Lawrence Abu Hamdan is a forensic audio analyst as well as an artist, and in 2014 he was asked to analyse audio files that recorded the shots that killed Nadeem Nawara and Mohamed Abu Daher in the West Bank of Palestine. His audio investigation, which proved that the boys were shot by real bullets and not rubber ones, became the centre of a murder investigation that went through the military courts and international news networks to the US congress, where it was used to argue that the Israelis had breached the US-Israeli arms agreement. One year later the artist holds his own tribunal for these serial killing sounds in the form of the following court transcript he authored titled Rubber Coated Steel. Originally a script for the artists film, Rubber Coated Steel does not preside over the voices of the victims but seeks to amplify their silence, questioning the ways in which rights are being heard today.
Judge: Please be seated.
[Wood creaks. Chairs scrape on the ground]
Judge: Defence, the floor is yours.
Defence: Your honour, we categorically deny all charges and have no further comment.
Judge: Very well. Prosecution, the floor is yours.
Prosecution: The Israeli Defense Forces claim they fired only rubber-coated steel bullets on the day Nadeem Nawara and Mohamad Abu Daher were murdered. And yet Nadeem Nawara’s father presented us with the fatal bullet, a live round that pierced through the body into his backpack. This too was denied by the witness for the Defence who claimed that Ben Deri’s rifle was fitted with a rubber-bullet adapter, therefore it was impossible for him to fire live ammunition. Your honour, I quote from the manufacturer’s catalogue of this rubber-bullet adapter. Contrary to what the witness for the defence claimed, it clearly states: ‘Immediate lethal firing capabilities without removing adapter.’
I will now call my first witness your honour.
Judge: Would the witness for the prosecution please take the stand.
[Audience shuffles. Footsteps]
Judge: Please listen very carefully to the questions that are asked of you. Speak loudly, clearly, slowly.
Prosecution: Please tell the tribunal your role in this investigation?
Witness: I made the forensic audio analysis of the gunshots that killed the two boys.
Prosecution: Let us begin with the death of Nadeem Nawara. Two gunshots were recorded by the CNN news crew. Can you please tell the tribunal which of these two shots killed Nadeem Nawara?
Is it this one?
Or is it this one?
Witness: It is the first shot we heard.
Witness: The first shot has a subtle high pitched crack like a [imitates sound].
Prosecution: In your expert opinion, what is this crack sound that we hear?
Witness: It is the bullet breaking the sound barrier.
Prosecution: So only one of these two shots breaks the sound barrier?
Prosecution: Can a rubber-coated steel bullet break the sound barrier?
Witness: No, a rubber bullet travels at around half the speed of sound.
Defence: Objection you honour. I hear no difference in the sound of the two gunshots.
Judge: Objection sustained. I must admit I have somewhat of a tin ear when it comes to these things.
Prosecution: In that case your honour we will now move to visual evidence. In this photograph we see Nadeem Nawara being carried off to the ambulance. If we look closely we see that a rubber bullet has been captured here in mid-flight.
Judge: Do you mean this black blur?
Prosecution: Yes, your honour, and we have the sound of this shot recorded by the CNN news crew.
Judge: What am I looking at here?
Witness: These are the visualizations of the sounds of the two gunshots.
Judge: These are sounds?
Witness: Yes your honour, images of sounds. Along the bottom axis is time, the vertical axis is pitch from low to high and the colour temperature shows the loudness of that pitch at that time. The shot that killed Nawara is on the left. The shot on the right is the rubber bullet we saw in the photograph. The shot that killed Nadeem is louder in the higher frequencies, which accounts for the high pitched crack of the bullet breaking the sound barrier. The shot on the right is considerably louder in the lower frequencies, which is consistent with the deep thud of a rubber bullet.
Prosecution: Of all the gunshots you analysed on that day were there any other gunshots that you heard breaking the sound barrier?
Witness: Yes, there is one other occurrence.
Prosecution: Is that the shot that killed Mohamad Abu Daher?
Defence: Objection your honour, leading question.
Judge: Sustained. The typist will strike that from the record.
Prosecution: So, when did this second shot happen?
Witness: At the moment Mohamad Abu Daher was killed.
Prosecution: Your honour there has been no autopsy of Mohamad’s body, we only have the sound of the shot that killed him as eviden…
Defence: Objection. The family is withholding evidence.
Prosecution: Your honour, the family believed that this is an open-and-shut case as the only armed person present was an Israeli soldier, an autopsy was for them an unnecessary measure.
Defence: Objection! Your honour the family has invoked their right to silence, any remarks on what they think is merely speculation.
Prosecution: We don’t need their testimony because we have the sound of the shot that killed him. The sound was recorded by the Palestinian news crew. They also captured the sound of four other gunshots. Do all of these shots have the sonic signature of a rubber-coated steel bullet?
Witness: All except the shot that killed Abu Daher. It is the only shot that is loud in the very high frequencies.
Prosecution: Are the shots that killed the two teenagers live ammunition?
Witness: No. Well yes.
Witness: They are definitely not rubber bullets but these two shots don’t sound like an M16 firing live ammunition either.
Prosecution: Your honour, this is the sound of an M16 firing live ammunition.
[Audience wince at the loud sounds]
Prosecution: What is the difference between the shots that killed the two boys and the normal sound of an M16 rifle?
Witness: An M16 rifle is very loud across the frequency spectrum, but the shots that killed the two boys are significantly quieter.
Prosecution: How would one reduce the sound of gunfire?
Witness: The most obvious method is to use a silencer, an adapter that is fitted onto the end of the barrel that traps and cools the hot combustion gas before it reaches the outside air.
Prosecution: Would any other type of adapter, say a rubber-bullet adapter fitted onto the end of a gun, have a similar effect?
Witness: Yes, but the rubber-bullet adapter would not silence the shot, rather it would make a normal gunshot sound like a rubber bullet.
Prosecution: Your honour, in Ben Deri’s calculated attempt to disguise the sound of live ammunition with the rubber-bullet adapter, he has incidentally revealed to this tribunal a signature method for killing.
The murder weapon in this investigation is not only the M16 rifle but the rubber-bullet adapter fitted to its barrel. The legal use of rubber bullets provides a cover for these soldiers to suppress the sound of live ammunition and kill with impunity. Ben Deri is not the only one using rubber bullets as his alibi. I quote from an Israeli military blog. ‘When I was in Gaza somebody told me about a common trick, you shoot a rubber bullet and are left with the empty adapter on the rifle. Then you shoot live fire when the officer next to you thinks that you are shooting rubber. In any case the Palestinians take the body and there is no investigation so who cares.’
Defence: Objection your honour, this is hearsay!
Judge: Objection sustained.
Prosecution: In your expert opinion, can you please identify this sound?
Witness: It sounds like a sound bomb.
Prosecution: Correct! And what is a sound bomb?
Witness: A grenade that makes a very loud, non-lethal explosion to disperse crowds.
Prosecution: Now can you please identify this sound?
Witness: Can I hear it again please?
Judge: Please now answer the question that is asked of you.
Witness: I hear the ricochet of a bullet, but no gunshot.
Prosecution: Your honour, this is a recording of an Israeli soldier firing at unarmed protesters with a rifle that is completely silenced. Please explain to the tribunal which gun fired this inaudible shot?
Witness: It would have to be the Ruger ‘dingo’ rifle. It is the quietest gun on earth, if used with subsonic ammunition that travels just below the speed of sound.
Prosecution: Can you explain why these weapons are classified by the Israelis as ‘non-lethal’ force?
Witness: Well, the sound bomb, although deafening in volume, cannot kill anybody, but the Ruger is very quiet and very deadly. These rifles have the nickname ‘hush puppy’ as they are used to silently eliminate disturbing dogs prior to stealth operations.
Defence: Objection. Are we now on trial for animal cruelty your honour?
Prosecution: Your honour, I have one last question for the witness. Is it true that you could not initially hear the difference between the sound of live ammunition and rubber bullets?
Witness: Yes, I could only hear the difference in the sound after I examined the visualizations.
Prosecution: Your honour, true experts don’t need visualizations of sounds to distinguish subtle differences. The true experts in this case are the young protesters who can identify these sounds instinctively. Mohamad Azzeh testified that he heard the fire of live ammunition at the protest and ran. Some moments later he started to feel something burning in his stomach. His hearing was so acute that he could identify the sound of live ammunition that was cloaked by a rubber-bullet adapter and react before he even knew the shot had hit him.
Defence: Objection your honour. Mr Azzeh is not a sworn witness.
Prosecution: Your honour, the young people’s expertise at detecting sounds has led the Israeli military to find innovative methods to conduct their killings. At first, they tried to confuse the protesters masking the sound of live ammunition with rubber bullet adapters. When they noticed that the protesters could hear the difference they tried to deafen them with sound bombs and use a totally silenced weapon that neither film crews nor protesters on the ground can detect.
Defence: Objection your honour. Does the prosecution have a witness who can testify to this?
Prosecution: I do not your honour, but some of the youth are here with us today in the audience. I implore any one of you to step up here and testify to these serial killing sounds.
Judge: Clerk, please summon the interpreter.
Prosecution: You may now speak in your own language.
Prosecution: Do you hear me?
Defence: Why don’t you come forward and speak under oath?
Judge: Can you hear us at the back?
Judge: Can’t they hear me?
Witness: It doesn’t seem there is anything medically wrong with their hearing your honour.