‘I Made Eye Contact With the Terrorist’: A Decorated IDF Soldier Remembers the Gaza War

'We didn't wipe out a whole neighborhood just because we felt like it.'

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IDF soldiers near the Gaza border, July 31 2014.
IDF soldiers near the Gaza border, July 31 2014.

“When we arrived, the first thing I saw was a wounded soldier on the ground, not moving, and the terrorist standing right above him, taking his weapon and starting to drag him into the house. I had eye contact with the terrorist for a fraction of a second – I had my head outside the tank. Then he abandoned the soldier, took his weapon and ran inside the house.”

That’s how Capt. Tal Rabinowitz, a company commander in an armored battalion, described an incident during this summer’s war in the Gaza Strip in which he thwarted an attempt to capture an Israel Defense Forces soldier. On Monday he was one of the 54 soldiers awarded medals or citations for their conduct during the war, six of them posthumously.

“I don’t think I did anything exceptional here,” Rabinowitz said in a telephone conversation with Haaretz, explaining that he merely did “what is expected of every officer and soldier.”

The incident took place a little over a week after the ground war in Gaza began in July. Rabinowitz said he heard over the communications network that there were wounded soldiers in the southern part of Khuza’a, but only after arriving did he discover that one wounded soldier – whom the other troops had apparently overlooked – was in imminent danger of being dragged into a house.

Rabinowitz said he knew he had to fire into the house to prevent the abduction, but since he wasn’t sure where the other IDF forces were, he first tried to warn them away. At that point, another company commander “told me that both terrorists had been killed, and all the wounded were okay. I told him, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s another wounded soldier here. Move away, because I want to fire inside.’

“The battalion commander also told me there were no other terrorists, and I again said over the radio that there was another wounded solider and another terrorist in the building.”

Rabinowitz then fired his tank’s machine gun at the corners of the house to keep the militant from escaping, while another officer moved in to rescue the wounded soldier. Only then did they discover that the wounded soldier was actually dead.

Once the other officer and the dead soldier were safely clear of the house, Rabinowitz fired a tank shell at the building. Other soldiers then entered and “found the dead terrorist hiding in a closet.”

Human rights organizations have sharply criticized the IDF’s operation in Khuza’a, claiming it caused excessive destruction. The IDF is investigating one incident from the town in which troops allegedly used human shields.

But Rabinowitz said the soldiers had done what was necessary under the circumstances to eliminate the threat of the cross-border tunnels Hamas had built under Khuza’a. “I think that in this matter, we acted morally,” he said. “We didn’t wipe out a whole neighborhood just because we felt like it and were bored.”

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