An investigation by the Israeli army has found “no evidence” that it killed disabled Palestinian Ibrahim Abu Tharayya, who was shot dead during a protest in the Gaza Strip in December 2017.
The Israeli army’s criminal investigation division on Friday closed its probe into the killing of 29-year-old Abu Tharayya, claiming he was killed in a “violent riot” in the besieged Gaza Strip. The Israeli army spokesman said the division had “questioned soldiers and commanders who had witnessed the incident and also examined video footage of the incident, but found no evidence that Abu Thuraya was killed by direct Israeli army fire,” Haaretz reported.
The army also claimed it had “tried to obtain the bullet that killed Abu Thurayeh” as part of its investigation but authorities in Gaza “denied its request”, according to the Times of Israel.
The closing of the probe will come as little surprise given the army’s repeated denial of wrongdoing in relation to Abu Tharayya’s death.
Just days after Abu Tharayya was killed on 15 December, the army announced that it bore “no responsibility”, saying in a statement that “the initial investigation indicates that no moral or professional failures were identified”. It added that “no live fire was aimed at [Abu Thurayya]” and it was “impossible to determine” exactly “what caused his death”.
Human rights organisations and Palestinian officials, however, contradicted the Israeli version of events, saying Abu Tharayya was shot by an Israeli sniper. According to medical records obtained by the Associated Press (AP) in January 2018, the 29-year-old “died of bleeding in his brain after a bullet struck his head”.
AP’s publishing of these medical records prompted the Israeli army to open an investigation into the events of 15 December, citing “the significant disparity in the findings of [the aforementioned] army inquiry into the incident and those of Palestinian groups inside the Gaza Strip”.
The AP’s account was consistent with that of Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq, which wrote shortly after Abu Thurayya’s killing that “he was shot in the forehead in what appears to have been a deliberate act”. Al-Haq continued:
Under international humanitarian and human rights law, [Abu Thurayya] was entitled to special protection not only as a civilian under the control of the occupying power, but also as a person with disability who moreover lost his legs as a consequence of a prior assault by Israel on the Gaza Strip.
His killing “may not only amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life but also an act of torture or ill-treatment,” Al-Haq added.
Abu Tharayya was an icon in Gaza, regularly participating in protests despite being wheelchair bound since he lost both legs in an Israeli assault on the Strip during the 2008 war. On 15 December he had joined thousands of Gazans to protest against US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognise the Holy City as Israel’s capital.
Following Abu Tharayya’s death, disabled Jerusalemite Palestinians staged a protest near the city’s Damascus Gate to condemn both his killing and the US’ actions on Jerusalem. Demonstrators chanted slogans against Israel’s violence, but were attacked by Israeli forces during the protest.
In the months that followed, hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators were killed by Israeli live fire in what has since become known as the Great March of Return. Though originally intended to take place from Land Day on 30 March for six weeks, until Nakba Day on 15 May, the march continues to this day.
Between 30 March 2018 and 14 May 2019, 305 Palestinians, including 59 children, were killed by Israeli forces, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. A further 29,000 were injured and scores left with life-changing injuries, UN OCHA reported.