By Meron Rapaport
Early Wednesday morning, a convoy of armored personnel carriers and four Israel Defense Forces jeeps entered Jenin – not an unusual event, but one of the armored jeeps had four very unusual passengers. The four foreigners had previously spent time in Jenin as volunteer aid workers and remember Israeli soldiers mostly as the ones pointing guns at them. This time, however, they came with the army to reenact their version of how IDF soldiers shot one of them in the face, seriously wounding him.
In April 2003, Brian Avery, a 24-year-old American volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement, went outside with other group members to assist Palestinian medics in Jenin. The aid workers came under fire, apparently from an Israeli APC. Avery was hit in the face and spent several weeks in Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center undergoing a series of operations to reconstruct his face.
Avery and his friends claimed the IDF soldiers fired on them despite clear evidence that they were unarmed civilians. The IDF denied this. In late 2006, however, following a petition to the High Court of Justice, the army agreed to launch a criminal investigation to determine if Avery’s shooting was unlawful. As part of the probe, the IDF agreed to the unusual measure of bringing Avery and three other volunteers to Israel at army expense.
Avery and the other three – Jens Sandvek of Sweden, Ewa Jasiewicz of Britain and Danish national Lasse Schmidt – were interrogated by the military police and then rode APCs into Jenin to re-enact the incident. The four also testified yesterday in a damages suit Avery has filed against the state. Avery’s lawyer, Shlomo Lecker, said the four testified that Avery was intentionally shot from an APC 15 meters away under good visibility conditions. They also said the APC left without offering medical assistance.
“It was unreal, like nothing I have ever been through,” Avery said during an interview in a Jerusalem hotel after the trip to Jenin. In contrast to what they were told in advance, the re-enactment did not take place on the actual street. Instead, the four pointed through the jeep’s bulletproof windows to where each of them was standing at the time of the shooting, and military police photographed the spots.
Avery said the atmosphere in the jeep was tense, and he felt that not all the soldiers were happy about the mission. But he called the investigators themselves “very professional and businesslike.” He said the military policemen told him that the soldiers who shot at him were in another jeep, but he was not told which.
All four of the former ISM volunteers have had unpleasant experiences with official Israel. Some of them have trouble entering the country, so being here as the army’s guests was odd. So was the ride through Jenin in an IDF jeep, afraid their Palestinian friends would recognize them and believe they had become collaborators with Israel.
The ISM volunteers said the jeep ride was the first time they saw IDF soldiers looking scared. “They see everything through the bulletproof glass; it’s a kind of prison,” Jasiewicz said. Schmidt added: “You can understand how the soldiers are disconnected from reality, why they see everything in black and white.”
But the jeep ride did not change the foreigners’ belief that Avery was shot intentionally. The shooting occurred shortly after the deaths of two other ISM volunteers – American Rachel Corrie and Briton Tom Hurndall – and Schmidt is convinced this was no coincidence.
Avery said he met the “other” Israeli after the shooting: Many Israelis visited him in the hospital.
However, he felt deserted by his own government. “They offered me no help and did not demand that Israel investigate. It’s night and day compared to what the British did for Tom Hurndall.”
A legal source said that British pressure contributed greatly to the start of a probe into Hurndall’s death, which eventually landed one soldier with an eight-year prison term. The U.S. embassy declined to comment on Avery’s allegations.
“It is not so important to me that the soldiers go to jail,” Avery said. “It is important to me that they be held responsible for what they did.”
Army sources said this is not the first time witnesses have been brought from abroad to testify in a Military Police probe. They said the soldiers who were in Jenin at the time of the shooting were also interrogated, and stressed that they know of no connection between Avery’s injury and the deaths of other international volunteers.
“We do not plan to give details of the measures taken in the probe before conclusions have been reached,” added one.