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Four bullets to the back of the head

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

February 2, 2014

An IDF sharpshooter fired four bullets to the back of Jalal Mahmoud Masri’s head and killed him. The army’s investigators closed the case.

Illustrative photo of an IDF sharpshooter aiming his weapon (Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of an IDF sharpshooter aiming his weapon (Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

"The soldier will act in an intelligent and secure manner in all his actions, acknowledging the supreme importance of human life […] the soldier will use his arms and force only for the mission, only in the measure needed, and will maintain humanity even during fighting. The soldier will not use his arms and force to harm non-combatants and prisoners, and will do whatever he can to prevent harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property." From "The Spirit of the IDF," the code of ethics of the Israeli Defense Force.

On January 20, 2011, Jalal Mahmoud Masri left his house in East Jerusalem and went to visit relatives in the village of Idna. Masri, a father of two and a truck driver, did not know that this was to be his last ride. Fate put Sharpshooter Avi in his path.

Avi and three of his friends had erected an emergency checkpoint after a white Peugeot 205 ignored a checkpoint near the Gush Etzion Junction. Avi, a sharpshooter, was in a nearby tower. Masri noticed the impromptu checkpoint made of soldiers waving flashlights and slowed down after seeing the first flashlight. As soon as he had passed the checkpoint, he suddenly accelerated. According to most of the testimonies, the commanding officer at the checkpoint fired three rounds into the air. Immediately afterwards, Avi fired four rounds at Masri’s head. He collapsed, mortally wounded, and died months later in hospital.

IDF trackers scanned the scene immediately afterward. This is the conclusion of the senior tracker, Sgt.-Maj. Salah:

We found four hits to the upper part of the back window. Two bullets hit the driver-side window and one hit the front window, the fourth bullet also hit in that area. All of them were aimed at the head of the driver […] the guy in the tower shot him, aimed to hit him. This isn’t accidental firing. You don’t aim for the head for no reason. The reason he fired, though, I don’t know.

The two other trackers also reached the conclusion that the shooting was aimed at Masri’s head. It’s important to note that when they reached the scene, Masri had already been evacuated. They did not see him and did not know he had suffered a head wound. They based their findings on the location of the bullets in the vehicle alone.

A police forensic investigator found the following: "the back window of the vehicle is broken; there is a hole in the triangular window of the back left door; the left back-door window is broken; the front window has two holes which could be consistent with 'bullet passage’ hits; there are other hits to the front window."

Hold on. Didn’t we all learn during our service in the IDF that if a vehicle storms through a checkpoint it must be fired upon? This is incorrect and contrary to orders. When the deputy brigade commander was asked about it, he unequivocally said that opening fire is permitted only if the soldiers’ lives are at risk. The deputy also admitted that Masri’s vehicle wasn’t the one the army was looking for, the one which had burst through the Gush Etzion Junction checkpoint. In his interrogation the impromptu checkpoint commander also stated that his men were not in danger.

Sharpshooter Avi’s version, of course, is different. Its relationship to reality, however, is tenuous. He claims to have fired four bullets, the first one in the air – but the trackers found four hits in the vehicle. He claims to have been the first to fire – but the rest of the soldiers present testified that the first shooter was the checkpoint commander, who fired in the air. He claims that the soldiers were at risk of being run over; the others deny it. He claims that he fired at the wheels – but no wheel was hit, and all of the bullet holes are in the upper-left part of the vehicle. From which, we can conclude – as the trackers immediately did – that Avi fired at the back of Masri’s neck. Avi further claims that there were gunshots coming from the vehicle. Politely put, this is a hallucination. If we are to be cruel and accurate, this is an attempt by a killer to cover up the killing.

Avi "claims?" No, he claimed. This was a long time ago. Avi said the above to MPCID (Military Police Criminal Investigative Department) interrogators in March 2011, two months after the killing. On  March 17, 2011, the Operational Affairs Prosecution demanded that the case be wrapped up and the case file was sent to them. On July 2012 we learned that this simple case was transferred to the MPCID for further investigation. It was closed on October 9, 2013; that is two years and nine months after the incident, based on the military prosecution’s recommendation that it be closed for lack of evidence.

Our attorneys, Assnat Bartor and Emily Schaeffer, disagreed with the claim that there is not enough evidence in the case, since the chain of events is rather clear. They appealed this strange decision on January 20, 2014 – precisely three years to the day after Sharpshooter Avi chanced upon Masri and ended his life.

We demand the prosecution of Avi for killing; the decision to close the case, given the evidence, seems to us to be extremely unreasonable. Legally, it certainly is. As for the way the IDF treats its soldiers, this is merely the coverup we’ve grown accustomed to. Somewhere in the West Bank, on some tower, stands another Avi; perhaps he, too, is a sharpshooter. And he knows that were he to kill an innocent man against his orders, nothing would come of it. Needless to say, the public will not hear of this minor incident; just another day in the occupation.

And the Spirit of the IDF? Well, if the Military Prosecution doesn’t take it seriously, why should Avi?

Related:
Near impunity for IDF soldiers who kill Palestinians
The consequences of a culture of lies



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