Palestine Monitor, 31 July 2010
Another Palestinian life was ended by Israeli gunfire last week. Again it was dismissed by military spokesmen as a case of mistaken identity, again it was presented in the Israeli press as a successful security operation. Written and photographed by Aaron Dearborn.
Bilal Abu Libdeh was shot outside the Barkan settlement in the West Bank when soldiers wrongly thought they saw a weapon. In the aftermath, the Israeli media readily reproduced the military’s excuses, reducing Bilal’s final moments to the redundant media stereotypes of the ’suspected terrorist’ and ’settlement infiltrator’.
But whilst the truth of their son’s death becomes another political casualty, Ibrahim and Intihad Libdeh are left to mourn the human being now missing from their lives. The day after he was killed, the family was joined by hundreds of mourners in their home city of Qalqilya, to carry Bilal to his final resting place.
Too distraught to talk to the media, Bilal’s uncle, Abu Jihad, spoke on the family’s behalf, describing his nephew’s murder as “a very disturbing situation.”
“Both his mother and father are suffering from shock, his mother especially is crying all the time, uncontrollably. His father Ibrahim does not have work, has not worked in 15 years and there is a real concern how he can get over this loss and look after Bilal’s widow,” he said.
Bilal Libdeh, 26, married for little over two months without any children, was killed outside the Barqan settlement near Salfit at approximately 4.30am on Thursday 22 July this year.
The army’s version of events puts Bilal among a number of Palestinians “infiltrating the (settlement), one of them suspected to be armed,” when Israeli forces opened fire. Whilst one other was wounded, Bilal was killed at the scene.
The statement makes no mention whether Bilal was the same person allegedly carrying the weapon or indeed how many Palestinians were fired on.
No evidence has emerged of any weapons being recovered from the scene nor any further evidence to suggest Bilal posed a criminal threat to the settlement, or even that he intended to.
His family reject this scenario, saying that Bilal, who worked as a labourer on construction sites but had been unable to find stable employment in recent years, had gone to the settlement to find work.
The family says that friends had told Bilal he could find paid construction jobs without the need of an Israeli issued work permit at the settlement. Thursday morning would be the first and last time Bilal would try to work in Barqan.
“He was just waiting with a group of other workers, for the Israelis inside Barqan to come and let them in. An Israeli jeep stopped nearby, saw the group and started firing, so everybody ran,” Abu Jihad says.
Bilal’s family said he was shot twice, once in the head and once in the abdomen. Abu Jihad says that whilst he hoped the soldiers that killed his nephew would be brought to justice, he was not optimistic they would be punished.
“The people in Qalqilya, the people in Palestine have seen this before. I wish the soldiers would be sent to prison, but the cooperation between the soldiers and the settlements is too much,” he says.
But with coverage of his nephew’s murder focused solely on the military’s version of events, it is extremely unlikely Israeli public opinion could be swayed by the truth to demand accountability of their armed forces.
Indeed, the misrepresentation of Bilal’s murder simply underscores the utter refusal of the Israeli media to properly investigate Palestinian deaths due either to gross military negligence or brutality.
In his article for the Israeli Ha’aretz news, journalist Chaim Levinson limits his investigation of Bilal’s murder to the IDF’s press statement, avoiding the added burden of actually contacting witnesses or the people who knew Bilal to establish his movements on the morning of his death.
Chaim opts instead to simply parrot the military’s version of events, with such lines as “The casualty was apparently armed” and “the Palestinians apparently penetrated the settlement for criminal and not terror-related purposes.”
In fact, Bilal had not ’penetrated’ the settlement nor has there been any evidence that he intended to, and of course, no weapon has been produced.
But most disgracefully of all, is the way Chaim presents the news of Bilal’s death to the Israeli public, packaging the shooting with a completely unrelated incident in Gaza, where two Palestinian ’militants’ were killed and six hospitalized by Israeli fire, allegedly planning an attack against Israeli forces.
Linking Bilal’s murder with the deaths of six others in an unrelated incident is demonstrative of a callous disregard for media ethics. It is also evidence of a clear bias among Israel journalists to link all Palestinian deaths, especially those caused under suspicious circumstances where Israeli soldiers are implicated, with terrorism and a conspiracy to commit crimes.
Never mind that the deceased might be innocent. Never mind that there are witnesses available to attest to that fact. Never mind that the government would never admit to criminal behaviour by its military without media pressure.
Right now the military are working backwards. Having already executed Bilal, they are now trying to re-arrange the facts to prove he was guilty of a crime he had most certainly not committed; not whilst being unarmed, outside a settlement.
No smoking gun was found on Bilal’s body because, like most ordinary Palestinians and everyone else around the world, he did not leave for work that day carrying a weapon.
There is no evidence to suggest he was the ’criminal’ or ’suspected terrorist’ journalists have labelled him. He was a human being, a son, a brother and a husband who was killed under suspicious circumstances that deserved to be investigated adequately.
But you will not read that anywhere in Israel.