Analysis: Absolutely illegal

By Amos Harel


Kislev 10, 5765

There have been dozens of cases during the past four years in which IDF soldiers killed unarmed Palestinian civilians. The circumstances are different from case to case, and in many cases the army provided detailed explanations for the shootings, even if in retrospect the judgment was wrong. Only rarely is the curtain completely lifted on what really took place so that someone who was not there can understand what happened. The leak last night to Channel Two's Fact program, of the tape from the communications radios at the Girit outpost on the Philadelphi corridor provides such an opportunity.

The legal proceedings have only begun, but based on what the tape showed and the indictment against the Givati company commander R. claims, it is possible to cautiously draw a few interim conclusions.

Most of the debate about the incident was over whether the killing of the little girl was "verified," and the debate was based on the conflicting versions of the events as provided by R. and his troops. Last night the tape left no room for doubt - R. himself is heard saying, "I also verified her killing."

But that is far from the key question in the case. At least from the moral aspect, the main question is why the company commander and his soldiers fired at the girl who was 100 meters away from the outpost, was not armed, was not a danger to the soldiers inside the protected outpost, and when at least some of the soldiers knew that it was a little girl. A soldiers is explicitly heard saying "it's a little girl," and that she is "scared to death." Nonetheless, the shooting went on. Moreover, R. himself reports later that he shot "the girl."

No less important is the tone of the voices on the tape. Officers trying to explain what happened constantly said that the areas is dangerous, and that the soldiers were under threat. But that does not come across in the voices of the soldiers. They don't sound worried or pressured, but almost apathetic. They seem to be shooting because those are the orders - to shoot at anyone who comes close, even if some know it's only a girl, and there is no sense of fear. It seems, at least, that the order to shoot is blatantly illegal, and therefore the soldiers should have refused it. The question becomes, therefore, why only the company commander is being prosecuted, and only for illegal use of his weapon and not for manslaughter at the very least.

The Girit affair was one of the reasons for the tension between Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and the deposed regional commander, Brig. Gen. Shmuel Zakai, who completely accepted the company commander's version of events, persuading Ya'alon to do as well - and then Ya'alon was embarrassed when the Military Police probe discovered a completely different reality.

Now it turns out the original corps level inquiry into the event did not even listen to the communications recordings, which were easily available. If they had, the entire fiasco of the original backing for the company commander could have been avoided. The affair raises questions about the way the IDF investigated other cases of Palestinians being killed.

One prevalent view in the media is that it is impossible to judge the behavior of the soldiers in these cases given the dangerous conditions under which they operate. But that is a dubious argument at best since it has gradually turned into the legitimization of worsening incidents over the years. It's convenient for the IDF to call R. a "rotten apple," but in effect, Iman al Hamas, the little girl killed at Girit, is not alone. There have been dozens of innocents killed in Gaza, under circumstances not much different from those in which she was killed.

During the first two years of the intifada, the rules of engagement allowed shooting at civilians simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, like near a settlement fence, or at night. Since then, the army has tried to crack down, and has toughened the rules of engagement. But there are plenty of hair-raising stories about what happened to civilians during offenses like Operation Rainbow and Operation Days of Penitence.

The first intifada saw Givati trials one and two, which opened the pandora's box for the Israeli public about what soldiers were doing in their name in the territories. If R. insists on going through with his defense and does not work out a plea bargain with the military prosecution, it is entirely possible that this case will yet open the pandora's box to the public about what the army did in its name during the intifada.