Autopsies prove that police fired live ammo at Israeli ArabsBy Baruch Kra, 03/13/2001 Ha'aretz Correspondent
Autopsy reports submitted yesterday to the Or Commission by Abu Kabir forensic laboratory experts contradict police testimony to the commission on their use of live ammunition in early October clashes with Israeli Arabs.
Casting doubt on claims made by the policemen, the Abu Kabir experts concluded that two of the four Arab civilians killed in violent stand-offs at Umm al Fahm and the Jatt village died of live-bullet wounds.
The bullet debate pivots on an incident on October 1 at the "Kahoush" hilltop overlooking the main Umm al Fahm junction after some 15 Border Policeman occupied a house on the hilltop. Israeli security officials said the objective of this raid was to remove unruly demonstrators from the hill because they were endangering vehicles on the main road below.
Yesterday's forensic laboratory report establishes that one victim of this Border Policeman operation, Muhammad Jibrin, bled to death after a bullet severed an artery. Another man, Matzlah Abu Jirad, a Dir al Balah resident, died near the hilltop on October 2, after bullet fragments pierced his lungs.
Border Police Commander Benzi Sau decided to seize the house on the Kahoush hilltop without informing Police Northern District Commander Alike Ron or anyone else, Or Commission testimony established yesterday. Sau replied, "Yes," when asked by Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or, chairman of the state commission, if it was his decision, alone, to seize the house. He said, "No," when Or asked if he had consulted about the house's seizure with anyone else.
Sau's testimony buttressed Ron's affidavit to the commission, which Or read yesterday. In it, Ron said he would have opposed the Border Police plan to occupy the hilltop home if he had known of it, since the structure is within Umm al Fahm's municipal borders, and an Israeli security operation on it would have provoked more violence.
As it turned out, after Israeli security forces occupied the hilltop structure on October 1, Arab demonstrators climbed to a still higher site and hurled stones and (apparently) Molotov cocktails at the Border Policemen. Israeli troops began firing rubber-coated bullets. One Arab demonstrator, Ahmad Si'am, died as a result of this rubber-bullet fire. Jibrin was fatally wounded by a live round about half an hour later.
Witnesses gave details of Jibrin's death yesterday in testimony to the Or panel. They claimed Jibrin squatted behind a plastic table a few dozen meters from the occupied structure on the hilltop, and apparently made derogatory remarks about one border patrolman (an immigrant from Ethiopia) who was stationed there. After he rose and started to flee up the hilltop, he was shot from behind.
Prior to the submission of yesterday's testimony and autopsy reports, policemen involved in the incident had insisted that no live bullets were shot on the hilltop above Umm al Fahm on October 1.
Abu Jirad was killed by a bullet fired a day later while standing between the hilltop and the Umm al Fahm junction. It has been established that snipers from an Israeli police special operations unit, located across route 65, fired bullets during this October 2 incident.
Policemen in this unit testified to the Or Commission that they aimed only at demonstrators who were endangering the lives of policemen below at the junction, and that they adhered to rules of engagement orders given by Ron.
It is unclear whether Abu Jirad was killed by bullets fired by men in the special operations unit, or by policemen located on the Kahoush hilltop. He was, in any event, located at some distance from any police force - a fact that casts doubt on contentions that he posed a danger to policemen.
Referring to another October incident, Border Police Officer Rotam Biton told the Or Commission yesterday that men in his unit were ordered to leave their firearms at their vehicles before going off to disperse an irate crowd of Jews in Tiberias. Border Police used clubs to stop the crowd from defacing a mosque in the city; one patrolman was killed in this crowd control operation, Biton noted.