May 15 is the fourth anniversary of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Palestinian Nadim Nuwarah by an Israeli border officer at a Nakba day protest near Ramallah.
His family’s quest for justice ended on April 25, when an Israeli court handed down a nine-month prison sentence and 50,000NIS (US$13,950) fine for border police officer Ben Dery, who was caught on camera shooting their child. While protestors had thrown stones at the Israeli security forces, the video evidence, witness statements, and medical records seen by Human Rights Watch and others strongly suggested that soldiers shot Nuwarah from about 60 meters away even though he posed no imminent threat to them, which would make the killing unlawful. Willful killing of civilians in the occupied territory by Israeli security forces is a war crime.
Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) day commemorates the displacement of Palestinians that accompanied the Israeli state’s founding in 1948.
Along with Nuwarah, Mohammed Salameh, 16, was killed in the same chain of events. Security camera footage emerged showing Nadim and Mohammed at the moments they were shot. Meanwhile, a CNN cameraman was also filming one member of a group of Israeli forces opening fire toward them. Technical experts used this audio-visual data to reconstruct the incident. Nadim’s family found the bullet that killed him in a schoolbook in his backpack, and Israeli ballistics tests identified the gun that fired it.
While Israeli prosecutors charged Dery with manslaughter, they agreed to a plea deal, reducing charges to “causing death through negligence” and inflicting severe bodily harm. Dery claimed he thought he was firing rubber bullets. The nine-month sentence approved by the Israeli court is toward the lower end of the range of sentences imposed for these offenses.
Meanwhile, Israeli prosecutors closed the investigation into Salameh’s death, claiming there was no evidence Israeli gunfire had killed him. His family, unlike Nuwarah’s, had refused an autopsy.
Excessive use of force by security forces has been routine during Israel 50-year occupation. In Gaza, Israeli forces have since March 30 fatally shot 39 Palestinians – including five children and two journalists – and injured thousands during demonstrations near the border fence. Illegal orders have greenlighted firing on demonstrators irrespective of whether this was “strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” the standard required under international law for intentional use of lethal force in a law enforcement situation.
In fact, a conviction of any kind marks a rare exception to the impunity enjoyed by Israeli forces. However, those who commit war crimes can face criminal prosecutions abroad as a matter of universal jurisdiction or in international judicial forums.
“Once again, our family is reminded of the painful loss of Nadim,” his father, Siam, told Human Rights Watch. “This unjust court verdict shows a state that is unwilling to uphold justice for Palestinians.”