Mustafa Tamimi: A murder captured on camera

by Haggai Matar: December 11 2011|+972blog

 

Mustafa Tamimi of Nabi Saleh died yesterday morning in Beilinson Hospital. There’s no debate over the cause of death: Tamimi was shot in the head at close range during the weekly demonstration in his village. The weapon: a high force, long range tear gas canister. According to a number of witnesses, backed up by photographs, the canister was fired point-blank, in total contravention of army regulations, from a distance of less than ten meters. The shooter: an Israeli soldier, from a Jeep.

 

Mustafa Tamimi is on the left. The weapon and the tear gas canister are circled in red (photo: Haim Scwarczenberg)

It’s not every day that the authorities come in possession of such a picture, which can supply more than 1,000 words in an indictment. The picture shows, firstly, the shot, an instant before the canister strikes him. This picture also shows that Tamimi may have thrown stones at the military Jeep, but it’s also clear that the Jeep is both closed and armored, and there is no doubt that Tamimi constitutes no danger to the lives of the soldiers – especially had they shut the door. In the picture you can also see the canister in the air, and the forbidden angle at which it’s flying toward Tamimi. You can’t see the shooter, but you can easily see that he was driving in military jeep S0661410. You can easily figure out who drove it by calling 02-5694211. From there it probably won’t be too hard to figure out who else was in the vehicle, and who opened the door to fire at Tamimi.

 

But this won’t happen. Unlike Bassem Tamimi – an organizer of the demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, who has been in jail since March and whose trial used testimonies taken from minors pressured by illegal interrogation methods – it’s safe to assume that the soldier who shot Mustafa Tamimi won’t be arrested in the near future. He won’t sit in jail while awaiting trial for murder, or manslaughter, or even negligent manslaughter. The past has proven to us that maybe, just maybe, if some organizations and dedicated attorneys invest in a prolonged military struggle, the soldier will be charged with firing against regulations, or illegal use of a weapon, or a moving violation like driving in a military vehicle with the door open. Maybe, just maybe, he will be convicted and demoted, and maybe he’ll even be fined or get a two-month sentence. Suspended sentence, of course. But maybe not.

 

I haven’t been to Nabi Saleh. They have been protesting there against the occupation for two and a half years, against the army-supported settler seizure of the village’s lands and spring. But I haven’t made it there. I have written on several occasions about the struggle there, but I didn’t join the demonstrations. I’ve been to Bil’in, Ni’lin, Ma’asara, Um Salmona, Jius, Hebron, Susya, Salfit, Azon, Jenin, Beit Ommar, Ramallah, Jericho, Walajeh, and more – but I haven’t been to Nabi Saleh.

 

The photographs of violence that have come out of Nabi Saleh simply scared me. The beatings, the rubber bullets from close range, the many wounded, and the army that roams the streets and fires tear gas into homes around the village – there’s nowhere to hide. Nobody had been killed until now, but it was just a matter of time. My friends told me that things had calmed down there lately, that it wasn’t like it had been at the beginning, that it was manageable, that you could fade back and find safety if you wanted to – I started to consider going.

 

More and more friends on Facebook are sharing the close-ups of Tamimi’s head after he was shot – covered in blood – and the video clips of his evacuation. I have no choice but to look at the photographs, and my body stiffens, freezes, shakes a bit. Before I was notified of Tamimi’s death, the photographs reminded me of Tristan Anderson, the American whose skull was shattered by a similar canister by similar soldiers in Ni’lin, in a demonstration at which I was present. I remembered the horror of that day, and the time that Anderson then spent in the hospital, hovering between life and death until he left in a wheelchair, in which he’ll probably remain for life. I remembered Matan Cohen, and Limor Goldstein, and their injuries, and my own light injuries. I remember Bassem and Jawaher Abu Rahma, who were killed in Bil’in, and 10-year-old Ahmed Moussa, who was killed by soldiers in another demonstration – and more.

 

It is simply shocking. Truly shocking. I look around, and I don’t see my society shocked. Not shocked at all of these people, or at the two head injures in Nabi Saleh yesterday, or at the two arrests in a peaceful demonstration in Ma’asara, which didn’t even get any coverage. I see the careful reports reading, “Palestinians claim that…” and the blind faith in the stance of the IDF Spokesperson. And the lack of shock shocks me even more. Especially shocking after all this are the reader comments, which claim that “they deserved it” or that describe the weekly popular demonstrations in the occupied territories, despite the repression and the injuries and the arrests and the terror and the death, as a “game,” or “theater,” or a “hangout of anarchists and bored Arabs.” And I hope that somehow, the UN Special Rapporteur on Free Speech, who spent Friday in Nabi Saleh when Tamimi was shot, sees and understands what is happening here, and maybe will manage to give us some assistance from outside. He, or the European consuls who are witnessing the trial of Bassem Tamimi, or diplomats who document the destruction of the caves and wells in the South Hebron Hills. But I have a hard time believing.

 

But – a shred of hope? Despite it all? Is there a source of encouragement, alongside all these killings, alongside the father of son who were killed in Gaza, and the death and bereavement that follows us everywhere thoughout this land of occupation and repression and war? Yes. The human spirit. It may be a cliché, but I believe in the words of Charlie Chaplin: We want to live by each other’s happiness — not by each other’s misery. We don’t give up on the eternal struggle for a future that is better, freer, more equal, more just, and in the long run, we achieve something. Capitalism and racism may incite us to selfishness and war, but ultimately, occupations collapse, empires fall, and humans continue to create and protest and build and love. And alongside such pictures of murder, this must be remembered.

 

Haggai Matar is an Israeli journalist and political activist, focusing mainly on the struggle against the occupation. He currently works at Zman Tel Aviv, the local supplement of Maariv newspaper, and at the independent Hebrew website MySay. This piece originally appeared on MySay. Translated by Noa Yachot.

B’Tselem: Soldier kills Palestinian demonstrator Mustafa Tamimi, 28, by shooting tear-gas canister at him

by B’Tselem: 11 December 2011

On Friday, 9 December 2011, the weekly demonstration was held in the village of a-Nabi Saleh, Ramallah District, against settlers’ seizure of land belonging to Palestinian villages in the area. According to B’Tselem’s information, in the early afternoon, after the main demonstration had dispersed, several young men threw stones at an army jeep. One of them was village resident Mustafa a-Tamimi. Photos taken by photographer Haim Scwarczenberg show that the jeep turned around and began to back away. A soldier sitting in the jeep then opened the back door and fired a tear-gas canister directly at a-Tamimi, who was several meters away. The canister struck Tamimi in the face, causing extensive bleeding. Shortly afterwards, the soldiers evacuated him to Beilinson Hospital, where he died the next day. B’Tselem has documented many cases in which tear-gas canisters were fired directly at people during the weekly protest in a-Nabi Saleh, including other occasions during the same demonstration, and elsewhere in the West Bank.

Photographs of the firing directly at Tamimi, by Haim Scwarczenberg, 9 Dec. '11.
Photographs of the firing directly at a-Tamimi, by Haim Scwarczenberg, 9 Dec. ’11.

For several years now, B’Tselem has been warning officials that security forces’ fire tear-gas canisters directly at persons during demonstrations. The organization has demanded – both in meetings with senior military officials and by letter – that commanders clarify to soldiers serving in the field that firing tear-gas canisters directly at a person is unlawful. Tear gas is supposed to serve as a non-lethal crowd control measure, and using it as a substitute for live fire is forbidden. Therefore, firing tear-gas canisters directly at persons breaches the rules of engagement.

Such firing has resulted in serious injury and death. In April 2009, Bassem Abu-Rahmah, from the village of Bi’lin, was killed by a tear gas canister that struck him in the chest. B’Tselem knows of 13 cases in which persons were seriously injured in similar circumstances since the beginning of the second intifada. B’Tselem has also documented direct firing of canisters that did not result in injury, and has provided the Military Advocate General Corps and the commander of Judea and Samaria Brigade with video footage of such firing.

The moment of firing at Tamimi. The rifle end can be seen emerging from the opened jeep door. The tear gas canister itself is seen against the backdrop of the left mirror. On the left, in the white shirt, is Mustafa Tamimi. Photo: Haim Scwarczenberg.
The moment of firing at a-Tamimi. The 40mm launcher end can be seen emerging from the opened jeep door. The tear gas canister itself is seen against the backdrop of the left mirror. On the left, in the white shirt, is Mustafa a-Tamimi. Photo: Haim Scwarczenberg.

In response to B’Tselem’s demands, the then-legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, Col. Sharon Afek, replied in April 2009 that, “direct firing [of tear-gas canisters] at persons is prohibited” and that, “very soon, an explicit and broad directive will be issued that will prohibit the firing of a tear-gas canister directly at a person.” In July 2011, following further requests by B’Tselem, after the direct firing continued to occur at demonstrations, Major Uri Sagi, of the office of the legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, replied that, “following your letter, we have again clarified to the forces operating in Central Command the rules relating to firing of tear-gas canisters at persons, including the prohibition on directly firing a tear-gas canister at a person.” At meetings with B’Tselem, senior military officials claimed that such firing is forbidden and does not occur.

However, B’Tselem has since documented more cases in which security forces fired tear-gas canisters directly at persons. As far as B’Tselem knows, no soldier has been prosecuted for such firing. In the abovementioned case of Abu-Rahmah, which occurred in April 2009, a Military Police investigation was opened only in July 2010, and only after B’Tselem and Attorney Micha’el Sfard threatened to petition the High Court of Justice if an investigation were not initiated.

B’Tselem wrote to the office of the military advocate for operational matters to verify that an MPIU investigation had been opened in the case of a-Tamimi, in accordance with the new policy that the MAG Corps declared before the High Court of Justice. B’Tselem demanded that the investigation examine not only the conduct of the soldier who fired the canister, but also the responsibility of the command echelon, including the orders given to the soldier.

B’Tselem will provide all the material in its possession and will follow the case to make sure the investigation is effective and professional.