On Monday, February 19, the Or Commission, designated to
uncover what caused Israeli policemen to kill 13 Israeli
Arab citizens at the outset of the Al Aqsa Intifadah in
early October, held its first open session and heard
contradictory testimony from border patrolmen as to what
happened in the village of Jatt. The Tuesday testimony is to
deal with Umm el-Fahm.
The committee, comprising High Court Justice Theodore Or,
Nazareth District Court Deputy President Sahal Jara, and Tel
Aviv University Prof. Shimon Shamir, began the hearings in
the High Court building in Jerusalem with an investigation
of the events of October 1, when 21-year-old Rami Jara was
shot in the eye and killed by a rubber bullet during riots
in the village of Jatt.
The session was marked by violent outbursts of emotion by
the family of the youth killed.
When border policeman Murshad Rashad, who allegedly killed
Jara, took the stand, Jara's mother started screaming and
his father and brother rushed up to the podium and began
beating him. Court intervention was necessary to halt the
assault and Jara's mother fainted.
A few moments earlier, Jara's sister hurled the earphones
she was using to hear a simultaneous translation at another
border policeman, when he told the commission he had not
fired his rifle at the rioters.
The commission members hurried out of the auditorium and the
proceedings were halted for almost two hours.
Testimony continued only after Arab MKs and lawyers promised
there would be no more outbursts. Later in the day Border
Patrol Commander Yaakov Ganot said he wanted, "with all the
understanding of the pain and sorrow of the families, to
protest -- in my name and in the name of all Border
Patrolmen -- against the assault on policemen in the
Arab activists charged that the commission members were too
soft in their questioning of the policemen. As one Arab MK
said: "The families will only calm down when they can
question the witnesses themselves" (MK Azmi Bishara --
National Democratic Union).
Many contradictory versions of the events were presented by
key border patrolmen who had been among those trying to
disperse the rioters. Four troopers testified yesterday, as
well as three Jatt residents.
The commission heard, among other things, that the only riot-
control equipment used by the Border Patrol in Jatt last
October 1 was rubber-coated bullets, and that no effort was
made by the IDF police troopers to use any other means,
including loudspeakers, to get the crowd to disperse.
Jara was killed two days after the outbreak of the "Aqsa
intifadah." A group of about eight border policemen was
dispatched to Jatt after rioters burned tires and blocked
the main highway.
According to the border policemen who testified yesterday,
they had been rushed back and forth during the day from one
Arab settlement to another, including nearby Baka el-Garbiya
and Umm el-Fahm.
When they arrived in Jatt, most of the border policemen
remained at the junction of the main highway and the road
leading into the village, while the commander of the unit,
Sa'id Abu Rish, sent Rashad and Alexander Shavtchinski ahead
toward the rioters.
According to the first witness, border policeman Avraham
Bar, Abu Rish sent Rashad and Shavtchinski to "shoot one of
the demonstrators" in order to disperse the others.
In response to a question by Shamir, Bar said that Abu Rish
did not mean to kill anyone. "To shoot someone would mean to
hit him in the leg," said Bar.
Rashad and Shavtchinski told the commission that Abu Rish
had ordered them to approach the rioters and make an arrest.
Abu Rish said he had told the men to push the rioters back
and had authorized them to fire rubber bullets if they were
in danger, though his testimony proved that he did not know
the basic rules of firing rubber bullets.
Abu Rish was also unable to explain to the panel why he sent
only a two-member force to try to disperse a crowd of at
least several dozen demonstrators.
The border policemen also differed in their description of
the shooting incident. According to Bar, Rashad shot Jara at
a distance of about 15-20 meters. Shvatzinsky and Abu Rish
said they did not know that Rashad had fired.
Rashad acknowledged that he had fired rubber bullets, but
said he was about 70 meters away--far beyond the range of
rubber bullets--when he opened fire. He said he did so
because he had been spotted and attacked with stones.
Both civilians and policemen testified that the rock-
throwers were several meters from where Jara was standing,
on the main road into the village, near a cafe where some
others were standing peacefully watching the events.
Justice Or decided that, "The deceased was shot from a
There were also differences of opinion about the situation
in Jatt that day. Abu Rish testified that cars driving along
the main highway, as well as his policemen, were endangered
by the rioters. Jatt witnesses, including Mohammed Watad and
Muhsan Ahmed, testified that the road was closed and that
the only ones throwing stones were children.
Arab leaders and members of the families of the victims were
critical of the proceedings and pessimistic about the
outcome of the investigation.
Mahmoud Yazbak, the chairman of the association of bereaved
families, said commission members left many questions
unasked. He said when Abu Rish claimed that the lives of his
men were in danger, they should have asked him whether any
of them were injured and how far away the rioters were
"We hoped for more from the commission," said Hassan
Jabarin, an attorney for the Arab human-rights organization
Adalah, which collected testimony on behalf of the
Jabarin demanded that the commission arrest or suspend the
suspects in the shooting incidents. He said Or should have
accepted the request of the Arab witnesses to testify in
Arabic instead of Hebrew, and of the bereaved families to
begin hearings at 11 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. so that they
could reach Jerusalem from their homes in the North on
The police, meanwhile, issued a formal statement on Monday,
February 19, promising they would back all the troopers
called to the stand during the Or Commission hearings, and
if any police or officers are eventually liable for
prosecution, the police would provide them with legal
services, "including financial help for lawyers."