|Don't shoot till you can see they're over the age of
He doesn't know how many children have been killed in the
violence of the past two months, but he's sure that the army 'shoots
everyone who needs to be shot.' A day in the life of an IDF
You can find
soldiers like him at any military post in the West Bank or Gaza. But
we met in an Israeli city. He is the same age as many of those who
are confronting the Israel Defense Forces. He is smiling, shy but
frank, and tends to favor subjects in the humanities. If he were out
of uniform, you might think he was on his way to India or South
America."Every day, the orders for opening fire change, sometimes
several times a day," he says.
Every day before we go out
they define the principles for opening fire. This also changes from
place to place. There are places where the orders are more lenient
than in other places. The orders, wisely, are that we should be very
selective, very precise. Or it depends on the day. After the lynch,
for example, the orders for opening fire were far more lenient than
they had been the day before. But usually the instructions for
opening fire are not permissive at all. There seems to be an
impression that I am eager to open fire, but on the contrary, I'm
glad that the orders for opening fire are moderate."
you know they are moderate? What are the
"Sharpshooters are given precise orders to open
fire. On people who throw firebombs, you aim for the legs, but
people who pull out weapons can be shot straight on."
gave you video cameras.
"They call this a documentation kit,
and see to it that every person killed is photographed. And then it
will be confirmed that he was not under the age of 12, that he was
holding a gun."
That is, the Palestinian figures are
"It's hard for me to determine, but I can remember a
few cases when we definitely shot at adults and we prayed that the
soldier in charge of the kit had filmed it because there they will
accuse us of having killed a child. It could be that there are
mistaken statements, there are also errors, and a child was killed
because of a soldier's stupid mistake. And I haven't heard them
publicizing this (in the Israel Defense Forces)
What is a mistake? That the rifle
"For example, someone says to the other forces that he
has identified someone suspicious - we identified a boy who is
making strange movements, maybe he wanted to pick up a stone or
something like that. The one who identified him strongly requests
permission to fire in his direction. The forward command, the
brigade commander, definitely does not allow it, and he continues to
plead, and so the commander says, if you think he is very
suspicious, fire a warning shot, and a warning shot is 20 meters,
and fire into an open area. From the debriefing afterward, it turns
out that that he had seen the person's head through a telescope,
took five meters, and the wind ... The rifle wasn't aimed so
precisely, and he hit him right in the head."
Do you know how
many children have been killed?
"No. If we ask, they tell.
And there are places where they provide the figures without us
And do you know how many dead there have been
"No, I've heard various numbers in different
places, but I wouldn't sign on them."
can't estimate at all the number of children who have been
How do you explain that people have been hit in the
upper part of the body? Do you need skill to be on
"The IDF shoots very selectively, shoots everyone who
needs to be shot - or at least in 90 percent of the cases. That is
to say, everyone who throws a Molotov cocktail and can kill someone
else - so if he's holding it [the firebomb], we shoot him. We don't
fire at him with an automatic weapon, but we shoot at him with a
sharpshooter's rifle, and in most cases these aren't long ranges. A
sharpshooter, from 200 meters, has no problem hitting the head and
certainly if he aims at the head - the upper part of the body -
there's no problem. A firebomb endangers the soldiers in the Jeeps,
who are 25 meters away.
"A sharpshooter is like a pilot, his
work is very clean, certain, but there are also other sharpshooters,
and then the work is very dangerous. The real danger for a
sharpshooter is another sharpshooter, a Palestinian. And they have
them. There are even some who are not bad. If you have the weapons
and the sights, unfortunately you have a 50 percent chance of
hitting the target. In this war the ranges are short. A sharpshooter
is measured at 500-600 meters, then he's a real
And when do you begin to get
"We as sharpshooters have taken good care to look,
even though they haven't told us to, for places where there could be
other sharpshooters - houses, windows that catch someone's
reflection - because this is what is really scary. What is also
scary are stray bullets. Their firing is not aimed. Especially as
the IDF is very afraid that [Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser]
Arafat will decide to deploy the Palestinian police. At the moment,
they are acting of their own accord sometimes, but if he decides,
the IDF will have more of a problem, because they are simply better
trained. The Tanzim are untrained guys, no one has helped [train]
them and sometimes when they say on the radio 'exchanges of fire,'
we laugh. This is not Hezbollah that the IDF trained in the past,
this is not Hamas that Iran has trained and not even Palestinian
policemen who received full backing for their training. The IDF has
watched them train and knows how they practice. They know how to
shoot precisely and they have precise and reliable weapons. This is
what the IDF fears.
"I have to say that the IDF was ready in
advance for these disturbances. I remember that about two months
before it all began, I really wasn't thinking in this direction. I
was pleased and optimistic that [Prime Minister Ehud] Barak had been
elected, and that the peace process was moving forward. We had a
discussion with commanders, and they said that unfortunately the IDF
is expecting that there will be disturbances. Then, they said it was
because of Arafat's needs in advance of establishing a state. They
told us that Arafat had learned from Israel that establishing a
state by force and with many dead is a positive thing; it
strengthens the leader, a bit, but they said that mainly it gives
values to the inhabitants, esprit de corps, like we
"This is also the case for the State of Israel, after
three wars, when seven armies attacked us. They expected that there
would be something, only they didn't know whether it would be a war,
disturbances, demonstrations. They were hoping it would be
demonstrations, but prepared for the possibility that it would be a
war. There are contingency plans that set out in astonishing detail
what happens if they decide, and if they decide then within a few
days we occupy the territories we have given to them and set up a
military government like in the 1950s, something like that. Of
course this is terrible. Even I, a simple soldier, have heard about
Do you remember how it all started?
father took the trouble to get very angry at [Likud MK Ariel] Sharon
when he visited there [the Temple Mount]. Then I thought this was an
Didn't you know that on the Friday, four
people were killed at the mosque and another two near Mukassad
"I didn't know, no. I think that after the first
day, you become a soldier. On the first and last day (of service)
you go back to being yourself again, to your political ideas, and
afterward you try to cut yourself off. In my opinion, most of the
Jewish settlements beyond the 1967 borders are not important. But at
the moment you are a defender, and one hundred percent a defender,
and the people are very important to you. We as Israelis have to
decide on a clear line, because if we decide that we aren't giving
back the settlements then we, the soldiers, will find it much easier
to fight. At the moment I am sure that Arafat also knows
Someone who is about to throw a firebomb is in motion
all the time, so how do you aim when someone is moving all the
"It depends on the distances. At 100 meters it's not
hard, and we also practice this, and there are also easy targets, it
all depends on the distance. At 500 meters you already know not to
aim at the head but at the middle of the body, because it's easier,
and you also have to take into account the wind, and the deviation,
but at 100 meters it's almost sterile firing, very easy. In Lebanon
a sharpshooter has to be far more skilled, the distances were from
700 to 1,000 meters. Here, it's 100 meters."
Is it easy to
shoot at the head?
"Yes. The guys there, and also those who
throw Molotov cocktails, or even shoot, have an instinct to stop, a
second to think where to throw or shoot, and this second gives the
sharpshooter five or six seconds, and it's no problem. If he stops,
and if you're also far away, the head is no problem."
the Jeeps there is someone standing with a rifle. Isn't he a
"He usually shoots rubber bullets."
what kind do you shoot?
"A sharpshooter fires a lethal
bullet, a bullet bigger than an M-16, but its quality is superior to
a submachine gun bullet."
The Palestinians say that the IDF
uses a high muzzle velocity. Is that what you do?
velocity for sharpshooters is not that high, less than that of an
ordinary M-16. The question is how critical this is. A
sharpshooter's bullet kills if it hits the body. This is a bullet
that is 'metal jacket' - covered entirely in metal. In a regular
bullet, the bottom part isn't covered, and this interferes with the
aerodynamics. On the part that isn't covered, the air eats the lead
a bit - like air can eat a part of a mountain, and gradually it gets
into the inside of the bullet and distorts its direction. In
sharpshooters' weapons this doesn't happen."
That is, the
lead is entirely covered in metal.
"Correct, and it's more
aerodynamic. It comes to a point and it is long. What is also
important is the weapon itself, the muzzle, that nothing be attached
to the muzzle. Ideally, next to every sharpshooter there is someone
who aims, standing there with binoculars."
Of course you also
"You see through the telescope whether you've hit the
person, but you don't see exactly where the bullet is going. And if
there is a person whose job it is to aim, he can even see this.
Through regular binoculars you can see the reverberations the bullet
leaves, the dust, the tin, and then he says that you hit at two
o'clock, 60 centimeters next to the person. If a sharpshooter isn't
accurate with the first bullet - with the second it's almost a sure
Do they tell you to aim for the head, or is it up to
"If they tell a sharpshooter to fire his intention will
be to hit the head. Because if a sharpshooter fires, he fires for
certain in order to kill. Unless there are specific individuals - in
this war it hasn't happened much - whom you're told to shoot in the
legs, and they also ask sharpshooters to do this."
haven't there been?
"There was a policy that you only shoot
at people who are clearly endangering lives. This decreases the
amount of shooting by the IDF and the number of wounded, and maybe
increases the number killed. Meanwhile, the IDF is trying very hard
not to shoot, not to kill, to let them demonstrate a bit - maybe
also because of what they told us about two months before it all
started, to let Arafat have his demonstrations without giving him
and other countries an excuse to get into a state of
Isn't there a danger that a competition will develop as
to who will do more sharpshooting?
"With us, there is no such
thing. Somebody told me that at a place where he was, some guys went
by and the veterans were angry because the young people weren't
They were keen to fire. But even I, who before
the army said I would try very hard not to shoot, if you're already
there and into the weapon and you go out on an ambush - it's
terrible to say this, but you hope that something will come of it.
You sit there at night and it's very boring and you're very tired,
and the last refuge is that you really will catch the bad guys and
teach them a lesson.
"At one place, the older guys arrived
to replace us, and they didn't believe that the young guys were
shooting so much. After they say 'stop' you have to stop shooting
immediately. And it took them another minute. Because of the
keenness to shoot. These are things, in my opinion, that make the
IDF stumble, the lack of restraint. There are even soldiers who fire
a rubber bullet but load a regular bullet ahead of it - it increases
the force. It usually kills."
Do you know about
investigations of errors?
"Every IDF shooting is reported and
I've been at those places, those
demonstrations, where the Palestinians open fire.
trying to say that the Palestinian firing is
"Correct. I agree. Usually the
Palestinian fire is pathetic."
And the army knew it was
"Yes. The shooting is totally pathetic. And until
there's shooting, you know that most of it will be into the
Is this showing off?
"Yes. The IDF knows
So why kill, why not just injure?
decide to wound people, more people will get hurt, and the question
is whether this is better. Wounding fans anger even
Who told you so?
"This is my opinion. That is,
if you wound someone, even the process of getting hit, when he
screams, says that it hurts."
The IDF knew that the Fatah
firing was just showing off, and that the refining of the shooting
should be prevented, yet nonetheless "Palestinian firing has gotten
better," that is, the policy of a severe response hasn't
"I have a friend who's a settler, and for him the
firing isn't pathetic at all. In his opinion, every time they shoot,
we have to warn them by firing back a lot more. If you were to talk
to him, this conversation would be totally different. You are
talking to me, and by my nature I ask myself more whether just to
let them shoot, maybe not fire back. When I am a soldier I don't ask
myself; I ask, but there are orders, and I know in advance that if
they shoot, you have to ask whether I need to shoot
"It would be too bad for the IDF if it didn't happen
this way. The mistakes occur because this is not the way it is
conducted. One person decides to shoot, or someone else decides the
opposite, not to shoot. Now I'll be a bit tougher: The IDF shoots
because nevertheless there are cases when soldiers are
Do you feel that this is out of revenge?
don't know whether the IDF takes revenge. But every time, after
there's a serious incident, it's political, you can feel it. You as
a soldier know that if in the papers today they have written about a
lot of things that happened to the IDF, then they will allow you to
shoot more. That on that same night I'm going to be shooting more
than I did the night before."
Because you want to, or because
they let you?
"Because they let me. I didn't want to shoot
that much, though there are a lot of soldiers who do want to shoot.
At first I also wanted to shoot, and after I shot a few times I
You haven't shot children.
sharpshooters haven't shot children."
But nonetheless there
are children who were hit, wounded or killed after they were hit in
the head. Unless these were mistakes.
"If they were children,
they were mistakes."
Do they talk about this?
talk to us about this a lot. They forbid us to shoot at
How do they say this?
"You don't shoot a
child who is 12 or younger."
That is, a child of 12 or older
"Twelve and up is allowed. He's not a child any
more, he's already after his bar mitzvah. Something like
Thirteen is bar mitzvah age.
"Twelve and up,
you're allowed to shoot. That's what they tell us."
Twelve and up you're allowed to shoot children.
already doesn't look to me like a child by definition, even though
in the United States a child can be 23."
law, a child is defined as someone up to the age of 18.
until 18 is a child?"
So, according to the IDF, it is
"According to what the IDF says to its soldiers. I don't
know if this is what the IDF says to the media."
are from 12 down. Is there no order that between 12 and 18 you shoot
at the legs and not the head?
"Of course we try to see to it
that he really is over 20."
In the 10 seconds that you
"In the 10 seconds that I have, I have to estimate how
old he is."
And in what direction the wind is blowing, and
the deviation here and there, and which way he'll jump the next
"Yes, but there are hardly any mistakes by
sharpshooters. The mistakes are made by people who aren't
And it turns out that they happen to hit the
children's heads, and all this is just by chance?
say you have seen children that have been hit in the head a lot,
then it is sharpshooters."
So what you're saying is that our
definition of children is different.
"Your definition is
Because for you it's someone who is
But a child of 13 doesn't bear arms, no
matter what you call him, a boy or a teenager or an
"He isn't holding a gun but a firebomb, and in certain
places it is possible also to fire on people who throw
Do you know how many people were killed
"No. To my regret."
From what you say about
the instructions to be cautious that are given to you as
sharpshooters, I conclude that all the people who were killed were
armed. But it doesn't look that way to me, because I am familiar
with the events in the field.
"Nor does it look that way to
me. There's nothing to be done, if the IDF decides that it is
responding and reacting, a lot of mistakes will happen and
relatively a lot of them will be killed. On the other hand, a lot
more could be getting killed.
I have seen a pamphlet of
instructions for opening fire.
"There is no such thing, they
don't give them out at all. Everything is according to orders the
commander gives that morning."
I want to persist in the
matter of the 12-year-olds. Why was this age set?
heard that it was important to the IDF to know whether someone was
over 12, so therefore I understood that the age of 12 is a border
line. They haven't told us any age, just that we must not shoot at
children. The IDF doesn't specify ages. We take care not to kill,
not to have incidents with many dead. Six dead is normal, there
could have been a lot more."
What do you mean by
"Because they did shoot at us, and if someone shoots
at you, even if it's pathetic, you have to return fire."
2000 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved
"A sharpshooter fires a lethal bullet, a
bullet bigger than an M-16, but its quality is superior to a
submachine gun bullet."(Photo: AP)
kids seek ways to channel fear/By Nadav Shragai
meets South meets Middle East/By Yossi Melman
close for comfort/By Aviv Lavie