An Israeli court on Wednesday sentenced a border police officer to nine months in prison for the fatal shooting of a Palestinian teenager during a protest in the West Bank in 2014.
The relatively light sentence was handed down as part of a plea deal with the prosecution. The court found the shooting unjustified because the youth was not posing any threat to Israeli forces when he was shot.
The officer, Ben Deri, was convicted of causing death by negligence in the shooting of Nadeem Nawara, 17, who was hit in the chest with a live round. The forces at the scene had been instructed to use only rubber-coated bullets, where necessary, to disperse the stone-throwing demonstrators in Beitunia, a town on the edge of Ramallah in the West Bank.
Nadeem’s father, Siam Nawara, told reporters at the court that the sentence was “unjust.” The prosecution had requested that Mr. Deri be sentenced to 20 to 27 months in prison.
The sentencing comes as the Israeli military finds itself under heightened international scrutiny for its use of live fire over the past month against Palestinian protesters across the fence dividing Israel from Gaza. Israel says it is defending its citizens from violent protesters and a potential mass breach of the border. Critics say it has used excessive force against mostly unarmed demonstrators.
More than three dozen Palestinians have been killed along the Gaza border since March 30, including two 14-year-olds. A Gaza journalist who was shot in mid-April succumbed to his wounds and died on Wednesday, according to Gaza health officials. He was the second Palestinian journalist to have been killed during the Friday protests.
The verdict also came more than a year after a military court convicted Sgt. Elor Azaria of manslaughter for shooting a Palestinian assailant in the head as he lay wounded on the ground in the West Bank city of Hebron, in a case that polarized Israelis. Sergeant Azaria received an 18-month prison sentence that was later reduced to 14 months.
Mr. Deri, who was 21 at the time of the shooting in Beitunia, was initially charged with manslaughter and was accused of deliberately shooting live rounds. Under the plea deal, he admitted to firing a live round by accident after failing to check that his magazine contained only blanks and after failing to load a rubber bullet into an adapter affixed to the muzzle of his rifle.
According to court documents, Mr. Deri expressed regret for aiming and firing at the young man but provided no motive.
The shooting of the teenager, as he strode on a road during a break in the stone-throwing, a school bag on his back and his arms by his side, was caught on video taken by a security camera at a business along the road. The court found that he had thrown a stone toward the security force a few minutes before he was shot.
A second protester was killed about an hour later during the same demonstration, but that case was closed for lack of evidence.
Nadeem’s father, who ran a hair salon, pored over video footage and news photographs from the protest for months and submitted his findings to the Israeli police to help build a case against those responsible for his son’s death. He also allowed the Palestinian authorities to hand over a bullet he had found lodged in his son’s backpack to the Israelis for forensic testing.
After attending the sentencing at the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday, Mr. Nawara said he had expected the verdict after the plea deal was reached between the defendant and the prosecution.
“We presented the court with all of the evidence and even with photos of Ben Deri loading his weapon and shooting at Nadeem,” he said. “In addition, witnesses confirmed he is a very meticulous person in his behavior and this stands at odds with the ‘negligent killing’ clause.”
Ahmad Tibi, an Arab legislator in the Israeli Parliament, called the verdict “ridiculous,” writing on Twitter, “You could get a harsher punishment for texting while driving.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official, said Mr. Deri’s nine-month sentence was “ludicrous” given that Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian teenager from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, was sentenced last month by an Israeli military court to eight months in prison for slapping, punching and kicking an Israeli soldier at the entrance to her home. Ms. Tamimi has become a feisty symbol of resistance against the Israeli occupation.
Mr. Deri was also ordered to pay the Nawara family 50,000 shekels (about $14,000).
His lawyer, Zion Amir, described Mr. Deri as “an outstanding combat soldier who fulfilled his mission and was there to defend us.”
In his verdict, the judge, Daniel Teperberg, recounted the events of that afternoon in Beitunia. “At about 13:41 the deceased threw a stone toward the force,” he wrote in the judgment. “The stone throwing stopped at about 13:45. Then the accused decided to hit the deceased by firing a rubber bullet.”
“Against the regulations, although no danger was posed to the force by the deceased, the accused aimed his weapon at the center of the deceased’s torso and fired at him with the intention of injuring him.”
The weapon held a live round, the judge said.
“The live bullet fired by the accused penetrated the chest of the deceased, who collapsed on the spot,” he wrote.