Officer convicted for shooting Palestinian in back with sponge-tipped bullet
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Officer convicted for shooting Palestinian in back with sponge-tipped bullet

Policewoman found guilty of physical assault, reckless use of a weapon and obstruction of justice

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

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court convicted a Border Police officer Monday after she pleaded guilty to shooting a Palestinian man in the back with a sponge-tipped bullet as he walked away from a West Bank checkpoint near Jerusalem.

The policewoman, aged 20, was convicted on charges of physical assault, reckless use of a weapon and obstruction of justice.

According to the indictment filed by state prosecutors, the officer opened fire at the A’Zaim checkpoint without any operational reason, causing Karam Qawasmi, 22, significant injury.

“The defendant took advantage of her role, status and authority to bear arms and trampled the complainant’s dignity while exploiting his weakness, but only for the sake of amusement,” prosecutors said, adding that through her actions she had also damaged public trust in the law enforcement community.

According to the indictment, Qawasmi arrived at the checkpoint on May 25, 2018, for a security check. After he was cleared, the forces on duty told him he could go. As he walked away the suspect allegedly fired at his lower body, against regulations, causing him to fall to the floor.

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. In his first interview since the video emerged last week, Qawasmi said he was run over by a military jeep, then beaten for several hours before troops released him, only to shoot him in the back with a painful sponge-tipped bullet as he walked away. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The incident was apparently recorded on the phone of one of the unit’s officers.

After the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigation Department opened a probe into the shooting, the policewoman allegedly asked other border officers not to tell anyone what had happened, deleted the video from her phone and smashed the device, and instructed a fellow officer to also remove the video from her phone.

In the 26-second clip, a group of officers can be heard shouting at Qawasmi to leave the area, with their automatic rifles pointed in his direction.

Qawasmi, holding a backpack and ID card, raises his hands and begins walking away from them.

Then, as he 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 man then continues walking until one of the officers fires and he falls to the ground, screaming in pain.

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

The female officer suspected of firing the rubber bullet was immediately kicked off the force upon discovery of the incident. While the Police Internal Investigations Department continued to investigate the incident, she was sent to the Israel Defense Forces to complete her required two-year national service.

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

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