There is good news in the civil case of Abir Aramin, a little girl killed in 2007 by an Israeli soldier’s rubber-coated steel bullet just outside her school. On Monday, Aug. 16th, Judge Irit Efal-Gabai issued her ruling on behalf of Israel’s Civil Court. Her decision holds the State of Israel responsible for killing Abir Aramin and orders the State to pay compensation. At the end of this month, by order of the Israeli High Court, the Jerusalem Prosecutor’s Office must present the results of its criminal investigation. Indictments may follow. We thank Judge Efal-Gabai, Attorney Leah Tsemel, and the Aramin family for their wisdom and strength.
It was late night in Anata, East Jerusalem when I reached Bassam Aramin, Abir’s father, by phone. “From the beginning, as you know, I believed in justice,” he said. “What the judge decided is very strong.”
Justice, worth believing in, has been long in coming. A few months after Abir Aramin was killed, the Jerusalem Prosecutor’s Office closed the investigation without indictments, citing lack of evidence and denying appeal. In contrast, Judge Efal-Gabai found the 14 eye-witnesses and the independent autopsy compelling and decided, "There is no debate over the conclusion that Abir was injured by a rubber bullet shot by border guards, which in turn leads to the conclusion that the shooting of Abir occurred out of negligence, or in violation of the rules of engagement."
Judge Efal-Gabai continued, "We are not talking about injury by shots fired at a crowd of rioters and rock-throwers, near which a little girl just happened to be standing. The girls were walking down a street where there were no rock-throwers and therefore, no reason to shoot in their direction.”
How did she know? In January, Judge Efal-Gabai, escorted by 100 Israeli soldiers, went to Anata, East Jerusalem to see for herself. She interviewed the soldiers and witnesses on the site where Abir was shot three years earlier.
“This was the first time that an Israeli judge visited the scene of the crime against a Palestinian victim,” said Mr. Aramin. “Our lawyers say that not even in Tel Aviv, not even in Jerusalem has this ever happened before.”
Remarkably, at the start of the civil court proceedings, Judge Efal-Gabai asked Abir’s parents why they chose to build playgrounds in memory of their daughter. She also asked, “Who is this Rebuilding Alliance group that helped raise funds for Combatants for Peace to build the playground?” On-site, she asked to enter the gate of the Anata Girls School to see the playground called, “Abir’s Garden: a Safe Place to Grow.”
Policy change is required to make this playground safe. To achieve this important goal, the Rebuilding Alliance brought Bassam and Salwa Aramin with their elder daughter Areen (an eye witness) to the U.S. to tell their story on a speaking tour, joined by two Israeli former soldiers who, with Bassam Aramin, were among the co-founders of Combatants for Peace. We brought them to testify at the State Department to enter Abir Aramin’s case into the State Department’s Annual Report on Human Rights.
Later that year, when the Jerusalem Attorney ignored the evidence and closed the investigation, the Rebuilding Alliance translated all the court documents, petitions, and the independent investigation presented by Israel’s Channel 2 News from Hebrew to English and presented the transcripts to the State Department and to Senate staffers. Because U.S. human rights law can and does save lives, the Rebuilding Alliance formally requested that the State Department invoke the Leahy Amendment on behalf of Abir Aramin’s family. This law requires the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Defense Department to stop providing aid or training to any foreign military unit that commits a gross violation of human rights -- as did the West Bank unit of the Israeli Border Police when they shot 10-year-old Abir in the back of her head.
Given the strength of Judge Efal-Gabai’s decision, the Jerusalem Prosecutor should seek criminal indictments against the soldier and his commander. This too would be a first. As stated by the Israeli Human Rights group, Yesh Din, “Throughout the years of the Israeli occupation of the territories, and especially during recent years, the law enforcement agencies have been under severe criticism…Figures provided to Yesh Din show that during the years of the second intifada, 90% of the Military Police Criminal Investigation Department investigations ended with the files being closed and without indictments being filed.”
Abir Aramin struggled for her life for 3 days before life support was removed. Hadassah Hospital is in West Jerusalem; her extended family was not allowed to cross the checkpoint to be there to offer solace. Instead, Israeli co-founders of Combatants for Peace joined Abir’s parents at her bedside. In the grief of these gruff former Israeli soldiers, Bassam and Salwa realized that their daughter Abir was not only their child – she was all their children.
In the criminal trial to come, may justice be served, precedent set, and policies revised to assure that justice becomes accessible to all families. May laws be changed to keep soldiers far from schoolyards and to ban the use of rubber-coated steel bullets. May justice strengthen those who work to bring the Occupation to an end so that all children – Israeli and Palestinian both – can be safe.
In Rebuilding Peace,
I am delighted to let you know that we are nearly ready to begin construction of this, the 2nd Abir’s Garden Playground. During my January visit to the West Bank and Israel, I met with both the Israeli and Palestinian Combatants for Peace coordinators to finalize our plans.
You may remember that when we began raising funds for this project in 2008, we planned to build the new playground at the Si’ir School for Girls, near Hebron. During my visit, I learned that the Si’ir Girls School had installed an outdoor stage instead of waiting for our promised playground. Bassam Aramin, co-founder of Combatants for Peace and Palestinian Coordinator, helped find a new site at another school, also near Hebron, that is in need of a playground. The landscape engineers will soon be meeting with the parents to select playground equipment and finalize the plans for the project.
“Combatants for Peace have decided to start the project in the Hebron area, in the West Bank village of Samoah – Simya. We have the perfect location, protected by a wall, and with more land. Combatants for Peace, both Palestinian and Israeli -- and internationals too -- can reach the area easily to help with construction. There are no playgrounds, no gardens in this area, so it’ll be great to build one in this village!” – Bassam Aramin, Palestinian Coordinator, Combatants for Peace
As soon as they order the playground equipment, Combatants for Peace will set the schedule for construction and bring together Israeli and Palestinian members to build. We hope you will join us there for the opening ceremony and encourage you to invite your elected officials!
Sincere thanks for all your help,
P.S Site photos coming soon, followed by schedule.
Thank you so much for helping Abir's Garden win second place in the GlobalGiving “Ready, Set, Give” Challenge! We're close to our goal of full funding and we couldn't have done it without your help.
We need your help once more because the hard work isn’t over! Our next big project is part of GlobalGiving UK’s “Alive and Learning” challenge, and it ends THIS FRIDAY. We want to build a birthing center in Al Aqaba village in the West Bank – the first birthing center in Area C, which suffers from a lack of medical access. In this dark time, our birthing center can bring new hope to a village under demolition orders and a whole area struggling from occupation. Help us by going to our website, www.rebuildingalliance.org, and clicking the link to donate; just five pounds (around $8) is enough to make a difference.
Sincere thanks and best wishes,
The Rebuilding Alliance
It was a remarkable speaking tour, bringing Combatants for Peace Bassam Aramin and Yaniv Reshev to speak in 6 East Coast states. The tour began on February 27th and ended on March 27th. In just one month, we spoke at a total of 63 events, including 14 synagogues, 4 mosques, many churches, universities, and 3 high schools. The Combatants for Peace were invited to give a press conference at the United Nations, and they visited with congressmen and senators. Senator Kerry met with them twice, saying he too is now a combatant for peace.
This tour was sponsored by the Rebuilding Alliance, the Peace Abbey, and September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Andrea LeBlanc lost her husband in the second plane to hit the World Trade Center on 9-11-01. She too, spoke on this speaking tour, describing her decision to seek message of restoration and hope.
Our tour raised enough to cover the costs of the speaking tour and also nearly half of what is needed to build the playground in Si'ir. Please help us raise the rest so the Combatants for Peace can start construction this fall!
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