March this year, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution noting the lack of meaningful Israeli investigations into human rights abuses by its forces.

The resolution states that “numerous legal, procedural and practical obstacles in the Israeli civil and criminal legal system [contribute] to the denial of access to justice for Palestinian victims and of their right to an effective judicial remedy.”

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Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.