At the end of July 2013, J., a boy from the village of Silwad, set out with his brother and two other boys to visit a family of friends in the western side of Silwad, a distance of about a kilometer from his house. One of the boys was asked to deliver a bundle of clothes to the family. They reached the house, gave the bundle over, and headed back. On their way, they met a friend shepherding his flock, and sat down next to him. And then J.’s world turned upside down.
He noticed three soldiers coming out of the trees behind them, blocking the path they had intended to take home. Soldiers on the village roads are not a common sight, so the group changed its course, and started climbing the nearby mountain.
As they reached a bend in the path, they heard gunshots. The group scattered instantly. J. himself says he went into shock, since this was the first time he had heard gunshots so close to him. He was slower than the others. He heard a second volley, and then felt a hit in his right arm; a third volley, and he was hit by a bullet in the neck. J. managed to walk a few more steps, and then collapsed by the wall of a house. He was evacuated to a hospital in Ramallah, where it was determined that the bullet entered the right side of his neck, and existed through the left. He was hospitalized there for four days.
We wrote to the IDF, demanding an investigation into the incident. Four months later, we received an answer that can only be described as infuriating. The debriefing of the incident, wrote the Prosecution for Operational Affairs, showed that on the same date there were clashes between IDF forces entering the village and residents who allegedly threw stones at its forces. The Military Advocate General reached the conclusion that the shooting took place in accordance with the rules of engagement, “with the exception of a minor infraction at the end of the incident.” Nowadays, that is how the IDF refers to the shooting of a live bullet into the neck of a 14 year old boy. Accordingly, we were informed that disciplinary procedures were undertaken against the commander of that force. Not that we were informed of the results of that procedure.
Um, no, no. Firing live ammunition, even at protesters, is not in accordance with the orders, unless the soldiers’ lives are in danger. The IDF doesn’t even try to claim that J. and his friends were threatening the lives of its troops. Also, this wasn’t one shooting; J. counted three separate volleys. Furthermore, from the description given by the IDF, it seems J. and his friends weren’t even in the area were the IDF soldiers were attacked, assuming they were indeed attacked.
The firing of live ammunition at uninvolved civilians is a crime, all the more when minors are involved. Such an incident should not end with a disciplinary procedure, but with a criminal investigation. Accordingly, our attorney, Emily Schaeffer, appealed and demanded the opening of an MPCID investigation ASAP. Recently, we learned that the appeal was rejected. The prosecution is of the opinion that though firing after the first volley – as J. and his friends fled – was improper, given that the officer in question was dealt with in a disciplinary procedure and was even fined, the very fact of the disciplinary procedure exhauststhe need for a criminal investigation. We’re uncertain whether the sum of the fine was 10 cents, as per the infamous fine of the colonel responsible for the Kafr Qassem massacre – and we don’t know because the prosecution didn’t mention the sum.
But, even if the fine was serious and not a joke – though if it was serious, why didn’t the prosecution note the sum? – We cannot accept a disciplinary procedure as a replacement for criminal law. After all, if the bullet that hit J. would have deviated just a few millimeters from its course, and the boy would have joined the long rank of minors killed by the IDF, a criminal investigation would obviously have been opened. How can putting a bullet in the neck of a person, agreed to have been uninvolved, end with a disciplinary procedure and a fine?
During the Vietnam War, a common phrase among American soldiers was the “Mere Gook Rule”, meaning that whatever you may do to the foreign population, nothing will happen to you. These aren’t humans, these are merely Vietnamese. When the IDF subscribes to the notion that shooting a 14 year old boy in the neck is just “a minor infraction at the end of the incident,” it sends that same message to its troops: These are mere Palestinians. Do with them as you will. Nothing will happen to you. At worst, you’ll face a disciplinary procedure.
And when that’s the message conveyed by the military prosecution to its ground troops, it itself becomes an accomplice to the crime.