TEL AVIV, Israel - The Central District Attorney's Office has filed an indictment against two Israeli soldiers who shot and killed a 16-year old Palestinian boy near the Separation Barrier in Budrus, in the Ramallah district. The indictment was filed in accordance with the state's assurance to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) that the soldiers would be charged with reckless and negligent use of a firearm. The arraignment will take place in the Ramle Magistrates Court on 14 April 2016.
The indictment states that commanders in the 71st Armored Corps Battalion ordered a stakeout near the Separation Barrier for the express purpose of "preventing sabotage to the barrier." The stakeout unit split into two groups and waited inside the barrier system, which is made of several fences and a patrol road in between, and on the "Palestinian" side of the barrier. A Palestinian boy, Samir 'Awad, did not notice the soldiers and entered the barrier through an existing breach in the fence. The troops then showed themselves and began pursuing 'Awad, who had gotten caught in the barbed wire fence, but managed to break loose and escape, with the unit commander and another soldier in pursuit. The indictment describes how while in pursuit, the soldiers first fired in the air, and then fired eight bullets in succession at the fleeing boy. According to the indictment, all the shots at 'Awad were fired in circumstances in which gunfire is prohibited under open-fire regulations, with five shots fired even without looking through the gun sights.
The disparity between the egregious conduct of the soldiers and the minor charges being brought against them beggars belief, Israeli human rights group B'tselem says. Reckless and negligent use of a firearm is one of the lightest firearm use offenses. The maximum penalty it carries is a three-year jail term. In choosing to charge the soldiers with this count, B'tselem says, the State Attorney's Office is sending a clear message to security personnel in the Occupied Territories: even if you kill Palestinians who pose no danger to anyone, even if you breach regulations, we will take action to cover up the matter and make sure it ends without any real accountability.
Another aspect of the cover-up is that the focus is only on the soldiers involved in the incident on the ground. The indictment makes no mention of the command-level responsibility for 'Awad's death, addressing neither the orders given to the stakeout unit or the arms and gear it was given for the mission, not the very decision to mount such a stakeout, the Israeli human rights group maintains. "The failure to examine these questions lends support to the military's policy of posting armed stakeouts for the express purpose of preventing sabotage to the Separation Barrier or stone-throwing near it - a policy that continues to cost lives. The last such case documented by B'Tselem resulted in the death of Lafy 'Awad on 13 November 2015."
"The similarities between the killing of 16-year-old Samir 'Awad and the killing of Lafy 'Awad in the very same spot are chilling. In both cases, soldiers were in a stakeout near the Separation Barrier inside Budrus, and in both cases, soldiers fired at the backs of youths who were fleeing and posing no danger to anyone," B'tselem said in a statement.
"Now, this policy of armed stakeouts, a tactic that has been proven to be dangerous and lethal, will continue taking the lives of Palestinians with the approval of the justice system."
Ar the time of the boy's death the UK's Daily Telegraph said the boy and his classmates were responding to insults by the soldiers who were using loud hailers to provoke pupils at Samir's Boudrous Secondary School, which was 200 yards away from where they had set up their base.
"They were shouting, 'Come dogs, Come to the wall," 10-year-old Khaled Shaheen told The Daily Telegraph. "They were also calling us sons-of-bitches and saying your mothers are dogs and adulteresses. They were shouting on the loudspeakers before Samir left his class."
"When he came out of class, he and four friends told us younger children to stay inside the schoolyard while they approached the soldiers at the fence."
His description was confirmed by several older pupils at the school, who said the soldiers uttered other obscenities they were reluctant to repeat, the Telegraph reported.
An Arab language teacher, Nader Shalash, 37, said shouted insults from the army patrols were a daily occurrence.
"They went to say to the pupils, 'We are here. Come and get a bit of trouble'," said Mr Shalash, who described Samir as intelligent and a good student. "Some of the soldiers are Druze and some are Jewish. They also play loud music. We built a wall and fence around the school and also erected three gates which we keep locked during school hours because we don't want any provocations. However, they happen," he told The Daily Telegraph.
Family and friends say Samir was running away from the security barrier after soldiers fired tear gas. As he tried to head towards the school, he was intercepted by two other soldiers who had been hiding in a trench dug by the Jordanian army during the 1967 Six-Day War.
While his friends managed to get away, Samir's escape route was cut off, forcing him to run back towards the barrier. It was at that point he was shot, witnesses say.
The incident happened shortly before 10am on a Tuesday just after the teenager had finished a midterm science exam.
B'tselem said the Israeli soldiers called for an ambulance but apparently did not administer treatment. They left the scene when villagers, including Samir's brother, Jibril, arrived and carried him away.
The following day The Daily Telegraph said it witnessed further confrontations in the area between the school and the security barrier. Israeli soldiers fired rounds of tear gas after several Palestinian youths approached the barrier, which consists entirely of fencing in the region around Boudrous.
The village achieved fame after being the first West Bank village to organise regular protests against the barrier, eventually succeeding in getting its route changed. The Awad family told the Telegraph they lost five acres of land to the barrier's construction and that four of Samir's brothers have been wounded in clashes with Israeli soldiers.
Israeli military forces routinely use "unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal force" against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, with some killings amounting to war crimes, Amnesty International said in a report it published in February 2014.
The report titled 'Trigger-happy', said Israeli forces displayed a "callous disregard" for human life with near total impunity for the killing of Palestinian civilians in cases examined since 2011.
"The report presents a body of evidence that shows a harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the West Bank," Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International said at the time.
"The frequency and persistence of arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and police officers and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators suggests that it is carried out as a matter of policy."
Amnesty documented the killing of 22 Palestinians in 2013, 14 of which took place during protests and four of whom were children.
In all cases the civilians killed posed no direct or immediate threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers and there is evidence that some were willfully killed, which would amount to a war crime.
The report presents a case study of the killing of Samir Awad. "They shot him first in the leg, yet he managed to run away how far can an injured child run? They could have easily arrested him instead they shot him in the back with live ammunition," a friend of Samir told Amnesty.
Samir's killing may amount to an extrajudicial execution, or willful killing, which is considered a war crime under international law, the report added.
"Forty-five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since 2011, with peaceful protesters, civilian bystanders, human rights activists and journalists among the victims," the February 2014 report said. "In the same time period, 261 Palestinians, including 67 children, have been seriously injured by live fire, while over 8,500 people, including 1,500 children, have been shot and wounded by rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters."
"The staggering numbers of wounded provide a sobering reminder of the relentless daily danger faced by Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank," said Luther.
In many cases several victims were shot in the back, indicating that they posed no genuine threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers and were targeted as they fled, the Amnesty report said.
Israeli investigations into suspected unlawful killings have lacked transparency, impartiality and "proved woefully inadequate."
"Too much civilian blood has been spilled. This long-standing pattern of abuse must be broken. If the Israeli authorities wish to prove to the world they are committed to democratic principles and international human rights standards, unlawful killings and unnecessary use of force must stop now," Luther said.
The Israeli army rejected the charges, noting at the time there had been a "substantial increase in Palestinian violence" over the prior year.
"The IDF holds itself to the highest of professional standards and trains and equips itself as such. When there is any suspicion of wrong doing, or breach of discipline, the IDF reviews, investigates and takes action where appropriate," a statement said.