Ramallah, West Bank – Nearly four years after Nadeem Nawarah, 17, was killed by a single live round fired into his chest by an Israeli police officer, his family is still relentlessly pursuing justice.
At a court hearing on Tuesday, the prosecutor asked for a 20 to 27-month prison sentence for the officer, Ben Deri, 21 at the time. He has pled guilty to a negligent killing charge, and sentencing is now scheduled for April 26.
“The court [hearing] was like a drama. Of course there is no justice,” Siam Nawarah, Nadeem’s father, told Al Jazeera.
Surrounded by large portraits of his son at his Ramallah home, Siam recounted how hope for justice progressively slipped away.
“Court hearings were always postponed with no valid reason. If Nadeem had killed Ben Deri, what would have happened? I think the court would have made a decision after two or three weeks and put him in jail,” he said.
At one time under house arrest, Ben Deri now walks free.
Stored on his laptop, Siam Nawarah keeps files of every video, article, blog post, and TV news segment that was ever published or broadcast about Nadeem’s killing. He sold his three hairdressing salons in order to follow the case – and perhaps because they reminded him of the time when most of his customers were Nadeem’s friends. He travelled to the US to lobby Congress because “Nadeem was killed by American weapons.”
He later founded an association that offers psychological and legal support to other families who went through the same excruciating experience.
On May 15, 2014, Nadeem was shot and killed at a demonstration near the Ofer military prison in the West Bank on Nakba Day, when Palestinians commemorate the displacement of hundreds of thousands in 1948. Another teenager, Mohammad Abu Daher, 16, was shot in the back and killed in exactly the same spot an hour later.
The demonstration evolved into clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces. However, CCTV cameras – as confirmed by witness testimony – show the two boys just walking by the scene, and there appears to be no stone-throwing taking place at the time of the shooting.
Israeli authorities initially denied that live fire had been used, despite medical reports saying the type of wound indicated otherwise.
Forensic video analysis combining CCTV and media footage, as well as an autopsy ordered by Nawara’s family on Nadeem’s body, eventually led to Deri being indicted on a charge of manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. The Israeli soldier was accused of knowingly firing live ammunition with the intent of causing “serious injury, while foreseeing the possibility of causing his death”.
In January last year, Ben Deri’s defence lawyer cut a plea deal with the prosecution, admitting to having fired a live round, but saying he had not been aware it wasn’t non-lethal. The manslaughter charge was dropped, with Deri facing the less serious one of negligent killing.
The family felt betrayed by the prosecution and refused the plea bargain. They took the case to the Supreme Court, but lost the appeal.
“When Israel charged Ben Deri, all the journalists in the world said Israel is a state of law,” Siam said. “But after a month they put him under house arrest, and he’s now free.”
The case is the last in which an Israeli soldier or border police officer was indicted for the killing of a minor at a demonstration, according to Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability director at Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), the organisation that first published the forensic video examination.
At least 29 children have been killed in protests in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since 2014.
Gatherings of 10 or more people for a political purpose are banned in the West Bank. Israeli security forces are legally allowed to use live ammunition only in life-threatening situations. However, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem says forces on the ground are often given orders that contradict official directives. “Crowd control” weapons such as rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters have also proved lethal.
More than 2,000 Palestinian children have been killed since the outset of the Second Intifada in 2000, including during military operations, according to a DCIP count.
Culture of impunity
According to B’Tselem figures, 99 Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank in 2015 (23 by border police and 76 by soldiers) and 17 in East Jerusalem. And yet, only 21 investigations were opened.
Since a policy change in April 2011, the Israeli army is required to open a case automatically for every fatality that occurs outside of combat situations.
“We don’t know whether they carry out an investigation or not,” Abu Eqtaish told Al Jazeera. “What we’re sure about is that there is a culture of impunity and that this year and in the past few years none of the killings led to an indictment.”
The case of Mohammad Abu Daher, the teen killed on the same day as Nadeem, is only one example.
“We all know he was killed, but it’s like he doesn’t exist,” Firas Asali, the Nawarah family’s lawyer, told Al Jazeera. “No one filed a complaint about him, there was no autopsy, and we don’t have any substantial evidence.
“It would have made the case [Nadeem’s] stronger because then there would be evidence there wasn’t any negligence, that you have two people dead, not one,” Asali said.
In 2014, B’Tselem stopped filing complaints to the Israeli military on behalf of Palestinians about killings and other types of violations in the West Bank.
“We realise the system is not designed to take any action against those responsible for violations against Palestinians, but it’s a whitewash mechanism that creates the pretence of a legitimate system that is actually looking at the complaints and checking them,” Yael Stein, research director at B’Tselem, told Al Jazeera.
Exception and the norm
In Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah, Hoda and Abdallah Sharaka try and make sense of what happened to them.
In October 2015, their son, Ahmad Sharaka, 14, was killed at a demonstration near the illegal West Bank settlement of Beit El, not far from his home. He was shot with a rubber-coated metal round that struck him behind his left ear.
In a commemorative poster outside his family home, he appears suspended in midair, his gracile body stretched out as he fires a slingshot. The poster calls him “the Slingshot Eagle”.
While Siam Nawarah knows his son’s death is being investigated as an exception, the Sharakas – without any security footage or video – know there is no possibility of seeking justice for their son’s death. He is, in their view, another Palestinian “martyr” – the second in the family.
“He was very brave, throwing stones without any fear inside,” Hoda Sharaka said, pointing at a version of the same poster inside their modest living room. His mother explained that after Ahmad died, a lawyer visited the family to open an investigation into his case. Palestinians can only file complaints with the help of lawyers or human rights organisations.
“We don’t know what happened exactly, she came here to talk to us and she said she wanted to help,” Hoda said, adding they didn’t go to court and there’s no longer communication between them.
Al Jazeera asked the Israeli army if an investigation had ever been opened in this case, but a spokesperson wasn’t able to find any information by the time of publication.
During the interview with the Sharakas, Abdallah left the room and came back with a bag of clothes his son wore the day he died. The tiny trousers, a T-shirt, green balaclava, black-and-white keffiyeh, and a Fatah flag were then neatly laid out on the floor.
“No one will give us back what we lost,” Hoda said, no longer able to hold back tears.