Israeli army closes investigation into killing of Palestinian child without charge

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said Wednesday it had closed an investigation into the shooting and killing of a Palestinian child in the occupied West Bank earlier this month. In a rare admission of wrongdoing, the army says the 2-year-old boy was unintentionally killed when a soldier mistook him and his father for fleeing militants.

The military said it would reprimand one of the officers involved in the incident, but no criminal charges would be filed and no further disciplinary action would be taken.

Rights groups argue that the Israeli military is doing too little to investigate and punish its soldiers for killing Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, creating a pattern of impunity.

The death of toddler, Mohammed al-Tamimi, after being injured by Israeli gunfire near his village of Nebi Saleh has sparked an outpouring of grief and anger.

His 44-year-old father, Haitham al-Tamimi, called the Israeli military investigation a “cover up”. The results, he said, added insult to injury.

“Of course, we did not expect justice, but this report seems to us to be a crime on top of the original crime,” he said. “That’s all they have to say when my son is killed in cold blood, when his life is cut off before I can find out what kind of person he has become.”

In announcing the results of the investigation on Tuesday, the Israeli military described a scene of considerable confusion following a suspected Palestinian shooting near a Jewish settlement.

The army said soldiers posted at a lookout near the Palestinian village of Nebi Saleh heard a burst of gunfire but did not know where it came from. At the sight of a “suspicious” car, a commander assisting in the search fired several times in the air, according to the army, in violation of army orders.

The sound of gunfire was transmitted to a nearby guard post, the military said, surprising a soldier who said he believed the shots were fired by two people getting into a car just below of the road. Believing that this car was the source of the shots and that those passengers were the fleeing militants, the soldier followed orders and opened fire at the vehicle, he said.

Inside were 2-year-old Mohammed and his father al-Tamimi.

Al-Tamimi, a chief in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, said he had just tied up his son to visit his uncle when the bullets hit. He was also shot and treated in a Palestinian hospital for moderate shoulder injuries. Mohammed died of his injuries in an Israeli hospital four days later.

The family is still in shock, al-Tamimi said. Her only other son, 7-year-old Osama, wakes up with nightmares about his younger brother’s murder almost every night.

The Israeli army said it reprimanded the commander who initially caused confusion by firing in the air against army orders. The officer has not been demoted, but a reprimand remains on a soldier’s personnel file and may affect promotion chances. The other soldiers involved were not disciplined.

Recent military investigations – including into the high-profile deaths of prominent Al Jazeera Palestinian-American correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh and elderly Palestinian-American Omar Assad – have not resulted in criminal prosecutions. Israel says it is thoroughly investigating all allegations of wrongdoing and doing its best to prevent civilian deaths.

“I express my sadness for the harm that has been caused to civilians and the death of the toddler,” said Major General Yehuda Fox, the commander overseeing the West Bank region. “We will continue to learn and improve.”

The upsurge in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the occupied West Bank this year has killed 123 Palestinians in 2023 alone, according to an Associated Press tally. Almost half of them are affiliated with militant groups, although the Israeli army says the number is much higher. Palestinian attacks on Israelis during the same period killed 21 people.

The Israeli army said on Wednesday that four soldiers who were lightly injured in a Palestinian shootout in the northern West Bank the day before were recovering well.

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