By Henry Norr
A year ago. Israeli Border Police shattered the skull of Tristan Anderson with a high-velocity tear gas canister as he stood unarmed following a weekly demonstration against Israel’s Separation Wall in the West Bank village of Nilin. Since then, his family, friends, and supporters around the world continue the struggle to hold Israel accountable.
Anderson, a now-39-year-old resident of Oakland, California, still lies in the Tel Hashomer hospital outside Tel Aviv, where he was taken after the March 13, 2009, shooting. Although his mother Nancy Anderson recently reported some welcome signs of progress in his recovery, he remains in critical condition, with severe permanent brain damage and an uncertain prognosis.
The Israeli authorities have done their best to sweep the case under the rug. Last August the Ministry of “Defense” declared the incident an “act of war” – a classification that, under Israeli law, relieves the state of any liability – and in December the Ministry of “Justice” decided to shut down its investigation into the case, on the grounds that the police had found “a lack of criminal culpability.”
Early this month, however, Anderson’s parents filed an appeal against the closing of the case. Their attorney, Michael Sfard, cited “severe negligence in the work of the investigation team,” pointing out that the investigators had never even bothered to visit the scene of the shooting and that the Border Police unit they questioned was not the unit that had fired at Anderson.
“The astonishing negligence of this investigation and of the prosecutorial team that monitored its outcome is unacceptable, but it epitomizes Israel’s culture of impunity,” Sfard said as he released the appeal to the press. “Tristan’s case is actually not rare; it represents hundreds of other cases of Palestinian victims whose investigations have also failed.”
Sfard’s detailed dissection of the glaring flaws in the police investigation evidently embarrassed the Ministry of “Justice” into an unusual retreat: a spokesman told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that in light of the appeal, the ministry would “reexamine” the decision to close the inquiry.
Meanwhile, activists both in Palestine and in the United States continue to champion Anderson’s case, not only to seek justice for him but also to expose the violence and injustice inherent in the Israeli occupation. At the latest weekly demonstration against the Wall in Bil’in (not far from Ni’lin, the site of the shooting), Palestinian, Israeli, and international demonstrators carried posters of Anderson, according to participant Roy Wagner. And on Monday, March 15, friends of Anderson and other Bay Area supporters of justice in Palestine plan a noontime demonstration in his name at the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco. Characteristically, the U.S. government has made no public – and probably no private – effort to demand accountability for the injury to Anderson. His own Congresswoman, Barbara Lee, said nothing about his case for several weeks after the shooting, but finally, in response to pressure from constituents (including an op-ed by this writer in the Berkeley Daily Planet), she reached out to Anderson’s parents and made a statement on the floor of the House demanding an investigation.
Since last spring she has claimed to be working “behind the scenes” to press the State Department and the Israelis for accountabilityThe
Bay Area-based Middle East Policy Advisory Committee and other constituents have again demanded that she speak out publicly on the case.
Henry Norr, who is Jewish, is a retired journalist. He was fired as a columnist by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003 after participating in the International Solidarity Movement in the Gaza Strip, then getting arrested in San Francisco protesting the war on Iraq. Since then he has spent a total of six months with ISM and other organizations in occupied Palestine. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.