Liberman: US shouldn’t call for probe of Nakba Day killings

Liberman: US shouldn’t call for probe of Nakba Day killings

Foreign minister insists Israel will investigate because of its own ethical values, says clip of shooting 'raises suspicions'

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Flash90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday criticized a call by the United States for Israel to conduct an investigation into the deaths of two Palestinian teenagers shot during clashes with the IDF last Thursday, saying the IDF would investigate not due to external pressure, but out of adherence to its own values.

“We have no need for an American demand to investigate what happened,” Liberman said during a visit to Ariel University in the West Bank. “The IDF is the most ethical army in the world.

“I regret that these demands don’t come out in other cases,” Liberman continued. “In Syria, close to 170,000 people have been killed, and I did not see any action by the international community to investigate the murders. Hamas assassinated two civilians in the Gaza Strip, without a lawyer and without a trial. I did not see any request from the international community.

“We will investigate out of our responsibility to the ethical codes of the IDF. What’s more, the clip that was circulated suddenly wasn’t put out immediately — only a few days later — and this raises suspicions,” he said.

The video, which emerged Tuesday, appears to show that the slain Palestinians, killed during Nakba Day protests at Beitunia in the West Bank, were unarmed when they were shot.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday that her office was seeking additional information from the Israeli government in order to determine whether the soldiers’ use of force was justified.

“We look to the government of Israel to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation to determine the facts surrounding this incident, including whether or not the use of force was proportional to the threat posed by the demonstrators,” Psaki said, adding, “we are encouraging the government of Israel to conduct their own investigation.”

Israeli military officials said Tuesday they had been investigating the incident since Thursday, and had also opened a military police investigation. Preliminary findings indicated no live fire had been used by IDF troops, they said.

The two Palestinian youths, aged 16 and 17, were killed during clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops.

The video, posted by Defense for Children International’s Palestine division, shows two men walking near a gas station and then being shot about an hour apart.

Psaki expressed her condolences to the families of the deceased and urged all parties to exercise restraint.

The UN Security Council also issued a statement calling for an “independent and transparent investigation” over the teens’ deaths and urged Israel to ensure “its security forces strictly adhere to the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.”

UN Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco told the Security Council’s monthly Mideast briefing: “It is of serious concern that initial information appears to indicate that the two Palestinians killed were both unarmed and appeared to pose no direct threat.”

Responding to the video, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Tuesday that the Israeli troops had faced violent protests and Molotov cocktail attacks, and acted “appropriately” given that “they were in a situation where their lives were in danger.”

Ya’alon said that he had not yet viewed the footage, “but I’ve seen lots of films that were edited [to distort what had happened]. This film I’ve not yet seen, but I know the system.”

The surveillance video starts with footage, time-stamped at 1:38 p.m., of the clashes near a gas station outside of Ofer Prison, in which a group of Palestinians are running for cover. One of the Palestinians is in the act of slinging a rock.

The next piece of footage, time-stamped 1:45 p.m., appears to show a Palestinian getting shot as he walks by the gas station after the clashes have subsided. A second Palestinian appears to be shot at 2:58 p.m., after which people rush from the gas station to his aid, followed by cameramen.

The video named the two fatalities as Nadeem Siam Nawara, 17, and Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh, 16.

Israeli police in a confrontation with Palestinians at a Nakba Day event, outside the Old City of Jerusalem, on May 15, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli police in a confrontation with Palestinians at a Nakba Day event, outside the Old City of Jerusalem, on May 15, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Israeli military source told The Times of Israel that the CCTV footage had been edited down from hours of violent protests to two minutes of footage that did not convey the violence that took place.

“Last Thursday, there were a number of violent protests in Judea and Samaria. In the Betunia area, a violent demonstration took place, involving around 150 Palestinians which included incidents of tire-burning and rock-throwing,” the army said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“Security forces in the area used riot dispersal means to restore calm,” the statement said. “Later in the day, it was reported that two Palestinians died as a result of these security operations. A preliminary investigation determined that live fire was not used by security forces. The incident remains under investigation. The video clip which was released today has been edited, and doesn’t document the full extent of the event, nor does it reflect the violent nature of the riot.”

A Palestinian man interviewed in the video said that at the time of the shootings, no one was throwing stones and that the youths had moved back behind the gas station. He added that he heard four shots of live ammunition that he was sure had come from the direction of the lot outside the eastern side of the prison.

Palestinian witnesses at the scene said the two had been killed by live ammunition; PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said Tuesday that the shooting was done “in cold blood” and called for an investigation.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said it had obtained medical opinions regarding the entry and exit wounds found in the bodies of the two dead Palestinians and two other injured protesters, “which are completely consistent with injuries caused by live fire and could not have been caused by rubber-coated metal bullets – especially not when fired at a relatively long range, as was the case here.” It said it would transfer all the material at its disposal to the Military Police Investigations Unit.

Times of Israel staff, AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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