IDF closes investigation into Bil’in killing without indictment

Four years after Bassem Abu Rahme was killed by a tear gas canister in Bil’in, the Israeli army says there is no evidence to indict. Video footage, however, shows that the tear gas canister was fired directly at him, contravening IDF regulations. Last year a former soldier who served in the same unit said the shooter aimed directly at Abu Rahme and even put an ‘X’ on his rifle afterward.

Bassem Abu Rahme Was Killed by a Tear Gas Canister in Bil'in in 2009
An archive photo, taken on July 25, 2008, shows Bassem Abu Rahme during a protest against the wall in the village of Bil’in.

Nearly five years after Bassem Abu Rahmeh was killed by an Israeli tear gas canister fired directly at his chest during a protest against the wall in Bil’in, Israel’s Military Advocate General (MAG) has closed the investigation into his April 2009 death, citing lack of evidence.

The military prosecution claims it was unable to determine the identity of the Israeli soldiers and border policemen involved or whether open-fire regulations were breached. This, despite the fact that as B’Tselem and Yesh Din pointed out in a joint press release condemning the decision, three video segments filmed during the demonstration show that Abu Rahmeh was situated to the east of the barrier, did not act violently and did not endanger the soldiers in any way.

B’Tselem and Yesh Din also point out that an analysis of the video footage of the incident by visualization experts determined that the grenade was fired directly at Abu Rahmeh, in complete contravention of army regulations. Footage of Abu Rahme’s death also appears in the Oscar-nominated film “Five Broken Cameras,” directed by Guy Davidi and Imad Burnat.

Late last year, a soldier who served in the same unit that killed Abu Rahme gave testimony about the incident to Breaking the Silence. “…[T]his one time, one of the soldiers simply aimed at someone directly, and [the tear gas canister] hit his chest and he got killed.”

“The guy who shot him … was kind of pleased with the whole thing, he had an X on his launcher,” the former soldier continued. An X on a weapon indicates a “kill.”

IDF closes investigation into Bil'in killing without indictment
A Bil’in village official and family member holds the tear gas canister that killed Abu Rahme during his funeral, April 17, 2009 (Oren Ziv/

The MAG decision, made in late July, was only recently conveyed to the Israeli High Court of Justice. It came in a statement (Hebrew) by the State Attorney in response to a petition filed by Subhiya Abu Rahmeh, Bassem’s mother, together with the Bil’in Village Council and Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din.

In its official statement, the state did not explain the rationale behind its decision, stating simply that “there is not enough evidence to proceed with criminal proceedings against any of the soldiers involved in the incident.” No information was given regarding the findings of the investigation, which the state argued had included “comprehensive and rigorous investigative actions,” or about the accounts provided by the soldiers who had been questioned. Nor did the statement provide the content of the opinions given by military and police experts or their interpretation of the findings from the video footage.

The village of Bil’in, whose residents have been protesting the route of the separation barrier through its farmlands every week since 2005, has has suffered dozens of injuries and arrests. (In 2007, the High Court ordered the wall in Bil’in be moved, although it still cuts off the village from much of its lands.) Two years ago the Abu Rahmeh family lost another member, Bassem’s sister, Jawaher, who died after suffering tear gas inhalation. The army denied tear gas inhalation was the cause of her death.

The investigation into Bassem Abu Rahme’s killing was only launched a year after the incident following demands by B’Tselem and the family’s lawyers. The foot-dragging and procrastination in the case continued, however, even after the investigation began. Only a petition to the High Court finally brought about a decision in the case.

In response to the statement submitted by the State Attorney’s Office, Attorney Emily Schaeffer of Yesh Din’s legal team said:

The decision to close the case in the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmeh is unacceptable, particularly in view of the expert opinion that determined that the tear gas grenade was fired directly at Abu Rahmeh at close range. Despite three separate videos that recorded the killing of Bassem, the military investigators and police have failed to find the what caused the death of an unarmed demonstrator. The conduct of the law enforcement bodies in this case is further proof of the feebleness of the authorities in cases of Palestinian casualties. Moreover, it seems there is no intention to uncover the truth or prosecute the offenders, even in extreme cases such as this, in which there is clear-cut and unambiguous evidence. Bassem’s family, together with B’Tselem and Yesh Din, will continue in its struggle to bring the parties responsible for his death to justice.

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