by Yuval Yoaz, November 26th
The Military Advocate General, Brigadier General Avihai Mandelblit, has instructed military police investigators to open a probe into the question of whether Israel Defense Force soldiers bear criminal responsibility in the shooting of a 24-year-old American citizen and leftist activist in the Jenin refugee camp in April 2003.
The investigation was opened almost two years after Brian Avery, of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), petitioned the High Court of Justice for a criminal probe in his case, and after both Mandelblit and his predecessor, Major General (res.) Menachem Finkelstein, refused to order such a probe, arguing that the military investigation after the incident should suffice.
Avery, from New Mexico, came to Jenin as part of his work with the ISM in April 2003. He extended humanitarian aid to local residents, among other things, assisting doctors treating the residents. On Saturday April 5, Avery and his flatmate, Jan Tobias Carlson, heard shooting. When the shooting stopped, the two called other activists and went to find out if anyone had been injured. According to testimony by ISM members present at the scene, Avery was standing under a streetlight and wearing a red vest with the words “doctor” on it in English and Hebrew on front and back. Four eye-witnesses said an IDF armored personnel carrier (APC) and a tank came into the street, and Avery and his companions raised their hands to show they were unarmed. The witnesses said the APC and the tank continued to approach Avery and when they were a few dozen meters away, the APC opened fire and shot about 30 bullets. Avery was hit in the face, his cheek was torn, and his eye-socket, mouth and jaw bones were smashed.
The IDF probe stated there was no proof the shooting had been by IDF soldiers.
In the petition, Avery’s attorney, Michael Sfard, said an operational investigation by the IDF was “not a reliable tool,” adding that “in a number of cases soldiers have been cleared, while the military police investigation revealed incriminating evidence and resulted in harsh indictments.”
Three months ago the High Court ordered the military advocate general to show cause why he would not open a criminal investigation into the incident.
The state responded last Thursday that the chief military prosecutor saw no reason to change the previous decision. However to remove any doubt, he decided to order a military police investigation.
The state also agreed to pay Avery’s court costs of NIS 15,000.
Sfard said “it is unfortunate that it takes three and a half years and pressure of the High Court justices for the military advocate general to order what is fair and desirable in a place where human life is not worthless. There are a few soldiers who were involved in the incident and thought the story was over. The message from the High Court is that the story is not over. Brian and I will continue to fight until the truth comes out,” Sfard said
See also our press release into the previous Supreme Court hearing on September 20th and the resulting instruction of the Court to the IOF.