Israel looking to speak to Palestinian shot in back, as new allegations emerge
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Israel looking to speak to Palestinian shot in back, as new allegations emerge

Karam Qawasmi, filmed being hit by non-lethal round at checkpoint, says officers also rammed him with jeep, beat him; ministry request for interview rare, activist says

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian Karam Qawasmi, who was shot in the back by Israeli forces in an incident caught on video last year, sits in his garden, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian Karam Qawasmi, who was shot in the back by Israeli forces in an incident caught on video last year, sits in his garden, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Israeli judicial officials said Monday they were seeking to speak to a young Palestinian man who was shot in the back with a sponge-tipped bullet last year by a Border Police officer.

But Karam Qawasmi, 22, questioned whether Israeli authorities had made sincere efforts to contact him since the incident occurred and leveled new allegations against the Border Police officer and other troops, whom he said had also hit him with their vehicle and beat him.

Video of Qawasmi being shot in the back as he walked away from Border Police officers emerged last week, sparking outrage. The Justice Ministry said last week that state prosecutors had completed a criminal investigation into the shooting and would soon make a final decision on whether to file charges over it.

“Recently, the victim was identified and at this stage, the investigators are arranging to meet him in order to gather the available evidence,” the Justice Ministry said in an emailed statement Monday, remarking that it had previously made unsuccessful efforts to find Qawasmi, a resident of the West Bank city of Hebron.

The ministry did not state how it identified Qawasmi, but his name has been widely reported in English and Arabic media over the past day.

Qawasmi said Monday evening that Israeli authorities still had not contacted him, but that he would be willing to speak to them as long as they guarantee his safety.

“I am ready to communicate with them, but they need to guarantee I will return home without any problems,” he told The Times of Israel in a phone interview.

He added that he did not believe that the Justice Ministry had made sincere efforts to find him since it opened its investigation.

“Israel could find me in America, if it wanted. Its police and government have a huge amount of resources,” he said, noting that the Jewish state has done fingerprint scans on him. “I don’t think they seriously tried to locate me.”

Qawasmi said the incident took place on May 25, 2018, but it was only first publicly reported in early November when Channel 13 published a 26-second clip of the shooting.

In the footage, a group of officers are heard shouting at Qawasmi in a tunnel in the central West Bank to leave the area. Holding a backpack and an ID card, he proceeds to walk away with his hands in the air. Seconds later, one of the officers fires a sponge-tipped bullet at him and he falls to the ground, screaming in pain.

Israeli security forces often use sponge-tipped or rubber-coated bullets to disperse protests or a group of rock throwers. The bullets are meant to be non-lethal, though they are fired at high velocity and cause serious injury.

Qawasmi, however, contended that the video only showed a sliver of a day that saw Border Police officers arrest and beat him before shooting him, seemingly without cause.

He said he first came into contact with the Border Police officers near A’Zaim, a Palestinian town outside of Jerusalem, where he said he had been searching for work at a gas station.

“I was on my way home when they hit me with their jeep. They then arrested me and brought me a few kilometers away, where they started to assault me,” said Qawasmi, a graduate of Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron who now works at a housing supplies store. “They hit me everywhere. It was incredibly painful.”

After more than three hours, Qawasmi said the forces gave him his ID card and ordered him to leave.

“I walked, and when I looked back I saw three soldiers pointing their guns at me,” he said in a separate interview with the Associated Press. “I was terrified. I walked slowly, and my heart was beating quickly. One shot me, I was hit in the back. I fell down and thought I’m dying. I stared praying and closed my eyes.”

He said he could hear them laughing after they hit him.

Palestinian Karam Qawasmi, who was shot in the back by Israeli forces in an incident caught on video last year, gestures as he gives an interview in the West Bank city of Hebron, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

He described lying on the ground for several minutes, while the Border Police officers yelled at him to leave and shot bullets at the area around him.

“About five minutes later, I got up and walked for an hour to Anata, where I took a taxi back to a hospital in Hebron,” he said, referring to another Palestinian town on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The Israel Police did not respond to a request for comment regarding Qawasmi’s claims that Border Police officers hit him with their jeep and beat him.

But responding to the video of the shooting, the Border Police said last week: “We view the incident that took place a year and a half ago with severity.”

It also said that a female officer, who it said is suspected of shooting the rubber bullet, was removed from the Border Police and transferred to the IDF to complete her required two-year national service.

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

Her lawyer has denied that she fired the rubber-coated bullet, according to the Haaretz daily. The leaked clip does not show who shot him.

Meanwhile, Channel 13 reported in early November that a male Border Police officer boasted of shooting the Palestinian man in a text message to his girlfriend.

Other officers were reassigned, the Border Police also said last week, stressing that the incident was “exceptional and not characteristic of the Border Police’s activities to defend the security of the State of Israel and its citizens.”

Qawasmi said that he does not know why the Border Police officers initially collared him, but noted that he heard them speaking about a knife.

“I heard them talking about a knife, but I did not have one with me and I could not really understand them because most of what they said was in Hebrew,” he said.

He said he has almost healed from the injuries he sustained in the incident, mainly bruises on his legs, back, hands and shoulders.

Palestinian Karam Qawasmi looks at a video, which appears to have been taken by a member of the security forces, showing when he was shot in the back by Israeli forces in an incident last year, in the garden of his house, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. Qawasmi said that the footage shows just a small part of what was a horrifying day for him. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for B’tselem, a human rights group, said that Israeli authorities usually do not interview Palestinian witnesses and victims.

“They commonly do not,” he said. “It is just one example of how flawed these so-called investigations are.”

Since the video surfaced earlier this month, Qawasmi said he has received calls from people in the West Bank and abroad.

“So many people have reached out,” he said. “I think it is important that everyone realizes this thing takes place all the time in Palestine, but people can actually see what happened this time because a video coincidentally came out.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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