Justice eludes activist, father of Palestinian child killed by IDF

Posters hanging in Jerusalem on Wednesday Jan' 25, 2007. Protesting against the killing of Abir Aramin(Photo: activestills/flickr)Posters in Jerusalem in January 2007, protesting the killing of Abir Aramin (Photo: activestills.org)

In January 2007, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 10-year-old Palestinian girl on her way home from school.  Abir Aramin lived in Anata, a Palestinian village north of Jerusalem. The pathologist who performed the autopsy found that Abir was hit in the head by a rubber bullet. However, an Israeli police investigation found the soldiers innocent, claiming there was no proof that gunfire killed Abir.

For the last four and half years, Aramin’s family knocked every door seeking justice. I was there at the funeral when Abir’s father shocked  a crowd of Israelis by telling them that he would not seek revenge or surrender to hatred, and asked them to help him bring Abir’s murder to justice. I was there when Israelis and Palestinians demonstrated outside the police headquarters and the justice department in Jerusalem to pressure them to properly investigate Abir’s murder. I was there when Abir’s family decided to appeal to the Israeli court, hoping for justice.

Four and a half years later, Israel’s highest court found the Israeli soldiers responsible for killing Abir, and ordered the state to compensate the family. However, this is as far as justice goes in Israel. The court refused to order the police to reopen the criminal investigation. Those who killed Abir  continue to “serve” as soldiers and officers in the Israeli army.

The following letter was written by Abir’s father, Bassam Aramin, in an effort to spread awareness among Israelis and to remind those who have forgotten that murdering innocent children cannot be justified.  – Aziz Abu Sarah

By Bassam Aramin

The Israeli play has come to a conclusion – the protagonist, whom we shall call Y.A., a soldier serving in a unit of Israeli border guards, the playwright, Y.S., head of the investigation, and the talented director Dorit Beinisch, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The setting: the Israeli High Court of Justice on July 10, 2011, roughly four and a half years since the assassination of the ten-year-old child Abir Aramin by a bullet to her head, in front of her school in the town of Anata on January 16, 2007, at the hands of Y.A., the protagonist.

The decision of the High Court panel headed by Justice Beinisch and filled out by Justice Edna Arbel and Justice Ayala Procaccia is clear and unmistakable, and it comes after the investigation file was closed many times by the Israeli public prosecutor under the familiar provision – or rather, pretext –  “lack of sufficient evidence.”

But this time was different.  This time, Justice Beinisch actually agreed with the decision of the lower court.  She agreed that the responsibility for the killing of the child Abir lies with the soldiers involved in the incident and that the opening of fire was unjustified and the result of negligence.  She sharply criticized those who carried out a belated and incomplete investigation, despite immediate legal action taken by the family to ensure that any investigation would be properly conducted. But then, Justice Beinisch performed a perfect about-face.  She concluded that, due to the incompleteness of the investigation and the passage of four and a half years, neither the solider who fired the shot nor the soldiers or commanders of his unit could be brought to trial – though she did say that the mother of the slain girl had the right to know the identity of her daughter’s killer.

This is the Israeli justice that I have awaited for four and a half years: the closing of the case “according to Israeli law.”  The closing of the case of young child’s killing by the High Court of Justice could not happen without a legal basis supporting such action. However, no one can tell me what this legal basis is.  No one has studied it in the Israeli law schools except, it seems, Justice Beinisch and her fellow justices.  Even Michael Sfard, the family’s lawyer, who holds a doctorate in law, could not explain the legal basis on which Beinisch’s decision rested.

But Justice Beinisch and I, we know the legal basis for her decision.  So knows the Israeli public, and so too do the victims of the Israeli occupation – the Palestinians.  Yes, we know well that when it is applied to Palestinians, Israeli justice is a mirage, always just out of reach.

Could Iron Lady Beinisch rule that an Israeli Jew is guilty of slaying Palestinians?  Would she dare tarnish the reputed purity of Israeli arms?  How could she accept that a soldier of “the most moral army in the world” would engage in the killing of a ten-year-old child?  How could she look at the Palestinian child Abir as a victim, when she is surrounded by six million corpses of Jews who fell as victims of the Nazi Holocaust?  Who is this child, and how could she take up any room in a heart already turned into stone by the horrors that Jews experienced during a long history of persecution and discrimination and murder?  For this is the history that is always present in the consciousness of Beinisch, and that drives the system of the Israeli occupation.

In the middle of the year 2007, during a speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem, I asked a question of Gideon Ezra, who was at that time the Minister of Public Security.  I asked him what his reaction would be if someone killed his ten-year-old daughter.  His answer was no less provocative than the question: he said, Hamas also kills Jewish children!  The minister was talking to the wrong Palestinian.  I wonder, however, if Mr. Ezra were one day to be confirmed as Minister of Justice, would he be in favor of exonerating Hamas on the spurious legal basis of the passage of time?

In reality, the ruling of the High Court was predetermined from the first hearing on October 14, 2009.  On that day, Beinisch said to my attorney, Michael Sfard, that, as they both know, “in all of its history, the Court has not judged any person guilty for a matter of this nature.” The response of the defense attorney (who was about to give birth at the time), was that she would be “happy to participate in a similar discussion in the future,” as if the case and its outcome were a play already written, and each actor had only to play out the role assigned to him or her.

Dr. Nurit Peled Elhanan, a professor at Hebrew University who specializes in the Israeli educational system, and a winner of the EU’s Sakharov award for human rights, was one of the first two people to arrive at the Hadassa hospital on the day Abir was shot – the second being her husband and my spiritual brother Rami Elhanan.  The couple lost their own fourteen-year-old daughter Smadar in an attack in West Jerusalem on September 4, 1997.  On that day, Nurit said that the soldier who shot Abir would remain completely free and would never be found guilty.  After the session of the High Court on October 14, 2009, she wrote an article called “The High Court of Justice Does Not Extend Its Condolences.” She harshly critiqued the final decision of the court in her July 13, 2011 article “Abir Aramin Was Shot in the Head, but Nobody Shot Her.” I now completely understand why Rami said, “If every Israeli soldier was found guilty of the murder of a Palestinian child, who would be left to serve in the army?”

The great Israeli writer David Grossman, a bereaved parent himself, attended a session of the High Court on October 14, 2009 in solidarity with our family.  He later said in an interview with Haaretz that “there is a truly malignant conspiracy between the army, those who are charged with investigating its actions, the state, and the media,” and added, “who after all pays attention to the case of just another Palestinian child, her life worth little.”

Justice eludes activist, father of Palestinian child killed by IDF

It may be strange after all that has happened for me to say that I have remained, and will remain, steadfast in my belief in the realization of justice, and that the day will come when the killers of my daughter – who died, innocent, for no reason – will be convicted.  Despite the fact that the president of the High Court (a mother herself) has issued her decision that the case be closed, it is not closed for me.  If she thought that four and a half years was a long time after which to convict a murderer, it is not a long time for me.  For if Justice Beinisch had considered recent history, who would have thought that after Hitler committed suicide to escape judgment for his crimes against humanity, that his cronies, like Eichmann, would be chasedfor decades?  What is the fate of the Nazi army, sons of the most monstrous dictatorship in the world?  There is no escape for criminals these days, your Honor.  We are in the 21st century, and justice still hounds those murderers in Uganda and Cambodia and Bosnia forty years later, and not just four and a half years.

Justice Beinisch, my daughter Abir lives on in memory, and for me, each day she is killed anew.  This is perhaps as it is for you when you think of your relatives who suffered and died as victims of the Nazis, and as it was for the previous president of your court, Aharon Barak, a survior himself.  Your court will not relent in your pursuit of revenge against a new community of victims, upholding discriminatory laws that encourage the occupation and the settler movement, that turn Palestinian human beings into corpses.  These are the fine interior workings of the “death industry.”  The Israeli legal system does not offer even the most basic justice to Palestinians, who sometimes, in their despair, also turn to revenge that feeds the vicious circle and takes more victims.

But I will never look back and let revenge tempt me, and I will not be your victim again. I am not using my memories to take revenge, but rather to realize justice.  Justice Beinisch, Abir’s blood cries out from where it was spilled, “what was my guilt that have I been killed?”

To the murderer of my child Abir: look in the mirror.  You have to live with the truth that you are a killer of children.  Your role in the end is not that of a hero or a combatant, merely a victim yourself of a complex system – yet you still must shoulder the responsibility of killing my daughter.  I have not stopped believing that you are a human being and that the day will come when you will acknowledge your ugly crime.  Maybe the beginning is your recent decision to become a repentant-“chozer bitshuvah,” leaving your home for a new journey to God.  Will the new religious institute in which you are studying lead you to discover your humanity, admit your crime and demand that you be judged so that your conscience be cleared, or will you remain a silent victim of a system of immoral occupation?

How much I used to hope that just once, before the end of the occupation and its relegation to being a piece of trash in the wastebasket of history, Israel would acknowledge the crime of the murder of one young Palestinian girl, and would convict one soldier.  But the officer whom the High Court blamed for the inadequacy of the investigation into my daughter’s death has been promoted, as have the commanding officer of the border guard unit in Jerusalem.  Congratulations to them on their efforts to preserve Israel’s reputation and that of its military and police.

To conclude this piece, I send warm regards from the depths of my heart to all of my friends in the movement Combatants for Peace, which I helped found and am proud to be a part of, and likewise to the Bereaved Families Forum and to all the friends in Israel and in other parts of the world for the time they have invested in supporting our family during these long four and a half years. I want to remind them and all of the honest people of the world that Abir’s case is still open.  Justice will win in the end, for this is the law of the universe.  May we all stay true to the goodness and freedom and justice in our hearts, for we are seeing the Arab Spring light the way to liberty and democracy, and we shall see that same pulse of freedom beat in Israel.  The occupation will end, and the peoples of Israel and Palestine will enjoy peace and independence.  We will always bear the responsibility of fighting the death industry, and may we work together to institute in its place a co-operation of life and renewal.

Bassam Aramin is president of the Al Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue and co-founder of Combatants for Peace. He is a master’s student in Peace Studies at Bradford University.