Gideon Levy writes:
Firas Qasqas was a gardener. Thirty-two years old and the father of three daughters, he came from his village with his family to visit his brother-in-law, who had moved to a new home in Ramallah. After an especially rainy, stormy night they woke up to a glorious sunny day and decided to go for a hike in the gorgeous valley of olives opposite the house. Yes, there are also Palestinians who love nature.
They were three hikers – Firas and his two brothers-in-law – when they saw a herd of deer fleeing down the slope. They knew that behind the herd there would also be people coming but it did not occur to them that on the heels of the deer would come hunters – in this case, people hunters. Very soon they saw a group of soldiers coming down to the valley. A few minutes later the soldiers started firing two or three rounds at them, from a very long range. Firas fell, bleeding to death. He managed to reassure his brothers in law and tell them everything was fine, they shouldn’t worry. But not long after that he started to gurgle and foam covered his mouth. At the hospital in Ramallah the young gardener expired.
That was in the winter of 2007, a relatively quiet winter. A few days after the killing I came to the valley of olive trees with his brother-in-law Jamil Mator, who was with Firas when he died. Hundreds of meters had separated the shooters and their victim. Far from there, at the dead man’s home in the village of Battir, I met the black-garbed young widow Majida and the three little orphaned girls. As her daughters blew soap bubbles inside the small room, Majida asked simply: “I want to know why he was killed because I don’t know.” And the bubbles (and the tears ) filled the room.
I too wanted to know why Firas was killed. The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman, as usual, said everything was in order. The soldiers discerned “suspicious behavior,” the three Palestinians were seen “doing something with the ground,” before the shooting they were “properly warned,” the incident was investigated “at all levels,” the conclusions have been “implemented” and the material has been sent “for review by the military prosecution.”
Four years have elapsed since then and Firas’ death has been forgotten. Since then I have reported on dozens more cases of killing in the West Bank, nearly all of which of course were sent for review by the military prosecution, which is usually the decisive phase on the way to burying the material of investigation of the truth in the IDF.
And now my colleague Haim Levinson published an astonishing piece of news in yesterday’s Haaretz. The military prosecution has decided to try the commander of a company in the reserves, Shahar Mor, “a well-known educator in the religious Zionist community,” who shot Firas in the back from a great distance and killed him.
It took the prosecution nearly four years to investigate such a clear case, the details of which cried out from the soil of the valley where the shooting of an unarmed person from an illegal distance occurred, without any danger to the soldiers, without any justification. Even this indictment would not have happened had not B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories intervened again and again, demanding the shooter be brought to trial. And this is such a rare occurrence. Data from Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights show that only 8 percent of the investigations that were opened in the dark years of 2002-2009 culminated in an indictment. Only 14 people have been tried and there have been only 173 investigations in the wake of the killing of 5,518 individuals.
This is how the law enforcement mechanism of the IDF looks, with its army of investigators, prosecutors and judges, which is nothing but a ridiculous simulacrum of a justice system. In the four years that have elapsed dozens more Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, not counting the Gaza Strip, some of them not guilty of anything. In Haaretz I documented the death of a paralyzed bean seller in Nablus, a 71-year-old accountant in Balata, a 19-year-old student in Tekoa, a woman demonstrator in Bil’in, a Palestinian policeman from Bethlehem, a laborer from the Far’a refugee camp, a laborer from the village of Sa’ir and a driver from Jerusalem who was going to pick up his family for a vacation in Eilat and was killed by scandalous shooting at his car. All of them were guilty of nothing and were killed for no reason. All of these cases are under investigation by the military prosecution, strenuous investigation that will be completed four years from now, or maybe in 40. During this time the educator, Company Commander Mor, went about teaching his students. No doubt he taught them “values,” love of the land and Jewish morality, as only religious Zionism can do. At the same time, one can guess, his conscience did not bother him much about the criminal killing of Qasqas the gardener.