Military Police: Palestinian teens killed by military live fire, although military fired only rubber-coated bullets

Military Police: Palestinian teens killed by military live fire, although military fired only rubber-coated bullets

Published: 
8 Jul 2015

Right to left: Muhammad and Usayed Qadus. Photos courtesy of the family
Right to left: Muhammad and Usayed Qadus. Photos courtesy of the family

On 25 February 2015, the Military Advocate General’s (MAG) Corps informed B’Tselem of the closing of the investigation into the killing of Palestinian teens Muhammad and Usayed Qadus in the West Bank village of ‘Iraq Burin in March 2010. The investigation had taken five years and its findings, as reported by the MAG Corps, are absurd: on the one hand, the investigation found that only rubber-coated metal bullets had been fired during the incident; on the other hand it corroborated that the two teens were killed by live ammunition, and there is no dispute that they were killed by the military. On the basis of these unreasonable findings, the MAG Corps decided to file no charges. B’Tselem’s request to receive a copy of the investigation file was denied. B’Tselem resent its request, disputing the reason for the previous denial. Only in late May 2015 B’Tselem received approval in principle of the request.

Two cousins – Muhammad Qadus, 15, and Usayed Qadus, 17 – were killed on 20 March 2010 in the village of ‘Iraq Burin, near the city of Nablus. In a letter to B’Tselem dated 25 February 2015, Deputy Military Advocate for Operational Matters Harel Weinberg stated that the Military Police investigation had found that only the battalion commander, a major, had fired during the incident and that he had fired at “several disturbers of the peace some 50-60 meters away from him, who were massively throwing stones at the three soldiers [in the force]”. Weinberg added that the while the medical findings did indicate that the two cousins had probably been hit by live ammunition, the investigators could not square this with the officer’s claim that he had fired only rubber-coated metal bullets during the incident. According to the MAG Corps, as firing this ammunition under the circumstances was in accordance with regulations, there was no reason to prosecute the officer. Finally, the letter noted that following the incident the officer had been disciplined. He received a disciplinary reprimand regarding failings in his conduct in the aftermath of the shooting, but not regarding the shooting itself.

It took almost five years for the Military Police to investigate the incident, the MAG Corp to review the findings, and the Military Police to conclude its supplementary investigation. The findings are virtually identical to those of the Chief of Staff’s investigation, which were published approximately one month investigation. This fact calls into serious question the efficiency and independence of a prolonged investigation process and its overall effectiveness. The hard to credit end result of the investigation clearly demonstrates the limited investigative capacity of the Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU). As the letter from the MAG Corps stated, the medical findings indicate that in all probability Muhammad and Usayed Qadus were killed by live fire. This surely warranted a serious and critical examination of the claims made by the forces in the field, namely that only rubber-coated metal bullets had been fired in the incident and that the officer was the only one who had fired. Furthermore, the letter from the MAG Corps’ indicates that there is no dispute over the fact that the two were killed by the military. Given these clear-cut findings, it is impossible to overlook the conspicuous failure of both the Military Police and the MAG Corps to deal with the officer’s claim that he did not fire live bullets.

B’Tselem’s investigation was naturally of limited scope, restricted to the tools as our disposal: taking eyewitness accounts testimony Palestinians and foreign nationals, examining medical records provided by the families of the deceased, and so on. The MPIU, on the other hand, has access by law to any soldier who was on the scene, all weapons, and so forth. Naturally, suspects do not rush to incriminate themselves or reveal all the information at their disposal. It is the responsibility of the investigating body to deal with false testimony given by suspects and eyewitnesses and unearth the truth – certainly when there is corroborating medical evidence.

Photo: X-ray of Usayed Qadus’ head post-mortem, a point-nosed metal bullet that penetrated the skull is visible.
Photo: X-ray of Usayed Qadus’ head post-mortem, a point-nosed metal bullet that penetrated the skull is visible.

As B’Tselem is still waiting to receive the investigation file, we do not yet know what investigative actions were carried out nor why it took the authorities almost five years to complete the process of investigating the incident, completing the supplementary investigation and making a decision as to pressing charges. After being informed in February 2015 that the case was closed, B’Tselem wrote to the MPIU requesting a copy of the investigation file, in order to consider the possibility of appealing the decision to close the case. The MPIU refused on the grounds that along with the decision to close the case another decision had been made to launch disciplinary reprimand proceedings against the officer; as long as that procedure was underway, B’Tselem could not receive a copy of the file. B’Tselem renewed its request to the MPIU, arguing among other things that the transfer of the case file in order to consider an appeal is part of the criminal procedure, whereas the disciplinary procedure is not. It is therefore unreasonable that the criminal procedure, already compromised by five years of investigation, be harmed even further by a non-criminal procedure. Only on 28 May 2015 did the MPIU notify B’Tselem that the request had been authorized in principle, once the file is examined by the military censor.

Background:

On 20 March 2010, soldiers killed two teenage boys in the village of ‘Iraq Burin, near Nablus. The IDF Spokesperson stated that the two had been killed by rubber-coated metal bullets while participating in a violent, illegal demonstration. Several days after B'Tselem published its findings regarding the incident, which contradicted this statement, the MAG Corps announced that the Military Police would investigate the incident, a rare decision at the time. On Saturday 20 March 2010, there were clashes at the village of 'Iraq Burin, with Palestinian youths throwing stones at soldiers. Muhammad Qadus, 15, and Usayed Qadus, 17, both residents of the village, were injured by gunfire and taken to hospital in Nablus. Muhammad died of his wounds minutes after reaching hospital. Usayed died of his wounds the next day.

On the very day of the incident, the IDF Spokesperson issued a statement saying that troops that had come to the village encountered a crowd of Palestinians who threw stones at them. According to the statement, the soldiers had responded with crowd control measures, which included the firing of rubber-coated metal bullets. They saw that two Palestinians had been injured and evacuated. The statement stressed that the troops had not used live ammunition, and that the individuals disturbing the peace had been hit by rubber-coated metal bullets fired in accordance with regulations.

The findings of B'Tselem's investigation are completely at odds with the IDF Spokesperson’s statement. First, they indicated that the two teens had been killed while they were some distance from the soldiers and did not pose a danger that would justify firing rubber-coated metal bullets. Second, the medical records and B’Tselem’s investigation indicated that the two had been hit by live ammunition, not rubber-coated bullets. An x-ray of Usayed's head, which shows the bullet lodged inside his head, and photographs of the entry and exit wounds of the bullet that hit Muhammad raise serious doubts over the IDF Spokesperson's statement that only rubber-coated bullets had been fired that day. In addition, eyewitnesses told B'Tselem that during the demonstration security forces had also fired live bullets. They conveyed to B’Tselem video footage filmed that day by a volunteer, a foreting national. The sound of live fire is clearly heard in the recording.

After these findings were made public, a media debate ensued. On 23 March 2010, the IDF Spokesperson announced that MAG, Maj. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, had ordered a Military Police investigation into the circumstances of the incident. That decision was exceptional at the time, as until the investigation policy was changed in April 2011, the military refused to launch MPIU investigation in the vast majority of cases in which security forces killed Palestinians, carrying out only operational debriefings within the unit responsible for the incident.