An Israeli soldier facing trial for the killing of an unarmed Palestinian teenager that was shown on TV screens around the world may now get away with a slap on the wrist.
Israeli Border Police combatant Ben Dery is charged with manslaughter in the slaying of 17-year-old Nadim Nuwara on 15 May 2014 – Nakba Day, when Palestinians commemorate their 1948 ethnic cleansing from much of their homeland.
But Israeli media are reporting that the manslaughter charge may now be dropped.
Dery’s lawyer told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz this week that prosecutors are discussing a plea bargain in which his client would admit only to “negligence” – that a live round, instead of a rubber-coated bullet, found its way into his magazine unintentionally.
The charges against Dery represent one of the exceptionally rare instances of Israeli soldiers being prosecuted for the killing or injury of a Palestinian.
“Reports of a potential plea agreement are unsurprising given that Israeli forces enjoy near complete impunity for killing and violence against Palestinian children,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer with Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), told The Electronic Intifada.
Between January 2014 and November 2016, 70 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have been killed, all except two at the hands of Israeli forces, according to evidence collected by DCIP.
“Nothing illustrates the systemic impunity enjoyed by Israeli forces more than the fact that out of these 70 cases, only one killing, that of Nadim Nuwara, has resulted in an indictment,” Parker noted.
“This single indictment was issued, not because Israeli authorities were interested in justice, but because overwhelming video and forensic evidence could no longer be denied,” Parker added.
Parker said it would be “shocking” if with all the evidence related to Nuwara’s killing, Dery were held accountable only for “negligence.”
The same day, at almost the same spot, another boy, 16-year-old Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, was fatally shot in the back in almost exactly the same circumstances, and his killing too was captured on video.
No one has been charged with killing Abu al-Thahir, and in March 2016 Israel closed the investigation claiming there was no evidence found to point to live fire from its forces.
In November 2014, a sophisticated analysis of video and other evidence requested by DCIP, and conducted by the multidisciplinary group Forensic Architecture, pinpointed the Israeli soldier who shot and killed Nuwara.
“Using spatial and video analysis we have identified the border policeman that shot and killed the unarmed Nadim Nuwara,” Eyal Weizman, principal investigator at Forensic Architecture, said.
“Using sound analysis we found that the border policeman fired live ammunition through a rubber bullet extension installed on his gun, perhaps in an attempt to hide his action,” Weizman added.
The Israeli indictment alleges that on the day Nuwara was shot, soldiers had been ordered to use only rubber-coated bullets. Dery had an M-16 rifle with an attachment for firing rubber-coated bullets. He also had a magazine containing rubber-coated bullets together with blanks that was marked in red.
The indictment says that “Dery replaced the bullets in the marked magazine with live M-16 rounds,” the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reports. Dery then allegedly shot Nuwara in the chest, killing him.
“From the moment Nadim and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir were killed on 15 May 2014, rather than investigate the killings, Israeli authorities set out to deny any wrongdoing,” DCIP lawyer Brad Parker said.
He noted that Israeli forces first denied any live ammunition was fired that day, then attempted to discredit the video footage and, when the bullet that killed Nuwara was found in the backpack he was wearing, the Israelis claimed it was planted.
Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the US who now serves as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deputy minister for “public diplomacy,” even appeared on CNN to cast doubt on whether Nuwara and Abu al-Thahir had even been shot and killed at all.
After Dery was indicted, Nadim’s father, Siam Nuwara, decried the relatively lenient manslaughter charge laid against his son’s alleged killer.
“In my mind, this was a murder and the policeman should be facing a murder charge, with the possibility of receiving a life sentence,” Nuwara said. “A Palestinian arrested under these circumstances would be facing murder charges, with the possibility of life imprisonment, and his family’s home would be demolished.”
Now it appears that – as usual – even the small measure of justice Israel held out for Nadim Nuwara could be slipping out of reach.