A Border Police officer who shot dead a teenage Palestinian protester in the West Bank in 2014 was sentenced to nine months in prison on Wednesday after reaching a plea deal with the prosecution.
A Jerusalem court found the officer, Ben Deri, guilty of causing death by negligence for using live ammunition, instead of rubber bullets, when he was ordered to disperse a crowd of protesters during Nakba Day demonstrations in the West Bank village of Beitunia, near Ramallah, on May 15, 2014.
The presiding judge, Daniel Teperberg, noted that Deri’s actions represented “serious and severe harm” to the Israeli social values of “sanctity of life and the human right to wellbeing.”
Deri had initially been charged with manslaughter, with prosecutors arguing that he had deliberately used live rounds. The charge was later reduced to the lesser crime of causing death by negligence, as part of a plea deal, under which Deri admitted to using the bullets accidentally.
While the court noted that the victim, 17-year-old Nadeem Siam Nawara, had previously thrown rocks during a protest, he was a considerable distance from the demonstration and posed no threat to Deri’s Border Police unit at the time of the shooting.
“Against protocol and despite the deceased not representing a threat to the unit, the defendant aimed his weapon at the center mass of the deceased’s body and fired at him with the intent to harm,” the court wrote.
The live round fired by Deri struck Nawara in the chest, causing him to collapse immediately. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital a short time later.
In its decision, the court said Deri’s apparent mistaken use of live fire required not one, but two, acts of negligence. The method used by Border Police to fire large rubber bullets from an M-16 rifle requires the use of an adapter, known as a Roma, which is affixed to the gun’s muzzle. The rubber bullets are placed in the Roma and blank cartridges are loaded into the gun itself. The force of the explosion from the blanks is what propels the rubber bullets.
According to the judges, not only was a live round introduced into a magazine that was meant to hold only blanks — the court does not say how or by whom — but Deri failed to notice that fact and failed to load a rubber bullet into the Roma before opening fire.
“The defendant did not check that his magazine contained only blanks and did not load a rubber bullet into the Roma as required. These two oversights, which amount to gross negligence, caused the death of the deceased,” the court wrote.
A second protester, Muhammad Abu Taher, 22, was also shot dead during the same demonstration and a third Palestinian was injured. Police closed those cases due to lack of evidence of wrongdoing.
The court ruled that the two months Deri has already spent in jail will count as time served, meaning he will be released from prison in some seven months, unless he is granted early parole.
In addition to his prison sentence, Deri was ordered to pay NIS 50,000 ($14,000) to Nawara’s family in damages.
In their ruling, the presiding judges noted the pain Nawara’s death had caused the rest of his family, especially his father, who testified during the trial.
“The deceased was an outgoing boy, involved in the life of his family and full of love towards it,” Teperberg wrote.
A police investigation into the shooting found that Deri, who was 21 at the time of the incident, confirmed that he had used a live round rather than nonlethal munitions.
Nawara’s family had previously vowed to use every means possible to see justice served, including an appeal to the International Criminal Court.
The family of the Palestinian teen rejected the defense’s arguments that Deri had not realized he was using live ammunition instead of rubber bullets.
“There is a video that proves that it was murder in cold blood, and all the proof and the autopsy of the body say that Deri is the murderer,” Nawara’s father told Channel 2 news in December 2016. “We don’t need a plea bargain, we have 70 witnesses that were there, and hard evidence.”
In a letter to the prosecution, a lawyer for the family, Firas Asli, wrote that it was not clear why the plea agreement was pursued and why the “rights of the victims were being harmed,” according to Haaretz.
— adri nieuwhof (@steketeh) May 17, 2014
The four-year legal process was marred by numerous hearing delays and cancellations, and the dismissal of the first judge due to a connection to one of the witnesses, followed by a holdup in appointing a second judge. A new judge was finally appointed following a lawyers’ plea to spare the victim’s family from torment.
Deri, who was a commander in the unit, initially claimed that he had fired only rubber bullets. According to his initial version of events, he used rubber bullets in accordance with received orders. However, the indictment claimed police found evidence Deri had allegedly intended to fire live ammunition at the back of the deceased, even though he posed no threat, with the explicit intent to cause serious harm and possibly death. Deri was also accused of covering up his actions at the time.
Deri’s lawyer, Tzion Amir, of the Honenu legal rights group that defends right-wing extremists, negotiated the plea deal.
An autopsy performed by Palestinian and Israeli pathologists in 2014 found that Nawara was almost certainly killed by live fire, most likely from an Israeli weapon. Two pathologists from the US and Denmark were in attendance during the autopsy, which took place at the Abu Dis Institute of Forensic Medicine in the West Bank.
An entry and exit wound were detected on the body, and shrapnel was also found, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported.