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Lies can be uncovered, but lost lives can't be recovered

Probing the Israeli killings of two Palestinian teenagers in Iraq Burin village.

Last modified: 25 Mar 2010 16:24
photo from AFP

"One is dead! Go home! That's what the soldier told me…." Salwa Qadus told me, her voice cracking in fear as if the Israeli soldier was still standing at the corner where she was pointing.


"The boys were shouting for an ambulance… the soldiers wouldn't let them pass", she recalled…pausing every so many words to gasp for air.

"I didn't know the dead boy was my nephew" she went on, almost succumbing to tears. She's talking about 16 year-old Mohamad Qadus, who was fatally shot in the chest on Saturday; and his cousin Usaid, who died in a Nablus hospital Sunday morning from gunshot head wound.

Iraq Burin is a docile village – stretching from the top of one of Nablus's many hills down to its valley. It's spring now; the colours are as vivid as can be. The valleys are lush green and the wild spring flowers adorn every corner in the village, every front door. 

But the serenity of this village has been rocked by the killing of two teenagers: cousins Mohamad and Usaid. Along with the vivid yellow, orange and purple… colourful pictures of the teens are everywhere you look… walls, cars, and electricity poles…

Mourning here is a state of mind, mixed with anger that the Israeli soldiers who caused these deaths claim they did not use live fire.

Shortly after the shootings, the Israeli army issued a statement saying its soldiers only fired rubber-coated steel bullets against what they described as a 'violent and illegal riot' in the village. 

My team and I were in Iraq Burin to report on the funeral of the boys the following Sunday. At that point, it was time to report, not probe… But we spoke to the doctors at the Nablus Specialty Hospital. They immediately contested that version of accounts, citing medical proof…

So we went back the day after the funeral to hear eyewitness accounts and see for ourselves what really happened.

Dr. Mahmoud Abu Qa'dan, the Emergency Room doctor on duty last Saturday still has the details of Saturday afternoon very vivid in his mind. In fact, this private hospital was still abuzz with news of the boys who came through the emergency door only to be announced dead… 

Dr. Abu Qa'dan showed me the X-Ray taken of Usaid's head. He explained to me the difference between the injury caused a live round and that sustained from a metal-coated steel bullet:

Rubber-coated bullets don't make an entry and exit wound because they don't travel long inside the body. Mohamad was shot once in the chest – The bullet penetrated his chest and went out his back; and the bullet that penetrated Usaid's head was lodged deep in his brain. And live round injuries are regular; the rubber-coated bullet makes an irregular injury; both boys had a regular entry wound. 

The doctor also told me the bullets look different; live rounds are cylinder-shaped while rubber-coated steel bullets are roundish in shape. On X-ray pictures, they look different because one is metal while the other is covered with rubber; so one appears clear as the day while the other looks like a hazy roundish object.

As I left the hospital, I crossed path with the director. He told me he had just concluded preparing a file about both victims, including the medical reports and copy of X-ray pictures, and sent it to Israeli authorities. "They have to know their soldiers lied" he said. "I sent them the medical evidence so that no one can claim they did not know"…

At Iraq Burin, the memory of children, teens, and adults who witnessed the shooting was vivid and detailed. We spoke to everyone we came across and probed the neighbours who live in the homes overlooking the shooting site – the accounts were consistent and matching:

A soldier got off his jeep, took aim at Usaid who was standing next to a metal door uphill. A single shot was fired; Usaid slowly slid down to the ground, blood and brain tissue flowing out of his head. His cousin Mohamad ran towards him; another single shot was fired… Mohamad ran a short distance to the other side of the road then dropped, face down. Mohamad died a few minutes later under a tree further uphill that his friends managed to pull him to.

Eyewitnesses also told us Israeli soldiers used live fire early that Saturday, when the village's weekly protest against the ever-encroaching Israeli settlement Bracha began. The demonstration takes place on the eastern side of Iraq Burin. The teens were killed on the other end of town. But why did the soldiers come into the village I kept asking? They started marching towards the village from the beginning everyone kept telling me. But there was no proof; no picture; nothing to corroborate such damning accusations…

We left Iraq Burin, trying to digest the accounts… the stories…the ironies… The black of grief amidst the colors of spring; and the playful children who interrupt their play to tell us a story of two friends they saw shot, dead, then buried…

When the team got back to the office, we began working on the report. But just when we thought the day's long hours were over, new evidence emerged… We discovered that a peace activist present that Saturday documented the weekly protest in video… When we viewed the footage, we found it; the clear sound of live gunfire… fired over, and over, and over again….

A picture, truly speaks a thousand words…

The Israeli army refused to respond to our repeated requests for comment. But with the emergence of such evidence and the medical file Nablus's Specialty Hospital sent to Israeli authorities, the initial Israeli army account of events could not hold water… Israeli media reported the army will be examining the medical reports provided by Palestinians to get to the truth...

And Israel's daily Yediot Ahronot published comments for an unnamed Israeli security source saying, "a scrupulous look at the day's events and it becomes clear, the incident could have ended differently". A chance for justice and accountability? But the Israeli track record in this regard is not very promising.  

It's that track record that has Palestinians almost apathetic to the outcome of the announced inquiry. This deeply rooted sense of insecurity and injustice pushed the Palestinian Prime Minister to revive calls for the provision of international protection; a call likely to fall on deaf international ears as it has in the past.
As I watched the report running on television, I remembered an impassioned eyewitness in Iraq Burin charging, "What are you asking so many questions about? We saw what happened. We know what killed those boys. But who cares!" Lies, he said, can be exposed…but it's lives that cannot be recovered…