A very disturbing story had emerged from Gaza after the shooting of a child. People are not only alarmed at the shooting of 13–year-old Iman al-Hams, but by the attitude and lack of remorse of an Israeli officer who killedher. When confronted by other soldiers, the officer said that he did not care if she was a child and would have killed her even if she was three under the standing orders given to soldiers in the campaign. Yet, the officer, identified only a Captain R, was charged with only minor offenses after emptying all 10 bullets from his gun’s magazine into Iman when she walked into a “security area” on the edge of Rafah refugee camp last month.
The charges in the case are curious: illegal use of his weapon, conduct unbecoming an officer and other relatively minor infractions. What happened to murder? There certainly seems sufficient evidence to try the man on such a count and it is difficult to see why his identity is being protected.
A tape recording of radio exchanges between soldiers shows what unfolded with Iman walked towards an army post. The soldiers at least 100 yards from any soldier and, while a bomb is always feared in such situations, no one described her as a threat. She was identified as a “girl of about 10” who was “scared to death.” Worse yet, the soldiers describe her as heading east – away from the army post and toward the refugee camp when she was shot. Captain R had to leave the post and pursue the girl to shoot her and later “confirm the kill” after emptying his magazine into the child.
The tape played on Israeli television is chilling. When Iman is spotted a soldier radios: “It’s a little girl. She’s running defensively eastward.”
Operations room: “Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?”
Watchtower: “A girl of about 10, she’s behind the embankment, scared to death.”
A few minutes later, Iman is shot in the leg from one of the army posts.
The watchtower: “I think that one of the positions took her out.”
The company commander then moves in as Iman lies wounded and helpless.
Captain R: “I and another soldier … are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill … Receive a situation report. We fired and killed her … I also confirmed the kill. Over.”
Doctors at Rafah’s hospital said she had been shot at least 17 times.
The company commander goes out of his away to “clarif[y]” the standing orders and explain why the girl had to die: “This is commander. Anything that’s mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, needs to be killed. Over.”
Major General Dan Harel later concluded that the captain had “not acted unethically”, but a military investigation called for the charges. The question remains why, on this alleged tape alone, murder charges are not being pursued and why Harel has not been removed from command. This soldier may have a defense, but there is clearly a reasonable basis for a murder charge. As for Harel, his failure to take any action or even order further investigation should be clear evidence that he is unfit for service.
There is growing unease around the world over the civilian deaths in this campaign, including the use of heavy bombs in residential areas. One would think that the Israeli government would want to show that it is pursuing cases on this kind with speed and seriousness. If this tape is accurate, conduct unbecoming an officer is a ridiculous and insulting charge. Any one of a number of facts — if proven — would create a basis for a murder conviction: the fact that she was identified as a child who was scared and walking away; the fact that she was wounded and trying to return to the refugee area; the fact that she had not apparent weapon when shot. The government needs to explain why such facts justify such minor charges and how this tape is not an accurate account of what occurred in Gaza.
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