Charges dropped in shooting of Palestinian siblings at checkpoint
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Charges dropped in shooting of Palestinian siblings at checkpoint

State Prosecutor says no evidence civilian guards acted unlawfully during April incident at Qalandiya in which brother and sister killed

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Israeli security forces stand guard at the Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah in the West Bank after a security guard shot dead two Palestinians at the crossing on April 27, 2016, after one of them threw a knife at border guards. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Israeli security forces stand guard at the Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah in the West Bank after a security guard shot dead two Palestinians at the crossing on April 27, 2016, after one of them threw a knife at border guards. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Charges will not be filed against two civilian guards who shot and killed an armed Palestinian woman and her brother at the flashpoint Qalandiya crossing in the West Bank in April, Israel’s State Prosecutor’s Office said Wednesday.

Maram Hassan Abu Ismail, 23, and her brother Ibrahim Saleh Taha, 16 — both residents of the central West Bank village of Beit Surrif — were killed by guards in April after Abu Ismail threw a knife at the guards, according to police. Taha was also found to have been carrying a knife.

A statement from the prosecutor said the case against one guard would be closed due to a “lack of evidence,” and against the other due to a “lack of guilt.”

According to security footage of the incident, one guard fired a shot at the woman as she drew the knife, and “as such he acted in self-defense,” the statement read.

Two knives and a Leatherman-style multi-tool that a Palestinian couple allegedly planned to use to attack Border Police officers at the Qalandiya border crossing on April 27, 2016. (Israel Police)
Two knives and a Leatherman-style multi-tool that a Palestinian couple allegedly planned to use to attack Border Police officers at the Qalandiya border crossing on April 27, 2016. (Israel Police)

In May, police opened an investigation into suspicions of unlawful conduct by the guards.

According to the police account of the incident, Abu Ismail and her brother raised suspicions after approaching the checkpoint in the wrong lane, which was intended for vehicles rather than pedestrians.

Police said Abu Ismail then hurled a knife at security personnel before she was shot. The knife was recovered at the scene, and a spokeswoman said a second, identical knife was found on Taha’s belt, along with a Leatherman-style multi-tool.

No Israeli forces were injured in the incident.

Abu Ismail was spotted walking toward guards with her hand concealed inside her purse, and security personnel fired only after calling on her to stop several times, according to a police spokesperson.

Their father, Salah Abu Ismail, 61, from the village of Katana north of Jerusalem, told The Times of Israel in a telephone interview a day after the incident that his daughter had arrived at the crossing to obtain a permit to enter Jerusalem for medical treatment. He insisted that neither of his children was carrying a knife.

Palestinian Fatema Taha, 40, the mother of Maram, 24 and Ibrahim Taha, 16, displays a poster with their pictures and Arabic that reads, "Islamic Jihad in Palestine celebrates the martyrs of Jerusalem's uprising," at the family house, in the West Bank village of Qatana, near Ramallah, Thursday, April 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Palestinian Fatema Taha, 40, the mother of Maram, 24 and Ibrahim Taha, 16, displays a poster with their pictures and Arabic that reads, “Islamic Jihad in Palestine celebrates the martyrs of Jerusalem’s uprising,” at the family house, in the West Bank village of Qatana, near Ramallah, Thursday, April 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

The preliminary investigation earlier this year found that the guards complied with protocol and arrest procedures by firing warning shots into the air as the siblings approached guards at the checkpoint in a suspicious manner.

Police had refused to release footage of the incident, classifying it as evidence in an ongoing investigation, despite demands from the Abu Ismail family.

With the investigation closed Wednesday, the police did not immediately respond to a Freedom of Information request from The Times of Israel to release the footage.

The Defense Ministry often contracts guards from private companies to bolster its security presence at major crossings between Israel and Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.

Professionally subordinate to the police, the private guards don’t usually come into contact with Palestinians crossing through the checkpoints, and are frequently stationed behind concrete barriers to generally reinforce Israeli security.

Qalandiya and the adjacent crossing between the West Bank and Israel have been frequent hotspots of conflict in the recent wave of violence that has rocked Israel since September.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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