The day after ground troops entered the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead two years ago, S., a soldier in the Givati Brigade, allegedly shot a woman in her upper body while she was carrying a white flag. About half an hour later, S. subsequently told the Military Police, the company commander arrived and S. was stunned by his response.
"He told me, in front of everyone, 'You're a cold-blooded murderer, you'll go to hell,'" S. said. "When I tried to tell him, 'But those were your orders,' he told me, 'Shut up. You won't remain in my company.'"
"But that was it. From then on, until the end of the fighting, it was if nothing had happened," S. related.
This incident eventually led to the gravest indictment yet filed concerning actions committed during Cast Lead, and one of the gravest ever filed against any Israeli soldier.
The evidence collected in the case, as well as exclusive interviews with S. and other soldiers indicted over Cast Lead, will be broadcast on television tonight on Ilana Dayan's program "Uvda" ("Fact" ), which airs at 9 P.M. on Channel 2.
Based on evidence collected thus far, it seems the incident raises much larger questions than merely who fired and at what.
S. related that, during Cast Lead, after shouting suddenly erupted nearby, his platoon commander ordered him to the lookout post. He saw seven people approaching - "I don't remember a white flag. And then the shooting began," S. said.
"I fired in the air ... But they continued to approach, so then I began firing at their legs ... so that they'd turn away, not to injure their legs. But they still kept coming. And then I fired at the upper bodies and hit one of them. I saw someone fall," S. continued.
"I aimed at the body with intent to wound, because they were continuing to approach and walking very quickly. After one of them fell, all the rest began to run away ... After that, the shooting stopped.
"The battalion commander arrived and asked 'Who fired?' I said, 'I fired,'" S. recalled. "He asked, 'Why did you fire?' and I answered, 'The company commander's orders were to shoot anyone who approaches the fortifications, because he's a terrorist.' He said, 'Very good' and went away."
The police interrogator, saying that only S. had fired with intent to kill, asked him why.
"I don't know why ... I don't know what the others saw or did," S. replied. "Maybe everyone fired but only I hit."
S. said that he never saw the body. "Afterward they told me it was a woman, though I was sure it was a man."
When asked if he ever considered whether those approaching might be innocent civilians, S. replied, "If they were innocent, they wouldn't have kept coming after the first shot was fired in the air."
Was there an explicit order, the interrogator asked, to treat everyone who approached as a potential terrorist who should be killed? "I recall it being said that 'even if they have a white flag with peace written on it, you shoot,'" S. replied.
But he quickly added: "They spoke to us a lot about the judgment we need to use, they spoke to us about the procedure to use in arresting a suspect. This sentence was said in the heat of things, perhaps to stress to the soldiers that this wasn't a joke. I didn't understand from it that I should shoot everyone. That is, I didn't take it as an order. I think all the soldiers understood that it wasn't an order, that we needed to use our judgment - just as they're always telling us."
Because no one examined the woman's body after the incident, S. was charged with a rare crime: "Killing an unknown person."
Equally bizarre is that, despite the company commander's severe rebuke at the time, a subsequent inquiry was buried at the battalion level and never went any farther - a fact which later led the military advocate general to investigate S.'s superiors as well. But this burial of the internal inquiry may have been due to the fact that the testimony provided there by S.'s commanders differed from what they later told the Military Police, especially with regard to the rules of engagement soldiers were given prior to the incident.
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