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One incident, two narratives

July 14, 2015 at 10:46 am

It was early Friday morning on the 3rd July and senior Israeli military officer Colonel Israel Shomer was driving in the West Bank city of al-Ram, next to Qalandia checkpoint when his vehicle was hit by a stone thrown by Palestinian youths and the windscreen was shattered. Shomer exited the jeep and proceeded to shoot 17- year old Mohammed Sami al-Kasbeh.

Both the Israeli military and the Palestinian eye- witnesses agree to the above record of events. But after this, their narratives diverge.

According to the Israeli military account, Shomer exited the car under a hail of rocks and – fearing for his life –shot and killed one of the group. He first ordered the culprits to stop, firing a warning shot into the air. The IDF stressed that Col Shomer believed he was in “imminent mortal danger”. OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Roni Numa arrived at the scene shortly after the incident and after initial questioning of those involved said the brigade commander acted as expected in incidents of this type.

Shomer was also backed by numerous Israeli politicians. Naftali Bennett, Minister of Education, wrote on Facebook: “This is how a commander in the IDF should act….The people of Israel are behind you.” Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan also expressed support for Shomer: “Throwing stones is terrorism. Stones kill. The Binyamin Brigade commander (Shomer) was acting in self defense.”

Shomer and the IDF’s version of events differ from that of the Palestinian eye-witnesses. They claim that the Israeli car pulled over by the side of the road and two or three soldiers exited, chased the fleeing youths for a few metres before Shomer paused, took aim and shot Mohammed several times as he ran away. Shomer approached al-Kasbeh, who was on the floor bleeding, and kicked him with his foot before leaving and driving away.

Video footage which supports the Palestinian eye- witness version of events emerged on Monday. The footage – acquired by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem – was recorded by a security camera at a nearby petrol station. It shows the moments leading up to the fatal shooting, although it does not capture the shooting, which happened out of view of the camera’s lens. It shows the vehicle braking following the stone throwing incident. The youth scatter at this point, and two soldiers exit the vehicle and give chase.

If the youths were fleeing, as the video shows, it means that Shomer did not shoot the youths under continued stone throwing. Medical reports have already contradicted Shomer’s version of events. One medical report obtained by the Guardian describes how al- Kasbeh was shot in the back and obliquely in the side of the head – not front on – with the most serious injury a gunshot wound penetrating his upper left back. This shows that he was running away when Shomer shot him, therefore could not have posed a “imminent mortal danger”

Just over two weeks earlier Abdallah Ghanayem was killed after being crushed by an Israeli military jeep. A military spokeswoman said the jeep, which was taking part in an operation to arrest suspected militants, accidentally hit Ghanayem after he threw a petrol bomb at it. Witnesses and Palestinian medical sources, however, gave Maan News Agency a different account: Ghanayem, they said, was throwing stones when he was shot in the lower back. The jeep then lost control and flipped on top of him on the sidewalk. Ma’an also reported that, according to one witness, Ghanayem was left under the jeep for three hours.

Last year, Nadem Syam Nawara, 17, and Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh, 16 were killed on Nakba Day. The Israeli military claimed the boys were not hit with live fire and the killings occurred during a serious riot which posed a threat to the lives of the soldiers. Video footage showed that neither of the boys posed a threat to Israeli forces at the time they were targeted. Medical reports also indicated they were shot with live ammunition.

Conflicting narratives surrounding tragic incidents such as those mentioned above are far from rare. In almost every incident like this there are two versions of events. Unfortunately, one has much less chance of being heard.

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