Israeli officer charged in shooting death of Palestinian teen

An Israeli border policeman was charged with manslaughter on Sunday in the fatal shooting of a Palestinian teenager during a protest in the West Bank, a rare case in which a member of the security forces has been prosecuted for killing a Palestinian.

The charges, brought after forensic findings showed that the youth had been hit with a round from the policeman’s rifle, contradicted earlier claims by the military and police that no live fire had been used.

The incident occurred during stone-throwing protests on May 15 outside Ofer Prison, where Palestinians are jailed near Ramallah. Four Palestinians were hit by gunfire during the protest and two were killed, Nadim Nawara, 17, and Muhammad Salameh, 16.

In their initial responses, the army and police said that troops had used non-lethal crowd control weapons such as rubber bullets, tear-gas and stun grenades, and had not fired live ammunition at the protesters.

However, video from surveillance cameras at a local warehouse showed Nawara and Salameh falling to the ground after they were shot as they passed by, not during clashes with Israeli forces. Fakher Zayed, the warehouse owner, said that there had been no confrontations at the time after protesters had been scattered by tear-gas.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said in response that the film had been doctored and that the border police had responded appropriately to protesters who had hurled stones and Molotov cocktails. An army spokesman said that video had been “tendentiously edited” and did not reflect the violence by the protesters.

Medical reports showed that the teens had been hit by live rounds, and a bullet recovered from Nawara’s backpack after it exited his back was later handed over to the Israeli authorities. Traces of Nawara’s blood were found on the bullet, and fragments of the same round were found in his body during an autopsy. The bullet was traced by investigators to an M -16 rifle used by the border policeman, who had denied firing live ammunition.

On the day of the shooting, the policeman, whose name was not disclosed under a gag order, had been stationed with other officers at a position overlooking a road with the task of dispersing protestors with rubber-coated bullets.

According to the charges, a group of protesters including Nawara hurled stones at the officers from about 60 to 80 yards away and several minutes later the policeman loaded a live round into a clip intended for use in firing rubber-coated bullets. The officer fired at Nawara “with the intention of causing him grievous bodily harm, anticipating the possibility that he might be killed,” the indictment said.

The accused policeman was not indicted in the fatal shooting of the other teen killed in the incident. A spokeswoman for the Jerusalem district prosecutor’s office said that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges in that case.

Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, said that it was “extremely rare” for charges to be brought against soldiers or border police officers for killing Palestinians, and that Nawara’s case was unique because the fatal round had been recovered by his father and the incident was caught on video.

Greenberg is a McClatchy special correspondent.