The Israeli Army Watchdog Is Unprepared for a Real Investigation

An army that raises soldiers who shoot an 11-year-old to death from 100 meters away can’t be ready for a real war, except for the dispossession and expulsion of civilians

Relatives of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohamed al-Jahjuh mourn by his body during his funeral in Gaza City on December 22, 2018

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik, the Israel Defense Forces ombudsman, is not ready to recognize the real problem of the Israeli army and its soldiers. What kind of a ready army can we have when soldiers, commanders and lawyers have been educated, and educate others, to think it’s legitimate and natural to kill unarmed civilian protesters from across the Gaza Strip border fence, and to break in, wearing masks and armed to the teeth, to homes filled with children in the dead of night?

How can we expect preparedness for war from soldiers and commanders who are sure they deserve the honorific “combat soldier” because they block roads and remove shepherds on orders from settlers; injure farmers on their land or escort Civil Administration officials when they demolish a water cistern and pipe? What’s worse, their delighted parents and teachers are convinced too that they are worthy of being called “combat soldiers.”

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Brik remains in the safe and comfortable zone of criticism, oversight and scolding: Guns that aren’t cleaned, commanders who are preoccupied with their pensions and early retirement, too many cellphone calls and the like.

These are called serious problems, which for the past six months have been stirring up politicians and the media. The fact that our soldiers — as faithful representatives of the people of Israel — are trained to serve as the prison guards, using lethal force when necessary, of 2 million human beings, is not a problem. Neither is the fact that our soldiers are sent to guarantee the success of the expulsive settler-colonial project.

Hebron, 2014. A lieutenant in the Nahal Brigade tells Breaking the Silence (from the organization’s new booklet of testimonies, “Occupying Hebron”): “There was also an instance in which one of the settlers gave an axe to a soldier who shot a Palestinian in the knee. An axe. But the Battalion Commander also says that anyone who kills a terrorist, or takes down a knee (a phrase describing aiming and shooting at the legs of a person with an intention to wound and not to kill, in accordance with the IDF’s rules of engagement) gets weekend leave starting Thursday." 

"A soldier of mine who shot someone in the knee before I arrived, he got like an award plaque and got weekend leave starting Thursday. They train you to be a soldier after all, and a soldier is supposed to want to fight, and then you get to a place like Hebron, and that’s not war, so all your enthusiasm to fight boils down to you ultimately shooting someone in the knee.”

Our soldiers, backed by a protective legal and philosophical military system, think patriotic heroism means shooting unarmed young people (or armed with burning tires) from a distance of 100 to 150 meters and taking down their knees (the Gaza Strip is filled with young men who have lost limbs in recent months) or to aim at a child and shoot him dead, a child who may or may not have been holding a nuclear missile (a stone).

Since the start of the March of Return demonstrations, at the end of March, our combat soldiers, the heroes, have shot to death 35 children (using the evasive term “minors,” because after all, these are Palestinians) who protested near the fence against their strangulation and the strangulation of the Gaza Strip.

Our soldiers’ usual target is so soft and easy to hit, how can they be ready for war against a real army? Brik doesn’t ask this question.

On December 21, our soldiers killed three Palestinian protesters near the fence of the concentration camp we have made of the Gaza Strip. One of them was Mohammed al-Jahjuh, 16, of the Shati refugee camp. A bullet hit him in the neck, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Brik, like most of Israeli society and its politicians, did not even think to rely on a Palestinian report. But even the reports of B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence are beyond the pale of his straightforwardness and his investigative drive.

At the end of November, B’Tselem published a report about four children who were shot to death by our combat soldiers, anonymous soldiers and the darling children of their proud parents. The dead are: Naser Musbeh, 11; Fares Sarsawi, 13; Ahmed Abu Habal, 15 and Suhayb Abu Kashaf, 16.

The testimonies are difficult to read. You read a few sentences, and stop to take a deep breath. The usual Israeli solution — ignore investigative reports like these and thousands of others — is Brik’s solution.

Little Naser Musbeh, who was born into war and siege, had joined his two sisters who are Palestinian Red Crescent volunteers, to help them evacuate the wounded from the fence protests. Children grew up quickly also in the Warsaw Ghetto and in bombed-out Aleppo.

As needed, he ran from the mobile clinic to bring first-aid supplies. On September 28, at 5:45 P.M., after he had run to bring something to his sister, he was seen standing some 90 to 100 meters from the fence, in the area of Khuza’ah, about 80 meters from another barbed wire fence the army put down within the area. He was looking toward the tents, which were even farther away. Suddenly, he fell to the ground.

A volunteer medic who ran to him said: “When I reached him, he was lying on his back. He’d been shot in the head and some of his brain was spilling out of his skull.”

An army that raises soldiers to shoot an 11-year-old to death from a distance of more than 100 meters cannot be ready for any war except for the dispossession and expulsion of civilians.