Just 200 metres from the village of Budrus, north west of Ramallah, lies the Separation Barrier. On 15 January 2013, 16-year-old Samir Awad and his friends loitered nearby, revelling in the last day of the school semester. Climbing over a low iron fence Awad found himself trapped between this and the towering electronic barrier that keeps his village penned in. Suddenly, soldiers of the Israeli 71st Armoured Corps Battalion appeared from their nearby hiding place, shooting Samir in the knee.
As Samir freed himself from the fence and tried to flee, a soldier shot him at close range with live ammunition, once in the head and again in the back. When he finally arrived at Ramallah Hospital, the doctors pronounced him dead.
A subsequent inquiry undertaken by the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem said that the soldiers in question had not been in any danger at the time of the incident. Since open-fire regulations permit soldiers to use live ammunition only in cases of real and immediate mortal danger, Samir was shot unlawfully.
A military inquest into the incident took place, in accordance with a 2011 policy introduced by the Military Advocate General’s Corps (MAG), an organisation designed to “promote justice and disseminate the Rule of Law within the IDF”. The policy stated that an investigation must be opened in every instance when a Palestinian civilian is killed in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers.
A year after the initial incident, MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the investigation had been completed, and in December 2015 the Central District Attorney’s Office indicted the two soldiers who fired the shots on charges of “a reckless and negligent act using a firearm”. Their trial began on 22 September 2016 at Ramla Magistrates Court.
However, in recent developments, lawyers for the two soldiers have argued that convicting them “would be a selective enforcement of the law, since it is rare for an indictment to be brought against Israel Defence Force soldiers who shoot and kill Palestinians,” reported Haaretz. To support their case, the lawyers cited military data which showed that in the last seven years, out of 110 cases in which soldiers had shot and killed Palestinians, only four indictments were filed. As a result of this precedent, it is likely that any prosecution of the soldiers will be dismissed as a selective application of the law. A verdict is expected before 26 March 2018.
Had the tables been turned, and an Israeli citizen was killed by a Palestinian, there can be no doubt that the punishment would be infinitely more severe. In fact, Palestinians suspected of killing an Israeli citizen rarely make it to court. A case in point is Ahmed Jarrar, who was suspected of killing Rabbi Raziel Shevach from the settlement of Havat Gilad near Nablus in January 2018, but was killed in a subsequent manhunt in Jenin. Jarrar is not alone in meeting this fate – in March 2017 Palestinians Abd Al-Fattah Yusri Al-Sharif and Ramzi Aziz Al-Qasrawi were shot dead after being accused of stabbing and wounding a soldier in Hebron’s Old City.
For those Palestinians who are brought to trial their sentences are harsh. In 2014 21-year-old Ahmad Yasser Baraghithi was sentenced to eight years in jail for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli military forces in Jerusalem during a series of protests against the occupation. The existence of two judicial systems, a civilian system applied to Israeli citizens residing both within Green Line Israel and the illegal West Bank settlements, and a military system applied to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, largely accounts for this asymmetry in the severity of punishment.
In 2017 the UN accused Israel’s military court system of violating international law, with its 99.74 per cent conviction rate of Palestinians, demonstrating the bias inherent in a system where judges, prosecutors and translators are all members of the Israeli armed forces. Yet this imbalance can also be seen as symptomatic of the broader disregard for Palestinian lives that perpetuates not only the judicial system but also wider aspects of the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. If the two soldiers alleged to be responsible for Samir Awad’s death walk free, it will only serve as further evidence of the double standards that plague many aspects of daily life in Israel-Palestine.