As more evidence comes in, it appears increasingly unlikely that two Palestinian youths were shot in cold blood by Israeli soldiers (actually, Border Patrol officers) last Thursday.
CNN has broadcast video that purports to show a Border Patrol officer firing at Palestinian teens immediately before one falls to the ground and is taken away in an ambulance. Later, his father produces a bullet that he says was found in the boy’s backpack, which passed through his chest and killed him. Watch the video here.
Open and shut, right? Not exactly. I talked to an Israeli firearms expert, and here is what he told me:
1. The Border Patrol officers are shooting rubber bullets that are used for crowd control. They are not capable of penetrating the body at the range they are being fired from. We know this by the devices fitted to the barrels of the rifles — these cassettes contain the actual rubber bullets which are propelled by blanks fired from the gun’s regular magazine.
If the rubber bullet cassette had been empty and if the officer had replaced the blanks magazine with one containing live ammunition, then he could have fired a live bullet without removing the cassette. But everyone at the position would have heard the sound of the shot, which is very different from that of a blank propelling a rubber bullet. The Border Patrol officer would have been in very serious trouble, facing a murder charge if his target died. Unless all the soldiers were in on a conspiracy, this didn’t happen.
2. The bullet that the father of the victim said had been removed from the backpack was a 5.56 mm bullet such as is used by the IDF. But it was only slightly deformed. If it had passed through a person’s chest and then was stopped by books in a backpack, it would have been completely crushed. “That bullet looks like it was fired into sand,” the expert said.
3. The surveillance camera video shows the boy falling forward and putting his hands out to break his fall. A person hit by a bullet in the chest is shoved backward by the force of the bullet, his shoulders move forward and his chest is compressed. He falls on his back. The way the boy falls is consistent with someone hit in the leg by a rubber bullet.
Some of these points (particularly the description of the bullet) are also made in an Israeli Channel 2 broadcast (in Hebrew) which can be seen here. [See update below for version with English subtitles]
The most likely explanation is that the two Palestinians who died did so in a direct confrontation with the IDF or Border Patrol somewhere else. A firebomb is considered a deadly weapon, and they might have been shot trying to throw them. The teenagers in the video, then, were either injured non-seriously by rubber bullets, or faking for the camera.
The reports said that four Palestinians were shot, two injured and two died. Not much has been said about the ones who were only injured. Perhaps they were the ones in the video?
Update [23 May 0912 PDT]: Here is the Israeli Channel 2 report with English subtitles added: