This page contains testimonies concerning the targeting of Palestinian civilians by the IDF, supporting the post: When One People's "National Liberation Movement" Is Another People's Genocide
1. From a distance of 70 metres and through the sight of his machine gun, Assaf could tell that the Palestinian man was aged between 20 and 30, unarmed and trying to get away from an Israeli tank. But the details didn't matter much, because Assaf's orders were to "fire at anything that moved".
Assaf, a soldier in the Israeli army, pressed the trigger, firing scores of bullets as the body fell to the ground. "He ran and I started shooting for a few seconds. He fell. I was a machine. I fire. I leave and that's that. We never spoke about it afterwards."
It was the summer of 2002, and Assaf and his armoured unit had
been ordered to enter the Gaza town of Dir al Balah following the
firing of mortars into nearby Jewish settlements. His orders were, he
told the Guardian, "'Every person you see on the street, kill him'. And
we would just do it."
It was not the first time that Assaf had killed an innocent person in Gaza while following orders, but after his discharge he began to think about the things he did. "The reason why I am telling you this is that I want the army to think about what they are asking us to do, shooting unarmed people. I don't think it's legal."
2. When I first got to Hebron I wouldn't open fire on little children. And I was sure that if I ever killed or hurt anyone, I'd go so crazy that I'd leave the army. But finally I did shoot someone, and nothing happened to me. In Hebron I shot the legs off of two kids, and I was sure I wouldn't be able to sleep anymore at night, but nothing happened. Two weeks ago I hurt a Palestinian policeman, and that didn't affect me either. You become so apathetic you don't care at all. Shooting is the IDF soldier's way of meditating. It's like shooting is your way of letting go of all your anger when you're in the army. In Hebron there's this order they call "punitive shooting": just open fire on whatever you like. I opened fire not on any sources of fire but on windows where there was just wash hanging to dry. I knew that there were people who would be hit. But at that moment it was just shoot, shoot, shoot.
3. Testimonies of IDF soldiers to Breaking The Silence, published in in the weekend supplement of Israel's most popular newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, 16 Sept 2005. Translated and published in English by Mark Marshall for Occupation Magazine:
Soldier R, pt1. My team killed six innocent people, or probably innocent. We would joke about it and give them code names: the baker, the woman, the child, the old man, the drummer. Some of them by mistake, but as I see it, they were simply executed on illegal orders... There were many nights on which we received orders that whoever we see on the street between two and four in the morning is sentenced to death [“dino mavet”]. Those were the exact words.
R2. “R” recalls a young woman of 24 who was shot in the neck, due to what he describes as his and his friends’ “irresponsible shooting” towards houses, and an old man who took a bullet in the belly, that he himself apparently fired in similar circumstances. He too describes a reality in which they believe in the sentence: “You must return fire to the sources of fire,” even when nobody identifies them. “In practice everybody shoots freely in 360 degrees at [rooftop] water reservoirs and at everybody whom maybe they identify in the windows.”
“To say that we were under pressure is nonsense,” says “R” in reply to the necessary question. “In my opinion most of the shots that I and my friends fired were not because of nervousness and fear, but from the desire to put an X on our guns. Everyone who was a combat soldier knows how much he wants that X on the gun. Without that you’re not a man. I have one in my team with five X’s, and he doesn’t care. They tell you, ‘listen, they’re not naive. What was she standing at the window for?’ or ‘an unfortunate mishap.’ In my opinion it’s just the result of irresponsible shooting. Needless and senseless killing.”
R3. "[T]here were roadblock operations with plastic [barriers] that we called ‘New Jerseys.’ All the time the children, the ones who throw stones, would come and move them. It was a total mess. Then the battalion commander gave everyone an order on the radio: whoever touches a ‘New Jersey,’ shoot him in the legs. Live fire.
“In my Abir [military vehicle], we said right away, ‘is he cracked or what?’ Somebody touches a barrier and you shoot him in the legs? For sure he’s just showing off. But no. That battalion commander was actually a good guy. It was very important to him to set a personal example. At the checkpoint, where I was not personally but there were friends of mine there, the man saw a boy and aimed at his legs, but you know how it is with the commanders, they have so many meetings they don’t have time to calibrate their weapons. He missed the leg and hit the boy in the chest. I was not there, but when we returned from the operation to the base everybody was talking about it. They all said that the battalion commander shot a boy and were talking like he was a ‘murderer of children.’ Was the boy killed? I assume nobody went and checked for a pulse, but very few children survive a bullet in the chest.”
- Testimony of soldier R, IDF paratroop commander during Operation Calm Waters in Nablus, early 2004..
“The top of the dune was a garbage dump next to which children played every day. When the ball falls, we execute deterrent fire to keep them back, first in the air and then maximum 50 metres from them so they go back. That was the procedure. For a long period it was like cat-and-mouse and it lasted a long time, until one day my assistant company commander decided that he had had enough, that it was not effective, that the children played there too much. He told us, ‘next time, call me.’ He came, and fired from a modified M-16 rifle with a telescopic sight, at the leg of one of the children. A boy who definitely had nothing on him, there wasn’t even a suspicion that he had anything, besides the fact that he had crossed some imaginary line. To shoot a nine- or ten-year-old boy who was playing football and innocently chasing the ball, and make him disabled for his whole life, in my eyes that is more than problematic. The children ran away as long as their breath was in them, and adults came to evacuate the boy who was lying there. They understood the aggressive message. For a few days at least, the children were afraid to cross the line.”
M2. At the edge of the neighbourhood was an abandoned house from which armed men occasionally opened fire, and the soldiers returned fire, including with a 40 mm grenade-launcher. “The problem is that the way to shoot well with a grenade-launcher is the way they used to do it with mortars in the armoured corps. First you miss, identify where it landed, and adjust and improve accordingly. Every hundred metres of divergence is a few millimetres to move the gun. In a discharge there are about 20 grenades. Every time you shoot to the right of the building, you hit the neighbourhood. That’s also how they calibrate the machine-gun. It’s clear that it’s impossible to hit right away, and of course there were live grenades that fell in the middle of the neighbourhood. I remember times we saw ambulances going in after our shooting. Why did they go in? I don’t believe that somebody in the neighbourhood had a heart attack right then. Logically we simply hit people. That shooting was done regularly and received all the authorizations from above, at least up to the division commander.”
- Testimony of IDF soldier “M”, a soldier in the Giv’ati Brigade, stationed in Rafah and close to the Ganei-Tal settlement, in 2004..
.Soldier K: “In our position it was relatively quiet, occasionally there was shooting in our direction from a Kalashnikov. It was ineffective fire because of the distance and because the shooters were below. But it was clear that according to the regulations we were not to be passive but were supposed to shoot back and ‘return fire to the sources of fire.’ The problem was there was no chance of identifying the sources of fire, and in practice we returned ‘general’ fire, in the direction of the houses.
“At first, whenever there was fire towards our position, we immediately went into the return-fire procedure: we fired wildly towards the neighbourhood. We sent down a rain of MAG [machine-gun] bullets and thousands of M-16 rounds without identifying a source of fire. It was clear to me that it was not logical. I went to the company commander and told him that it was a waste of money. Isn’t it pointless? I didn’t explain to him that there were residents and children living there, because everyone understood that. I only said that it cost a fortune. I suggested that they bring snipers who would try to take them down one by one.
“The first houses were about 600 metres from us. The source of the shooting was further back, 900 metres from us. There was no chance that they would hit us with a Kalashnikov, and for sure there was no chance of hitting them with return fire. After a month and a half the situation changed: when they didn’t shoot at us, we got bored. So the soldiers decided that we wouldn’t wait for them to start. They said something like today it’s our turn to start, and we’ll shoot first.
“We called it ‘initiated’ [yezuma]. It was a kind of routine that the whole company knew, that happened dozens of times. Everybody recognized the word ‘initiated’, and the meaning – just start freely spraying bullets towards al-Bireh. Just shooting, and when possible, towards the windows when they were open. Obviously if anybody complained, we would say that the Palestinians fired first. Every day they would empty several ‘bruces’ (wooden ammunition boxes – journalist's comment) of ammunition. There were times when I saw ambulances go in, but I didn’t know what happened. On at least one occasion I know that we wounded a girl, because I saw an ambulance, and a day later there was a report in the newspaper that the IDF returned fire to sources of fire in al-Bireh, and that there was a girl whose leg we took off.
“The staff knew everything and gave us to understand that there was no problem. For example, when we had to calibrate our weapons, the Company Commander encouraged us to aim at the fluorescent lights of the mosque. I’m sure that the Brigade Commander knew about it as well, because at least once they reported to him, after an officer from another unit visited the position and reported to him. He heard shots, and asked the soldier what he was doing. The soldier said that they had shot at him, and the officer said, ‘hold it, I heard, don’t lie.’ He reported it to the brigade commander, and they talked about it for several days, but nothing happened. That whole period we were in contact with the people from the Pisgot settlement, whom we were guarding, and after a week they told us that the matter was closed, that an officer like him won’t last long in the brigade.”
- Testimony of soldier K, a soldier in the Haredi Nahal Brigade, stationed overlooking al-Bireh, nr Ramallah..
.Soldier A: “When we entered, we saw that there was really no danger. It was an uncongested built-up area with greenhouses, in front were our tanks and a D-9 [Caterpillar bulldozer] that was destroying houses and greenhouses. We were there more than 24 hours and we didn’t see any armed people, and it was quite boring for everybody, if one can say that. But the whole time, about every hour or two hours, they called us from the command post to ask why we were not shooting. But our feeling of danger was very low. No one shot at us, we were not in a state of anxiety.
“The open-fire regulations were clear enough: every Palestinian on a roof is supposedly a ‘lookout,’ and the snipers shoot him right away. And every civilian on the street who bends towards the ground is suspected of setting explosives and they shoot him. At one point we saw somebody standing on a roof. Just standing, without binoculars. There was no reason to assume that he was on the lookout rather than just going up for a breath of air. I got authorization to shoot – and we hesitated. I agreed to second it. To this day I ask myself why.
“The procedure was that the three snipers shoot together. He got two bullets in the chest and died on the spot. Afterwards we heard ambulances. Hand on heart I had a feeling that it was not OK, but the guys pressured me and I backed down. I failed. That time I did not withstand the pressure from above and from below. There were three snipers who had spent a lot of time training and wanted to put their skills into practice. At the end of the day an officer from the brigade operations branch did a cursory investigation, about two minutes. The question of whether the shooting was justified at all did not come up.
...At the Southern Command they know that the order to open fire on every person on a roof is not legal. The matter had been clarified a half year before, when a soldier in the Paratroopers refused a similar order.
- Testimony of Soldier “A”, an officer in a “Kingfisher” unit, who was posted in Rafah, May 2004..
4. The paratrooper describes a routine clash with a group of about 20 youths. "We were playing tag, like cat and mouse. The stones didn't reach us at all." The soldiers fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at the youths, until a soldier who was posted in a higher location decided to use more lethal means.
"Suddenly you hear a kind of ‘pah' and right afterward another ‘pah' of live ammunition," the soldier explains. "Right away I raise an eyebrow and think to myself, `Wow, it looks like they didn't fire rubber bullets ... Lookie here! Those are live bullets.'" When officers were summoned to the site, he denied having heard live ammunition. The two soldiers positioned above "were veteran soldiers. It is wrong for me to inform on them. They would f-- me in the company later."
According to the paratrooper, it turned out that soldiers from an observation unit of the Intelligence Corps documented the shooting with a video camera. The shots were fired at "a person, in the square who was unloading goods from a vehicle. He [the soldier in the high position] hit him in the back after fitting a few bullets that missed. He hit him with the last bullet. The man fell to the ground, and the next day we were told that he had died." The episode was hushed up. "There is a well-known procedure in the unit: Dirty linen is kept inside. ... The soldier got 35 days from the sergeant-major [punishment in the form of work on the base]. Afterward he returned to the company. The whole company knew. He boasted about it."
[The Palestinian civilian killed in this incident was Mansour Tahah Sayed Ahmad, a 21-year-old coffee salesman and father of three, who was shot dead in Dura, Hebron, on 13 October 2000. The incriminating footage of the incident, shot by the Intelligence Corps, was "lost" by the IDF. - LoC]
- Bloody, this dirty linen by Amos Harel, Ha'aretz, 28 Jan 2005.
5. It is still. The camp waits, as if holding its breath. And then, out of the dry furnace air, a disembodied voice crackles over a loudspeaker. "Come on, dogs," the voice booms in Arabic. "Where are all the dogs of Khan Younis? Come! Come!" I stand up. I walk outside the hut. The invective continues to spew: "Son of a bitch!" "Son of a whore!" "Your mother's cunt!"
The boys dart in small packs up the sloping dunes to the electric fence that separates the camp from the Jewish settlement. They lob rocks toward two armored jeeps parked on top of the dune and mounted with loudspeakers. Three ambulances line the road below the dunes in anticipation of what is to come.
A percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than ten or eleven years old, scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. They descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front of me. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers. The bullets from the M-16 rifles tumble end over end through the children's slight bodies. Later, in the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos.
Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men, six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously wound four more, three of whom are under eighteen. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered—death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo—but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.
-- Chris Hedges: A Gaza Diary (entry for 17 Jun 2001). Published in Harper's Magazine, Oct 2001 edition.
6. A group of Western diplomats traveling from Jerusalem to Ramallah claim they saw Israeli troops near Jerusalem firing live ammunition at a group of children throwing stones, even though the children were too far away to pose a risk to the soldiers...They also think that one of the children was injured, because shortly after the shooting, the group of children gathered around one youngster... One of the diplomats...says that he saw a second soldier in the observation tower clapping and raising his hands as if in victory after his colleague fired at the children.
- Amira Hass: Envoys say they saw IDF fire at children; Ha'aretz, 16 July 2001.
7. Eitan Arusi, an Israeli military spokesman acknowledged that "some civilians" were killed but said the Israeli policy was to refrain "as much as possible" from targeting civilians. However, an initial investigation into the fatalities by B'Tselem - the Israeli organisation that monitors and documents human rights violations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza - found that 41% were civilians "who took no part in the fighting". B'Tselem also found that 19 children under the age of 17 had been killed by Israeli forces. Arusi categorically denied such a large number of civilians were killed. "I don't care that its B'Tselem who reported the numbers," he told Aljazeera.net.
Arusi persisted that, with the exception of some 10 civilians and a 65-year-old man, all Palestinians killed in northern Gaza since Wednesday were in their 20s and 30s. Arusi gave no answer, however, when asked if Israeli military policy considered every Palestinian male in the 20-40 age bracket a legitimate target for liquidation just because he happened to be within a bracket typically associated with military recruitment.
- Al Jazeera: Palestinian civilians in Israel's sights?, 7 October 2004
8. Below is the English translation from Hebrew of the radio communications between IDF soldiers that occurred shortly before and after the murder of nine-year-old Amira al-Hams in Rafah. The recording was submitted in January 2005 in the trial of the company commander, whose name has been withheld due to a military court order. He faces a maximum of three years in prison. Translated from the Hebrew by Nomi Friedman. Originally from Harper's Magazine, May 2005.
SENTRY: We spotted an Arab female about 100 meters below our
emplacement, near the light armored vehicle gate.
HEADQUARTERS: Observation post "Spain," do you see it?
OBSERVATION POST: Affirmative, it's a young girl. She's now running east.
HQ: What is her position?
OP: She's currently north of the authorized zone.
SENTRY: Very inappropriate location.
OP: She's now behind an embankment, 250 meters from the barracks. She keeps
running east. The hits are right on her.
HQ: Are you talking about a girl under ten?
OP: Approximately a ten-year-old girl.
OP: OP to HQ.
HQ: Receiving, over.
OP: She's behind the embankment, dying of fear, the hits are right on her, a
centimeter from her.
SENTRY: Our troops are storming toward her now. They are around 70 meters from
HQ: I understand that the company commander and his squad are out?
SENTRY: Affirmative, with a few more soldiers.
OP: Receive. Looks like one of the positions dropped her.
HQ: What, did you see the hit? Is she down?
OP: She's down. Right now she isn't moving.
COMPANY COMMANDER [to HQ]: Me and another soldier are going in. [To the squad]
Forward, to confirm the kill!
cc [to HQ]: We fired and killed her. She has . . . wearing pants . . . jeans
and a vest, shirt. Also she had a kaffiyeh on her head. I also confirmed the
CC [on general communications band]: Any motion, anyone who moves in the zone,
even if it's a three-year-old, should be killed. Over."
- via The Angry Arab News Service, 24 Jan 2006
9. There is no evidence that children have fired weapons at soldiers or that they in any way presented a threat to the lives of soldiers. None of the cases of children killed mentioned by Amnesty International involved a child carrying a gun, nor is any such case known to Amnesty International.
Other correspondents have said that Palestinians firing guns may be hidden by Palestinian children throwing stones. Again, none of Amnesty International's cases of children killed relates to any such incident; nor has Amnesty International received details of any such incident…
Children throwing stones are not lawful targets for lethal attack by the IDF. Israeli security forces are serving a law enforcement -- not combat -- function and their own rules of engagement acknowledge this. Soldiers are obligated only to use necessary force that is proportionate to the threat. In other words, Palestinian children are dying because Israeli security forces are shooting them -- in a pattern which is in contravention of international standards and the Israeli army's own regulations -- not because they are child combatants in an armed conflict (and therefore legitimate targets of Israeli fire).
- Amnesty International Secretariat, Israel's Responsibility for Killing Children; 15 Dec 2000.
10. In the first months of the intifada, the majority of child victims were killed as a result of the unlawful and excessive use of lethal force in response to demonstrations and stone-throwing incidents, when the lives of IDF soldiers were not at risk. In 2002 the majority were those children killed when the IDF randomly opened fire, or shelled or bombarded residential neighbourhoods in Palestinian towns and villages. Most of these children were killed when there was no exchange of fire and in circumstances in which the lives of the soldiers were not at risk.
- Killing The Future: Children in the line of fire; Amnesty International, 30 Sept 2002.
11. IDF bullets killed 231 Palestinian children. That is, 85 percent of the children who were killed were shot. An accusation that has been appearing in all the reports published by human rights organizations in Israel and internationally is that IDF soldiers are "trigger-happy" and that during the suppression of demonstrations and various kinds of protest actions, in which children also participate, the IDF "employs exaggerated force that is deadly and disproportionate."
For example, the Amnesty report cites testimony by members of its delegation who witnessed a demonstration in Rafah on October 10, 2000, in which about 200 people participated, most of them elementary school students, who threw stones. According to the Amnesty representatives, even though there was no danger to the lives of IDF soldiers, the soldiers used unjustified deadly force, firing live ammunition at the demonstrators. The shooting injured Sami Fathi Abu Jazar in the head; he died the following day of his injuries. Six other children were also wounded.