Father of East Jerusalem boy who lost eye during police raid claims injustice

Malek Issa, 9, has not returned to school since incident, father says as case closed, with Justice Ministry saying experts unable to determine cause of injury

Malek Issa rests at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, February 20, 2020. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)
Malek Issa rests at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, February 20, 2020. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)

The father of an East Jerusalem boy, who says his son lost an eye after being shot in the face with a sponge-tipped bullet fired by a police officer earlier this year, said he was disappointed Sunday with Israeli authorities for clearing police in the case.

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department said last week that it had closed the investigation and no officers will be charged over the incident in the neighborhood of Issawiya, as the cause of the injury could not be determined.

Malek Issa says he was struck by what appeared to be a sponge-tipped munition last February and lost vision in his left eye, and his family says he has not returned to school because of recurring medical treatments and the embarrassment of being disfigured and reliant on a prosthetic eye.

Malik’s father, Wael Issa, told AP that his family had been the victim of injustice twice — first when the boy was shot and now with the investigation being closed.

“When my son was shot, the members of the investigative unit came to the hospital. They were about to cry. They told me, ‘Don’t worry, those responsible for shooting him will be held accountable,'” he said. “But 10 months after investigating, they decided to close the file.”

He said the boy suffers from constant headaches and psychological problems. He said his son finally agreed to return to school two weeks ago after receiving a glass eye, but stopped going after a couple of days because of an embarrassing incident.

Malek Issa (YouTube screenshot)

“The eye fell out in front of the students. He feels terrible,” he said. “Frankly speaking, I don’t believe I will ever get justice in this system.”

Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups have long accused Israel of whitewashing wrongdoing by its security forces.

B’tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said the case “exemplifies whitewashing at work.”

“Every individual case is isolated to a series of technical details, as though this was a singular incident, rather than an open fire policy,” it said. It accused police of operating within “an oppressed civilian population to enforce an occupation and annexation,” leading to civilian casualties and impunity for those who harm them.

Residents said Issa had just gotten off a school bus when police opened fire. Police said at the time they had responded to riots in the tense neighborhood and used non-lethal weapons.

Clashes allegedly broke out between Issawiya residents and Border Police after officers arrived to conduct arrests. A Border Police officer fired sponge-tipped bullets during the event. While the officer claims that he fired a bullet at a wall, Issa said he was struck by one of the rounds in the head.

Palestinian youths clash with Border Police in Issawiya, East Jerusalem on March 16, 2010. (Gili Yaari Flash 90)

In a statement sent to The Associated Press on Saturday, the Justice Ministry said its unit for internal police investigations concluded that while the incident was “sad,” there were insufficient grounds for prosecution after interviewing witnesses and reviewing video footage and other evidence.

It said police were conducting an arrest operation at the time and were attacked by a group of stone throwers. It also said that medical experts could not determine whether the boy had been struck by a bullet or a stone. It said, however, that the investigations unit ordered a review of operational conduct, including its use of sponge-tipped bullets in civilian areas.

Eissa was hospitalized in serious condition and later had his eye removed.

His lawyer condemned the decision to close the case calling it “shameful.”

“If a policeman shot at a wall while children are returning from school, and a bullet hit Malik’s eye, this is the most serious possible negligence,” the attorney said, according to the Walla news site.

Residents of Issawiya protest against police violence at the entrance to their East Jerusalem neighborhood, November 5, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The move was also condemned by Joint List MK Ofer Cassif, who called it a “whitewash” and said it gave police “official permission to keep shooting” Palestinian children.

At the time of the injury, police apologized for the incident.

“During a police operation, riot-dispersal means were used and a 9-year-old minor was hurt,” the police said in a statement. “We are sorry for the injury to the minor and wish him a speedy recovery.”

In February, community leaders argued that police had unreasonably stepped up their operations in Issawiya over the previous several months and employed excessive force against residents, undermining stability and stoking tensions in the neighborhood.

Police officials, however, pushed back against the charges, asserting that the heightened operations in Issawiya directly correlated with what they describe as increased violence emanating from the neighborhood.

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