Gideon, my dear friend Musa, and Murder

February 26, 2009

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

By Gideon Levy

As the war in Gaza raged, Israel Defense Forces reservists apparently thought anything was permissible: It was possible, maybe even necessary, to kill innocents, in the West Bank, too. Under cover of war, they thought, they could also kill a handcuffed Palestinian.

After all, they could always claim he tried to steal their weapons – never mind that he was bound with plastic handcuffs practically impossible to get out of. A bullet in the stomach from close range finished him off. Thus ended the life of Yasser Temeizi, 35, who had a work permit and jobs in Israel all of his adult life; in the past year he had worked for the Harash company in Ashdod. He was a young father who’d never gotten in any trouble with the IDF before. The soldiers arrested him for no reason, beat him for no reason in front of one of his small children and finally executed him for no reason.

A month and a half has passed since this horrifying incident, and the army’s criminal investigations division is still looking into the case. An investigation that could have been completed in an hour is going on without end. Not a single Palestinian was questioned, as usual; not a single soldier was arrested, and most likely none will be – also as usual. The reservist soldiers who killed Temeizi have likely already been sent back home; perhaps they returned feeling good about their experiences and about doing their national duty. Granted, they didn’t take part in the war in Gaza, but they killed, too. Why not? Herewith, as a service to them, is the story of the consequences of their actions, which senior IDF officers have already termed “a grave incident,” that involved “a series of serious failures.”

Yasser Temeizi, a conscientious and hard-working laborer, lived in the village of Idna, west of Hebron. He was the husband of Haife and the father of 7-year-old Firas and 2-year-old Hala. For 15 years, he got up every morning and went to work in Israel. In recent months, he worked in Ashdod, for the Harash company, which builds cargo compartments for trucks. On his last pay slip, it says: “Type of worker: Autonomy” – in the language of the occupation. “Amount paid: NIS 3,935.73.” Upon the outbreak of the military operation in Gaza, Temeizi’s employers asked him not to come to work until things calmed down. But he still had to support the family, so Temeizi made his way to the “slave market” in Kiryat Gat, hoping to find odd jobs. This is what he was doing on the morning of January 13.

On that day, Ehud Barak was trying to promote a week-long “humanitarian cease-fire,” the Paratroops advanced toward Gaza City and a seventh Palestinian medical worker was killed by Israeli fire. At 5:30 that morning, Temeizi set out for Kiryat Gat, his work permit in his pocket. He returned home about four hours later; he hadn’t found work. His mother, Naife, made him a light breakfast and then Temeizi asked his 7-year-old son Firas if he’d like to come with him to the family olive grove about three kilometers west of their house, a few hundred meters east of the separation fence, in the territories. Father and son loaded water and food onto the family’s donkey and began riding toward the grove. If there was no employment to be had in Israel, at least they could work on the olives, they thought.

They arrived at the grove and got to work. Suddenly, a military jeep appeared and four soldiers got out. Firas saw them approaching his father. There was a verbal exchange between them, but it was in Hebrew and Firas didn’t understand what it was about. A minute later, he saw the soldiers shoving his father down to the ground and handcuffing him from behind. The soldiers ordered Firas to go home. His father also told him to go; the frightened little boy started running the long distance back toward home. On the way he was attacked by dogs, he says, and some shepherds, his neighbors, saved him from them. That was the last time Firas saw his father alive. Handcuffed and on the ground, but alive.

Eyewitnesses told Temeizi’s father Saker they’d seen soldiers kicking his bound and blindfolded son. The witnesses tried to intervene, but the soldiers shooed them away, brandishing their rifles. Musa Abu Hashhash, a reputable field researcher for the B’Tselem human rights organization, heard similar testimonies. Eventually, according to the witnesses, the soldiers put Temeizi on a jeep and drove off. This was the last time the Palestinians saw him alive.

Firas meanwhile made it home and reported that his father had been arrested. The family wasn’t that concerned at first: The false arrest of a Palestinian is a matter of routine. They were sure Yasser would be released promptly and return home. He had all the required permits and had never been in any trouble. The hours passed and still Teimeizi didn’t return. Around four in the afternoon, neighbors reported he had been killed and that his body was at Al Ahli Hospital in Hebron. Abu Hashhash rushed to the hospital and saw the body: He says he noticed handcuff marks on the wrists. The entry wound was in the stomach and the exit wound was in the thigh. Experts say Temeizi was shot while sitting. Point blank. An autopsy was performed at the Abu Dis pathology institute and Abu Hashhash received the results; he said the reported cause of death was extensive bleeding.

Temeizi was not dead when he arrived at the hospital, but died shortly thereafter. It may have been possible to save him had he received medical care in time. Ten days after the incident, Yuval Azoulay wrote a report on the incident in Haaretz. It appears that shortly after the killing, an IDF investigation was held with the participation of division commander Brig. Gen. Noam Tibon and brigade commander Col. Udi Ben-Moha, who raised the prospect that “a series of failures” occurred on the part of the reservists who killed Temeizi. It was established that he was brought, handcuffed, to the Tarqumiya checkpoint and from there was taken to a nearby army base.

The soldiers killed him in a room, without eyewitnesses, after he tried – so they claim, of course – to steal their weapons. No one explained how a handcuffed Palestinian could steal a weapon and why the response should be a point-blank shooting.

Military sources told Azoulay that “the manner in which the incident was handled, particularly in regard to summoning of assistance for the wounded man, indicates there were serious failures. This is a very serious incident and one can’t help thinking that if a regular force was stationed there, it would not have happened. The reservist soldiers are simply not familiar with or trained for such scenarios and such situations.”

What kind of training is needed for such situations? Do soldiers need to be trained not to shoot a handcuffed prisoner? Do they need to be trained to know to immediately summon medical care for someone who’s wounded?

The IDF Spokesman told us officially this week, a month and a half after the incident: “The matter is under investigation by the criminal investigations division. Once the investigation is complete, the findings will be relayed to the military prosecutor.” Firas enters the bereaved household in Idna, a blue UNICEF book bag on his back. In a soft, chirpy voice, he tells the story of his last day with his father. He recounts the donkey ride to the family’s olive grove, the soldiers who knocked his father down as he watched and how he made his way home alone, scared by the barking dogs.

“Later on they told me that Daddy died,” the boy says quietly, the trauma evident on his face. Just so the soldiers who kill a handcuffed man, and their commanders and investigators, should know.