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Eye Witnesses

Palestine Media Center
20 May, 2003

In recent weeks, columnist Gideon Levy described two violent incidents in the territories in which a Palestinian boy was killed and a Palestinian girl was injured. In the wake of these articles, two eyewitnesses sent their testimonies on the circumstances of the shootings. Both raise serious questions concerning the behavior of IDF soldiers.

Deliberate Shooting At Children

I read Gideon Levy's article about the death of Omar Matar ("The 144th Child," Haaretz Magazine, April 11) following my own personal familiarity with the events that are described in it. As someone who personally witnessed the incident at the Qalandiyah checkpoint, on Friday, March 28, I can say that it was a traumatic, terrible, unimaginable experience. My girlfriend and I arrived at the site as members of WATCH, a group of Israeli women who oppose the occupation and who observe the checkpoints every day in the area of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

This was not the first time we have seen what has become routine at the checkpoints: Children throwing stones at the fence near the Qalandiyah neighborhood and burning tires. Within a few minutes, a group of about 10 soldiers advanced in the direction of the children and began shooting at them. Stunned by what we were seeing - soldiers armed with rifles, wearing helmets and flak jackets shooting at a small group of schoolchildren - we immediately called the Benjamin Brigade commander, who told us that the orders to the soldiers that we had seen were to shoot rubber bullets in the air. I told him that I could see with my own eyes that they were not shooting in the air, but that they were shooting right at the children and that it is known that rubber bullets (which are really steel bullets covered in rubber) can kill. Within a short time, an ambulance came to the neighborhood's main street and we learned that a boy, Omar Musa Matar, had been shot in the head.

Our warnings to the army had fallen on deaf ears and failed to prevent Omar's death. This incident brings a number of difficult thoughts to mind - thoughts about the imperviousness, cruelty and total contempt for Palestinian lives, which is reflected in the fact that after years of intifada, the Israel Defense Forces and the police have not yet found ways to disperse civilian riots that comply with international law; about the soldiers armed with rifles facing off against little children with stones; about the horrific disparity between the orders given by senior commanders and the reality on the ground, in which each soldier acts as he sees fit in the full knowledge that he will not be tried for murder, abuse, robbery or any other trampling of the law and human rights.

According to figures provided by B'Tselem [The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories], the number of incidents in which the Military Police launches an investigation following the killing of innocents by soldiers is minimal, the manner in which the investigations are conducted ludicrous and the number of the convictions negligible. Consequently, I will not be surprised if the murderer is not brought to justice in this case either. This is not a trigger-happy soldier, but rather a group of soldiers acting like a murderous gang, storming a group of children that do not represent a genuine danger.

Adi Dagan

Questions to the IDF Spokesman: In Gideon Levy's article about the incident, he quotes the eyewitness testimony of Walid Zawawi, the deputy director of the Qalandiyah camp for UNRWA, who said that a soldier shot the boy while in a kneeling position, that two bullets hit the boy, one in the head and the other in the neck, and that afterward, the soldiers also shot a Palestinian who tried to evacuate the wounded boy. The response of the IDF Spokesman at the time was: "The Military Police is investigating the incident." Has the investigation been concluded? What were the findings and what steps, if any, have been taken against the commander/shooter(s)?

The response of the IDF Spokesman: The investigation is still ongoing.

2. No Danger To The Soldiers

In the article about the Tul Karm refugee camp (Haaretz Magazine, March 28), Gideon Levy mentioned a 15-year-old girl "who apparently tried to stab a soldier" at a checkpoint. She was shot and "has been lying wounded in Meir Hospital, handcuffed, for a few weeks now." On February 20 of this year, I was serving in the reserves at the checkpoint between Taibeh and Tul Karm. At about four o'clock in the afternoon, I went up to my post. About an hour and a half afterward, a girl of about 15 arrived, walked behind me and continued in the direction of a group of soldiers at the main area of the checkpoint. She stopped and at a certain point, took out a knife and stood without moving for quite a while. True, she did wave the knife in the air, but what she did was far from endangering the soldiers.

The commander of the checkpoint, who arrived meanwhile, carried out the proper procedure for arresting a suspect and shot at her from a few meters away. The procedure calls for a warning shot in the air; if the suspect still does not stop, shots may be fired at the the suspect's legs and only after that at the suspect's torso. I heard three shots. After that, for a long while, she lay there bleeding and crying, "I want my mother." It was quite a difficult sight to see. An ambulance that arrived was not allowed to approach her until IDF sappers had finished checking her.

I have been doing my reserve duty in the territories since April 1988. I have accumulated quite a bit of experience, and this time I decided to use my own judgment during my work at the checkpoint. When I saw older people coming to ask for permission to go through to visit their children in Taibeh, or mixed couples, I let them go through. My behavior caused some disagreement and consequently, the subject was brought out in the open. I explained that I was not working from a particularly leftist position, but rather from a human point of view.

A number of things should be made clear about the shooter. The officer that shot the girl is an educator in his civilian life. We have been conducting a dialogue from either side of the line that crosses Israeli society for close to 15 years. About 13 years ago, while sitting together in a Jeep in Rafah, I asked him if he really believes that it is a decree from heaven and that this is how we must live with the Palestinians. Since then, the subject has remained open between us through all the years, and here, after all these years, we end up meeting again in a situation like this.

Let me make it clear: this is not a matter of black and white. During our previous reserve duty, after we once again held long discussions with one another, he invited me to give a lecture to the 12th-grade students in his school. I believe that those who can, must volunteer to serve in the territories in order to be at the meeting points with the population, and do what is needed to prevent abuse by soldiers, to treat the members of foreign organizations respectfully and to treat the Palestinians with respect and hope. Perhaps in this way it will be possible to have a greater influence reality.

I, for example, appealed after the incident to the Yesh Gvul movement - although my views on the subject of serving in the territories are different from theirs - and they passed the information on to WATCH, which decided to send representatives of their own to oversee what is happening at the checkpoint near Taibeh. Naturally, I continued to take an interest in the girl who was shot. I learned she is currently being held in the Neveh Tirza prison after doctors in the hospital were forced to remove part of her intestines - which shows that at least one bullet hit her in the stomach.

Peleg Levy
Tel Mond

Questions to the IDF Spokes-man: Are there orders to delay medical care until authorization is received from the sapper that the injured suspects are not carrying explosives on their person? Has an investigation been launched into this case of shooting? If so, what are the findings and what steps, if any, have been taken against the commander responsible, or the shooter?

There was no official response from the IDF Spokes-man.

Military sources had this to say: A brigade-level investigation conducted after the shooting showed that the Palestinian girl reached checkpoint 105 near Taibeh with a drawn knife and advanced in the direction of the soldiers. The soldiers called out to her to halt, shot in the air, and after she continued to approach them, shot her when she was two to three meters away. Her treatment and evacuation were carried out in accordance with proper procedures: The soldiers at the checkpoint, acting beyond the call of duty, called for a Magen David Adom (rather than a Red Crescent) ambulance to come for her. Meanwhile, an army sapper at the site checked to see if she had any explosives on her person.

After the sappers ruled that possibility out, the girl, who appeared to be not of sound mind, was evacuated to the Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, where she was hospitalized and treated at the expense of the IDF, after which she was sent for interrogation to the Shin Bet [security services]. After the fact, in light of findings of the brigade-level investigation, the IDF sees no problem in the soldiers' behavior and functioning.

Peleg Levy testifies that he heard three shots. How many shells hit the body of the girl? From a letter sent by Physicians for Human Rights to the director of the hospital, it became clear that Dr. Ahmed Massarwah, a member of the organization's board, came to visit her with a statement relinquishing the doctor-patient privilege, signed by the family. He said he had spoken to the surgeon who had operated on her, and from him found out that "she was hit in one of her kidneys and during the operation, part of her large intestine was removed. Two bullets remained, one in the body cavity and one in the leg."