Outrage, but not surprise, is what I felt when I heard the news from the Israeli high court Wednesday. A sentence of nine months and 50,000 shekels (less than $14,000) for the killing of 17-year-old Nadeem Nowarah makes a mockery of any sense of justice.
I remember well sitting in Olympia with Nadeem’s Palestinian father, Siam Nowarah, watching over and over again the video of his son being shot and killed by an Israel Border Police officer, Ben Deri. It is a sickening thing to watch. Not just the killing, but the necessity of Nadeem’s father being forced to participate in the forensic display of his son’s death in an attempt to create public outcry and an eventual trial of the officer that killed him. As I sat and watched, I could not bring myself to tell Siam what I was thinking: “You don’t go to the top of the hill looking for water, and you don’t go to the Israeli courts looking for justice.”
I know also the almost guilty feeling of privilege that comes with knowing that your child’s killing has received some notice, when that of so many Palestinian children does not. My daughter Rachel was an international. Siam’s son Nadeem’s killing was filmed by CNN. Both cases eventually forced internal Israeli investigations, but ones that started with Israeli government spokesmen giving ever-changing false accounts and continued with examinations sloppy to the point of cover-up rather than mere incompetence. In Rachel’s case, no criminal charges were ever filed against anyone, and at the end of our civil case in Israel, the court found, not the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), but Rachel responsible – for her own death. For Nadeem, his killer was found guilty, but by a court that reportedly described the shooter Ben Deri as “an excellent police officer who was conscientious about orders.” The judge did allow, however, that his “degree of negligence was significant and calls for prison time.” Negligence? Look at the video of Deri steadying his rifle on the wall as he lines up the killing shot. Can such deliberation be negligence? Conscientious about orders? What orders, and who gave them? Certainly the order to kill an unarmed civilian is an illegal order, and I’m told that an Israel Border Police officer or IDF soldier’s duty is – as it was for me in the U.S. army – not to obey an illegal order. So if an order was given, why is the officer who gave it not also in the docket? What message does this court send to the snipers and their officers now shooting unarmed protesters along the barrier in Gaza?
And what about Ben Deri’s sentence then? Let’s compare it to the sentence originally handed down to three teenage Palestinian boys this month accused of throwing rocks at, and causing great damage to, the wall next to their West Bank village of Bil’in. You know Bil’in; you know the wall that separates the village from its own cropland; and you know Iyad Burnat, the father of one of the boys arrested. You know them all from the film Five Broken Cameras.
I’ve seen that wall. Ain’t no stone gonna hurt that wall, much as I wish it would. The three boys were originally sentenced to two years in jail and fined 50,000 shekels apiece for the unproven accusations. The court also stipulated that if the fine was not paid by last Sunday (April 22, 2018), that the incarceration would be extended an additional four years. The Israeli military courts, where this case was tried, may not be fair, but they are very efficient. They have a conviction rate of over 99%! The boys agreed to a plea bargain, reducing their fines to 18,000 shekels each with time to gather the fine extended, and their jail terms cut to 19 months. A reasonable bargain for these children, only if you consider the alternative.
So on the one hand, you have an Israeli soldier given a seven-month jail sentence and 50,000 shekel fine for deliberately killing an unarmed Palestinian boy, and on the other, you have three Palestinian boys forced to plea bargain to over 1 1/2 years in prison and 18,000 shekel fines each for allegedly throwing stones at an inanimate wall.
If you must choose one or the other, go to the top of the hill looking for water!
April 27, 2018