Army to open criminal probe into 2015 death of 18-year-old Palestinian

Army to open criminal probe into 2015 death of 18-year-old Palestinian

Decision follows High Court petition by father of Samah Abdallah, who was shot while seated in her family's car as it passed by scene of stabbing attack

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

18-year-old Samah Abdallah, who was shot and killed by IDF soldiers in November 2015. (Courtesy of her family)
18-year-old Samah Abdallah, who was shot and killed by IDF soldiers in November 2015. (Courtesy of her family)

The chief military prosecutor on Thursday ordered a criminal investigation into the November 2015 shooting of an 18-year-old Palestinian woman by an IDF soldier, two years after the army deemed such a probe to be unnecessary.

The decision came on the final day for the state to respond to a High Court of Justice petition submitted by Abd al-Muamen Abdallah demanding the circumstances of his daughter Samah’s death be examined as well as the deaths of all other Palestinians killed by indirect fire in non-combat situations.

Samah was sitting in the back seat when her family’s car came under fire as it passed through the Hawara checkpoint south of Nablus. Israeli soldiers had been responding to an attempted stabbing attack nearby and the Abdallah car was hit by mistake, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement following the November 23, 2015 incident.

The 18-year-old was rushed to a nearby hospital with a bullet wound to the head. She remained unconscious for three weeks before she died of her injuries.

Israel Police officers guard a street where a group of Palestinians attacked an Israeli settler, who fired back, killing one person and wounding another, in Hawara, in the northern West Bank on May 19, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

While IDF policy requires a full investigation into every incident that results in the death of a Palestinian civilian, an exception is made for those casualties considered to be “clearly part of a combat situation.”

That stipulation was used by the army to close the case after an operational review rather than opening a criminal investigation. While the army acknowledged at the time that Samah was entirely uninvolved in the attempted stabbing attack that took place a couple hundred feet away, it claimed that the soldiers had been seeking to prevent the harm of Israeli civilians at the scene when they fired errantly.

The episode at the Hawara junction was one of three such incidents that took place that day, which came at the start of a wave stabbing and car-ramming attacks in the fall of 2015.

A spokesman for the Yesh Din rights group that assisted Abdallah in filing the High Court petition explained that while criminal probes by the military police investigator’s unit are relatively frequent, a decision by the army to open a probe after initially refusing to do so is exceptionally rare.

Moreover, he argued that the IDF’s draconian interpretation of the phrase “combat situation,” was preventing far more cases from being probed than necessary.

Illustrative: Israeli security forces take aim during clashes with Palestinians near the Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, on January 12, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

Responding to the chief military prosecutor’s decision, Yesh Din attorney Sophia Brodsky said “it is outrageous and regrettable high court appeals are required… to investigate the killing of a young woman who innocently traveled with her family,”

In explaining that the IDF would be conducting a criminal investigation into Samah’s death, Chief Military Prosecutor Sharon Zagagi-Pinhas wrote that his office wanted to examine claims by Yesh Din that the gunfire that hit the Palestinian teen had not been directed in the direction of the stabber.

Zagagi-Pinhas’s Thursday letter also appeared to also be an attempt to avoid a High Court response to the second component of Abdallah’s petition, which charged that the military’s interpretation of the phrase “combat situation” is against international law.

The appeal argued that stabbing attacks — such as the one that took place near where Samah was shot — stone throwing and other such clashes with IDF soldiers should not be considered “combat situations;” and therefore, any resulting deaths in such incidents should require a criminal probe by the army.

In a statement made following the submission of the High Court petition earlier this month, Abd al-Muamen Abdallah said, “Israeli soldiers murdered my daughter in cold blood. At first they claimed she’d been holding a knife, then they said she was shot by mistake.”

“I lost my eldest daughter right next to me, and her blood spattered over her siblings. If she was Israeli, they would have opened an investigation. But in my case, no one took any notice.”

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