The disguised gangster units of the Israeli army (III)
Haaretz, 17 July 1992.
By: Yizhar Be’er (transl. by Israel Shahak)
"Miscalculation" was the reason given for the displacement of the Duvdevan unit commander in the West Bank by the general commanding Central Command. The decision, the report says, was taken following the findings of the investigations made after the death of a soldier of that unit, Sergeant Eli Isha, who was shot . by mistake by a member of the same unit during art operation in the village of Barta’a. How can it happen that an Israeli soldier is shot dead by his comrades? The Israeli army Spokesman has promised many times that the soldiers of the special units are also observing strictly the orders for opening fire, according to the procedure of arresting a suspect: First you call the suspect to stop; if he does not, you fire a warning shot Into the aIr and only then you aim at his legs. If the soldiers had acted strictly according to this procedure, Eli Isha might be alive today. It is unthinkable that a soldier who hears somebody shouting at him "half does not understand that his comrades made a mistake and think that he is the enemy, neither is it reasonable to assume that nothing is done to clarify the mistake.
The explanation of what happened in Barta’a can be therefore, that in this case the members of the unit (being disguised as Arabs) acted according to the methods really used in it: shooting without a warning at Palestinians who are suspected by them of carrying arms (whether the soldiers are in danger or not) and in some cases also shooting without a warning the masked men who paint grafitti or other unarmed suspects. The "B’Tselem" report published in June, contained cases of shooting without a warning at masked men and other Palestinians, armed and unarmed. In some cases Palestinians were shot dead by mistake because of wrong identification. Others were shot after throwing stones at vehicles brought on purpose by the soldiers of the special units into places where violence may break out – either as a bait or as a provocation. These facts were proven by many testimonies submitted to the investigators of B’Tselem, the Israeli center for Human Rights in the Territories. A famous example is the testimony of the Elimelech couple who saw from the veranda of their Arab friend in the village of Dura, how soldiers, who burst out from the dark, shot without warning at two youngsters who painted slogans.
For almost two years, since the units were formed until the army revealed their existence, the Israeli army Spokesman denied that they exist. After the fact was confirmed, the Spokesman rejected the claims that the units operate contrary to the instructions for opening fire and that the soldiers pull the trigger all too easily. He even didn’t bother to answer extensively the findings and the conclusions contained in the "B’Tselem" report on this issue, and merely rejected them absolutely. He claimed that the report represents a one-sided picture that distorted totally a clear reality. "There is no policy or reality in the Israeli army of intentional killing of wanted individuals… The principle of the sacred value of human life is a basic element in the Israeli army. There is no change nor will be any change in this issue", he promised.
The cases shown in the report include the shooting at three villagers who returned to their homes in Kfar Kadum in the night, after bringing a cow to a neighboring village. The soldiers who shot the three (one was killed and another was wounded) were in an ambush and thought by mistake that the three were the men for whom they were waiting. The Israeli Army Spokesman claimed after the incident that the villagers had threatened the soldiders with a knlfe and a stlck. But this excuse must be viewed with suspicion, considering the circumstances of the incident. Obviously, it is hard to Imagine that three innocent villagers who encounter in the night a squad of armed soldiers who call them to stop would attack them at once with shouts of "Allah Akhbar”. But even if this happened and the three threatened the soldiers with only a knife and a stick, why haven’t the surviving villagers been brought to court till today?
The same question must also be asked with regard to the above mentioned incident in the village of Dura, where two young men who painted slogans were shot. An Israeli army Spokesman claimed that the young Arabs were armed with chains and that the armed soldiers felt threatened by them. If so, why were the wounded released to their homes and not arrested (one of them was arrested at a later stage for a short while and released)? Does the Israeli army forgive so easily masked men who are armed with chains? Perhaps have the military authorities have decided that these boys got already their punishment when bullets pierced their knees?
Note 1: The writer is the general director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Territories.