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A whole system of deception

"A whole system of deception", was how anthropologist Meira Weiss, who observed the work of the Israeli forensic department, described the process of their dealing with the death of a Palestinian. On a recent Israeli television show she spoke of the fatal shooting of one Palestinian man whom the Israel authorities insisted had been shot while firing at Israeli soldiers, the Palestinians claimed he was shot later and from behind. "In other words there are two versions, meaning one needs to decide," said Weiss, and it was the Palestinian version that was, in her words, "silenced."

For Palestinians, 2014 has been already been a deadly year. With every death there have been conflicting narratives, the official Israeli army response pitted against the Palestinian eye witnesses and relatives of the deceased.

Mohammed Mubarak was the first victim of shooting this year. Shortly after the 21 year old labourer arrived at work on the 29th January he was shot dead by an Israeli soldier. Mubarak was killed on the new stretch of road he was helping to build as part of a US government funded project. The Israeli army reported that a "terrorist" had opened fire at a military post near Ofra, and troops had returned fire, hitting the terrorist. The army also released images of a soldier holding the gun Mubarak had supposedly used.

Affidavits from colleagues that were working with Mubarak on the day of his death, collected by Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq, report that after hearing gunshots seeming to originate from the military watchtower, Mohammed, who was standing 50 meters from the watchtower, appeared to be taking orders and looking nervous. They then heard a further three gun shots and Mubarak fell. They claimed he was unarmed, while Al-Haq fieldworkers noted the different position of the gun in photos, proving it had been moved by the military. To settle the differing narratives the army would just have to check the surveillance cameras of the watchtower, however no reports of this having been done have surfaced.

Just over a month later, Israeli forces shelled the home of 26 year old Mu'atazz Washaha, in Birzeit, near Ramallah. An Israeli army spokeswoman said that Israeli forces raided Birzeit to arrest a man suspected of "terror activity." She said, "After the suspect was called to turn himself in, he barricaded himself inside his house, effectively resisting arrest. Under the premise that he had weapons in his possession, the forces used different means to complete the arrest, including live fire."

According to eye witness reports Israeli soldiers arrived in the early hours of Thursday morning, and after Washaha did not exit the building when requested, the military brought a bulldozer to the scene and begun demolishing a section of the house. They then fired artillery shells into it, evident in the damage made to the house. According to testimonies of villagers collected by Memo, the Palestinian Civil Defence, who were instructed to put out a fire that had begun in the house, had said Washaha was still alive following the shelling. Israeli forces then entered the house, and fired two bullets into the victim's chest- which according to a medical report issued by the Palestinian Public Prosecution office- was the cause of death.

The official Israeli response does not claim that the victim was in procession of a weapon, using the word "premise" and therefore inadvertently admitting they killed a man based upon a presumption. Regardless of the suspicion Washaha was involved in terror activities, when the soldiers could have arrested him, they instead shot him in the chest.

On March 10th, Raed Zeitar, 38, a Jordanian Judge of Palestinian origin had been smoking at a border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank when he was fatally shot by an Israeli soldier. The judge was on his way to visit his hometown of Nablus- all the points of entry into the West Bank are manned by Israel, even those which border Jordan- when the incident occurred. The official line from the Israeli side was that Zeitar was shot after trying to seize a weapon from the soldier. The statement read, "A short while ago a Palestinian attempted to seize the weapon of a soldier at the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan. In response the forces at the scene opened fire towards the suspect. A hit was identified."

A contradictory statement from the Israeli military claimed that "the preliminary conclusion of the investigation, indicated that the terrorist attacked the soldier. He charged at the soldiers shouting, 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greatest), with a metal pole, and then attempted to seize the soldier's weapon prompting the soldiers to respond by firing towards his lower extremities. The suspect then began to strangle a soldier and the force resorted to using live fire once again."

Eye witnesses recount a different narrative to the two offered by the Israeli military. According to information collected by Al-Haq and a witness account collected by Ma'an news, Zeitar had exited the bus ferrying passengers through the crossing to smoke a cigarette, when he was then pushed by an Israeli soldier, who was then joined by two other Israeli soldiers. Zeitar retaliated by pushing the soldier back, after which four shots were fired, three of which hit Zeitar. Unfortunately the Israeli security camera which could have settled disputes over the chain of events had reportedly malfunctioned.

Zeitar death sparked international outcry, especially in Jordan where large protests called for the removal of the Israeli ambassador, the recalling of the Jordanian envoy to Tel Aviv, and even the scrapping of the Israel-Jordan peace agreement. In a rare show of guilt, Israel expressed regret for the killing of an unarmed citizen. It was difficult to pass Ra'ed's death as another terrorist plotting an imminent attack against Israel with his position as a judge of good standing holding a Jordanian passport.

The international outcry for the death of Saji Darwish the same day was not so loud. The IDF didn't give an official comment for why the 20 year old was shot dead on the evening of the 10th March, and failed to respond to repeated requests by Memo for a comment. According to initial information from the Israeli military, two Palestinians hurled rocks at an Israeli car and bus near Bet El. Soldiers arrived on the scene. One of the Palestinians fled the scene, and the other was shot dead by a soldier.

The IDF does attempt to obscure that, if the account is indeed true, one of their soldiers shot a Palestinian in the head for throwing stones at cars- which resulted in no injuries or damages. No warning shots, no firing at lower extremities, and without Darwish posing an immediate threat to the soldier's lives- all of which appear to violate the IDF's own undisclosed rules of engagement, an understanding of which has been derived in Amnesty International's recent report using past court cases.

A Palestinian medic who was called to the scene told Memo a soldier standing by the body had said Darwish had been shot by an Israeli sniper. Ascertained from his hat, he had been shot once in the back of the head, although a doctor who examined the body later on, found another gunshot wound behind his left ear. This means he was facing away from the sniper when he was fatally shot. Seeming to support the claims of the Darwish family that Saji was heading to their barn, the medic noted the position of the body lay in sight of his family home, and around 40 meters from a barn.

Saji's death seemed to fall under the rug in the midst of the shooting of the Jordanian lawyer, and while international voices questioned the narrative that a prominent lawyer had attempted to use a weapon against a soldier, they overlooked the shooting of a 20 year old the same day on the premise he threw stones.

That same day Fida' Mohyeeddeen Majadla, 23 years old, was killed also by Israeli soldiers when they fired at his car not far from al-Kafriyyat checkpoint, south of the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem. He died instantly after being shot in the head and chest. Soldiers closed the checkpoint, preventing a Palestinian ambulance from retrieving Majadla's body. There has been no official statement indicating the reasons behind the killing of Majadla.

Just over a week later, 14 year old Yusif Sami Shawamreh, and his two friends were crossing over the separation barrier on the 19th March when Yusef suffered a fatal shot to the hip fired by an Israeli soldier. According to the army, three Palestinians approached the fence and started cutting it. The force performed the procedure for stopping a suspect, shooting first in the air and then toward the Palestinian, according to the report.

In Deir al-Asal al-Foqa, the village Yusif is from, farmers harvest a plant called gundelia around this time of year. The separation wall annexed some of the villages land, and so the boys had crossed over to harvest the crop on the other side of it, a routine that the soldiers were aware of, according to residents. The two boys who were with Yusif claim they heard three shots, causing them to get down on the floor. Yusif then reportedly got up to cross back over into the village, when another shot was fired causing him to fall. One of the boys, Muntaser, then attempted to carry him to safety, but was told by 6 soldiers who arrived at the scene to put Yusif down, threatening to shoot him if he did not obey. Both boys were then blindfolded and had their hands tied with plastic cords for half an hour. Their blindfolds were briefly removed a half hour later, just as Yusif was being taken away on an Israeli medic's stretcher.

In the IDF's initial report there is no attempt to obscure the fact a soldier shot dead a child on the premise he crossed the separation wall – which was anyhow declared illegal in parts almost a decade ago by the International Court of Justice. It however does not mention that the land the child was standing on is in fact the land of his village, illegally annexed by Israel in violation of international law. The subsequent treatment of the two children, who reported being violently interrogated after just having lost a friend, also violates international human rights laws.

On the 22nd March three men, identified as Hamza Abu al-Haija, 22, Mahmoud Abu Zeina, 17, and 22-year-old Yazan Mahmoud, were shot dead following an Israeli military raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin. According to IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, Abu al-Hija opened fire on the troops before he was killed. The IDF said that Abu al-Hija was "wanted for numerous shooting and bombing attacks as well as planning future acts of terrorism." Lerner called him a "ticking time bomb" planning to kill Israelis. The Israeli military said its forces had been attempting to arrest Abu al-Haija, who was wanted for "shooting and bombing attacks as well as planning future attacks." Abu al-Haija "barricaded himself with other operatives in his house," a statement read, before opening fire and wounding two Israeli security personnel who "responded with fire, killing the terrorist."

Palestinian security sources told Ma'an news agency, Israeli soldiers surrounded homes of militants in the camp and showered them with bullets during the raid. A Haaretz journalist reported that testimonies from the camp claim, while one of the three was killed during an exchange of fire, the second two victims were killed as they were carrying Hamzi's body to his family home, which is a distance from where the gun battle had occurred. Sharpshooters in the camp killed them, even though they were not armed, residents claim.

Time and time again, Israel falls back on the army jargon where the word terrorist seems to justify killing a Palestinian, regardless of whether the victim is an adult, or a child. With every death there are two versions of events, from the Israeli soldiers, to the Israeli medics, to the Israeli forensics unit, to the Israeli justice system. One narrative is enforced, while the other is "silenced."

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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