Leaked footage shows border cop firing at unarmed Palestinian with back turned

Border Police say incident occurred a year and a half ago and that the officer was immediately kicked out of force, investigation against her opened

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Footage of a Border Police officer firing a sponge-tipped bullet at a Palestinian who was walking away with his hands up. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Footage of a Border Police officer firing a sponge-tipped bullet at a Palestinian who was walking away with his hands up. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Footage published Saturday showed a Border Police officer shooting a sponge-tipped bullet at a Palestinian who was walking in the opposite direction with his hands held up, apparently “as a form of dubious entertainment,” according to the judge in the case.

The incident occurred in May last year, and the female officer suspected of firing the shot was first arrested in October of that year when the footage was first discovered by prosecutors. However, the video was not aired until Saturday night, after it was leaked to Channel 13.

In the 26-second clip, a group of officers can be heard shouting at a Palestinian youth holding a backpack under what appears to be a tunnel road in the central West Bank.

As they yell at him to leave the area, with their automatic rifles pointed in his direction, the man holding a backpack and ID card raises his hands and begins walking away from them.

Then, as the youth makes his way down the tunnel, the officers yell at him to put down his hands and walk normally. He appears to not completely understand them, briefly turning around before complying with the order.

The Palestinian then continues walking before one of the officers fires and he falls to the ground, screaming in pain.

The identity of the Palestinian victim was not immediately known. Prosecutors were still working to track him down, according to Hebrew media.

The Border Police said in a statement that it viewed the actions of the officer “with great severity.”

The officer suspected of firing the rubber bullet was immediately kicked off the force upon the higher-ups’ discovery of the incident, Border Police said. While the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department continues to investigate the incident, she was sent to the Israel Defense Forces in order to complete her required two-year national service.

At her arraignment in October, Jerusalem Magistrate Court Judge Elad Persky said the border guard appeared to have shot the Palestinian youth as a “form of dubious entertainment.”

There does appear to be some uncertainty in the case over who actually pulled the trigger of the gun. Though the prime suspect is the former female officer, a male border guard claimed to have shot the Palestinian youth in a text message to his girlfriend, which was also leaked to Channel 13.

The female Border Police officer’s attorney told the Haaretz newspaper that his client denied she had fired at the unarmed Palestinian.

“She denies that she was the officer that carried out the shooting of the sponge-tipped bullet. She doesn’t appear in the film that is in the hands of the [Police Internal Investigations] Department and insists that her version of events is the truth,” her attorney said.

The footage was discovered by prosecutors as part of an unrelated investigation into allegations border guards had abused a Palestinian man without justification. The video in question was found on the phone of a suspect in that case, according to Haaretz.

Over a year after the footage was discovered, the Police Internal Investigations Department, which faces regular criticism that it fails to hold police officers to account for crimes, has yet to render a decision whether or not to press charges against the suspected border guard and the other officers seen in the video.

Other officers involved in the filmed incident also faced disciplinary action, with some of them being transferred to other units, the Border Police said. They may also face criminal charges for failing to report the incident.

In addition to the crime of reckless use of a weapon, the female border guard is suspected of obstruction of justice for her alleged efforts to keep the other officers at the scene from reporting the matter to their commanders.

The extent of the injuries to the Palestinian victim were not immediately clear.

The sponge-tipped bullets used by Israeli security forces are generally considered a “less lethal” ammunition, as they are less likely to kill a person hit by them than standard bullets, but have still been responsible for a number of serious injuries and deaths, especially when they are aimed at a person’s head or chest.

In a statement, the Border Police said the apparently unjustified attack of the unarmed Palestinian victim was “out of the ordinary and is not characteristic of the activities of Border Police officers in defending the security of the state and citizens of Israel.”

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