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State to reinvestigate wounding of U.S. activist

Cnaan Liphshiz | Ha’aretz

12 March 2010

The state this week agreed to reinvestigate the 2009 near-fatal wounding of American pro-Palestinian protester Tristan Anderson in the West Bank, after his lawyer complained that the discontinued probe of the case was “negligent.”

“We will reexamine the decision to close the case of Tristan Anderson,” Justice Ministry spokesman Ron Roman told Anglo File. He said this after receiving an appeal from the lawyer of the 38-year-old American, who remains in critical condition at the Sheba Medical Center after police seriously injured him in the head exactly one year ago during a demonstration.

The ministry decided in December to close its investigation into Anderson’s injury after its probe produced “a lack of criminal culpability.” Anderson, a Californian, was hit in the forehead on March 13, 2009 by a tear gas canister fired by a border policeman in the village of Na’alin during a demonstration against Israel’s contested separation fence.

“The investigation conducted was characterized by severe omissions,” attorney Michael Sfard wrote on Tuesday to the central district attorney’s office, in an appeal against the decision to close the case. The appeal by Sfard, an international human rights lawyer representing the family, was based on his own shadow investigation of the incident.

In deciding to close the case, the Justice Ministry’s investigation team “failed altogether to visit the scene of the incident or even view it from a nearby location in order to familiarize itself with it,” Sfard said. “Border Police officers responsible for Tristan’s injury were not questioned at all,” he added.

The ministry would not comment on this assertion, citing the ongoing investigation. The Border Police also declined to comment.

According to both the ministry’s probe and Sfard’s own investigation, Anderson was hit at around 4 P.M. near a mosque, at the same time as Border Police officers were dispersing stone throwers in the village with tear gas. But Sfard’s probe showed that although there were several Border Police squads in the area, the ministry’s team only questioned one squad, which was busy dispersing the demonstrators from its position near a cellular antenna. Sfard says that the soldiers of this squad could not have fired the canister that hit Anderson because the officers did not have a line-of-sight to Anderson.

“This constitutes severe negligence in the work of the investigation team, which went astray following the mistaken assumption that Tristan was injured by shots fired by the squad positioned on ‘Antenna Hill’, not even bothering to question the other squads, despite clear indications that [one of the other squads] fired the shot,” Sfard’s appeal reads.

The shadow investigation by Sfard traces the “mistaken assumption” to the fact that the squad questioned admitted to injuring a protester who was evacuated from the scene. However, this was not Anderson, according to Sfard. The investigators could have “discovered that there was another injured person at that same incident – and that this person was injured from the fire of a different squad than that which hit Tristan,” Sfard went on to write in the appeal.

A Swedish member of the International Solidarity Movement told Anglo File that the shooting was unprovoked. “The policeman approached from behind a building when everything was quiet,” said the activist while still in Israel a few months ago, who identified himself only as John because he works for the Swedish government. John, 30, added he was 30 meters away from Anderson at the time. The policeman who fired the canister was 60 meters away, he said.

Avi Biton, the spokesperson for the border police’s Judea and Samaria district, declined to comment on this, citing the investigation in progress. “This occurrence could have easily been avoided had demonstrators showed more respect for Israeli law regarding protests, Israel’s troops’ safety and Israeli taxpayers’ property,” Biton said.

The impact of the projectile that hit Anderson caused condensed fractures to his forehead and right eye socket. Part of his right frontal lobe had to be removed, and a brain fluid leakage was sealed using a tendon from his thigh.

The case, according to Ron Roman from the Justice Ministry, has been transferred to a ministry appeal committee in Jerusalem, which “will look into the facts in an earnest manner and may reverse the decision to close the case if it finds the evidence compelling.”