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From the field

Killing of Wadi’ Samarah, 15, who was shot in Jenin on 6 September 2007 and died on 10 September 2007

Killing of Wadi’ Samarah

The incident

Fifteen-year-old Wadi’ Samarah was hit in the back of the neck by a rubber-coated metal bullet. Eyewitnesses told B’Tselem that on the morning of 6 September 2007, school children threw stones and empty bottles at soldiers and military vehicles stationed on the main road near the eastern entrance to Jenin, close to several schools and small factories. Some of the soldiers pursued the pupils by jeep, while other soldiers hurled stun grenades, and fired tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets.

At around 11:00 A.M., witnesses saw one of the jeeps pursuing several teenage boys, including Wadi’ Samarah.  According to their account, when Samarah reached the factory’s gate, one of the soldiers in the jeep shot him in the head from about 20 meters away, without any prior warning. Samarah was transported by helicopter to Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Israel, where he succumbed to his wounds four days later. According to his medical records, Samarah was hit from behind, in the back of the neck, by a rubber-coated metal bullet.

The investigation

A little over a week after Samarah died, B’Tselem wrote to the MAG Corps demanding that the incident be investigated. An investigation was opened only in January 2008, some five months after the incident took place. About a month later, an MPIU investigator contacted Wadi’s father, Khalil Samarah, with the help of the Jenin DCO. The investigator demanded that the father, who had not been at the scene of the incident, locate eyewitnesses and bring their contact details with him to an interview.

The investigator also attempted to gather eyewitness accounts from soldiers who were involved in the incident. The battalion’s operations officer, Captain Amit, sent him an email stating that, “[t]he commander of the unit who hit the stone-thrower was me, as part of my duties as operations officer (I also carried out the shooting) – the teenager threw many stones at the vehicle and was shot by me with rubber”.

The investigation was stopped at that point and recommenced only two and a half years later, in August 2010, after the soldiers involved in the incident had already completed their military service.
At that stage, the investigator took statements from Evyatar, the soldier who had been driving the jeep, and from Captain Amit. Neither statement appears in the investigation file forwarded to B’Tselem. However, in other statements that B’Tselem did receive, the questioning MPIU investigator indicates that Captain Amit said in his statement that he had fired a rubber-coated metal bullet from a distance of 40 to 50 meters. Staff Sergeant Shahaf, the signaler who had also been in the jeep, contradicted this statement, saying the shot was fired from a shorter distance.

On 7 October 2010, the investigator obtained the medical records from the hospital and interviewed the doctor who had treated Samarah. In his statement, the doctor said that Samarah had been hit in the back of the neck by a rubber-coated metal bullet. When the investigator asked if Samarah could have been shot from 40-50 meters away, the doctor replied that at that distance, the bullet would not have penetrated a person’s body. The investigator also spoke with four weapons experts in the military and read related literature. All the experts said that 50 meters is the safety range for a round of three rubber-coated metal bullets – which is the type of ammunition that hit Samarah – so that firing from closer range could have fatal consequences.

On 14 November 2013, six years after Samarah was killed, the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the investigation file had been transferred to the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s Office. About six months later, Adv. Ro’i Reiss of the Central District Attorney’s Office informed B’Tselem that the case had been closed on the grounds of lack of evidence. As Adv. Reiss provided no explanation for his decision, B’Tselem cannot know what evidence the District Attorney’s Office thought was missing nor why – after six years that included an investigation and later additional investigation – no attempt was made to obtain this missing information, instead making do with the information available in the file.

Regardless, it is unclear what evidence was missing, when the material in the existing file indicates that Samarah was shot in the nape of the neck by a rubber-coated metal bullet from closer than the distance safety regulations stipulate for this type of ammunition. There was also no dispute as to the identity of the shooter, who admitted to being at the scene and to shooting a minor in the back of the neck from less than 50 meters away. A soldier who was in the jeep with him confirmed this account. Nevertheless, despite all this material, the District Attorney’s Office decided to close the case. .