On March 19, Yusuf Abu Akar Shawamreh, the nephew of long-time ICAHD field coordinator Salim Shawamreh, was killed by IDF soldiers as he and his friends were picking medicinal thistles near the Wall south of Hebron. ICAHD posed a memorial message on its website, and a few days later Amirah Hass published the following “open letter to Soldier X” who killed Yusuf. It places the shooting in a wider perspective and bemoans the lack of accountability both in the IDF and in Israeli society in general.
An open letter to Soldier X, who shot and killed a 14-year-old
By Amira Hass
To Soldier X of the Armored Corps’ 77th Battalion, who shot and killed a boy named Yusef Abu Aker last Wednesday,
When you were at dinner with your family last Friday night, did you tell them it was you and win approval from your father and mother? Or did you pick at your rice and eat your steak in silence? Did your commanding officers ask you how the deadly bullet you fired made a direct hit precisely in Yusef’s hip? Were you aiming at his legs and missed? Were you aiming at the air and missed? Did your commanders conclude that you need a refresher course on the firing range?
Did you lose any sleep over Yusef? Or are you convinced that you followed an order like a good and loyal soldier, and that Yusef, who was born on December 15, 1999, and was 14 years and three months old when you shot him, was to blame? Do you realize that you committed a crime, or will it take you a few years until it sinks in?
Your superior officers (right on up to the commander) are a lost cause. They eat their steak with gusto even when their orders take the life of a boy whose only crime was going out to pick tumble thistle, akub in Arabic, to help his family make a living.
This is the time of year to pick tumble thistle, which, stripped of its thorns, is used in traditional recipes that pass from mother to daughter and from grandmother to granddaughter. Poor families receive five shekels, less than a dollar and a half, for every kilogram that children like Yusef harvest from the fields.
You were stationed there in an ambush on Tuesday night. Your position faced the village of Deir al-Asal al-Fauqa, which was occupied in 1967. You weren’t far from the moshav that has been allocated to the evacuees from the Gaza Strip.
Your ambush position was at the southeastern end of the Lachish region, which is on the site of Palestinian villages that we destroyed – Qubayba, Dawayima, Umm el-Shaqf and others. The inhabitants were expelled in 1948 and their descendants live in refugee camps in the Bethlehem area. Twelve-year-old Zahi and 17-year-old Muntaser, whom you arrested, said you were wearing black and your faces were masked. Only your eyes were visible.
Were you and your friends stationed in that ambush because your commanding officers knew perfectly well there was a large opening in the fence there that surely had been made over several days? In that area, the separation barrier is more or less on the Green Line. But – and it’s doubtful your commanding officers took the trouble to tell you this – at Deir al Asal it deviates to the east, cutting off valuable land from its owners.
So this is the situation: There is a separation barrier and a security road running along it. West of that security road runs a long embankment with barbed wire. Deir al-Asal’s land is located between the security road and the barbed-wire embankment.
It was to this land – about two kilometers from their homes – that the children were heading. Poverty and the need for a livelihood are stronger than danger. At 6:30 A.M. they left their homes. At 7 A.M. shots were heard in the village. In daylight. You were about 50 or 70 meters from the children. And you opened fire.
According to an official at the IDF Spokesman’s Office, you claimed you fired on a Palestinian because he had sabotaged the separation barrier. You’re not only judge, prosecutor and executioner, but also witness.
Zahi and Muntaser told Musa Abu Hashhash of rights group B’Tselem that they had gone through the opening in the fence and seen no soldiers. They crossed the security road and heard shots. They didn’t hear anyone shouting “Stop” – of course, you all claimed you acted according to the procedure for arresting a suspect (first you shouted and then opened fire). Or the official at the IDF Spokesman’s Office said so, as usual.
You fired. Yusef started running as his friends dropped to the ground. You kept firing, and Yusef – so his friends thought – also dropped to the ground. They didn’t know that he had fallen because he was hit. When they drew close to him, Yusef whispered to Muntaser, “Drag me,” and fell silent.
And then the six of you came. Two of you grabbed the boy and the teenager. You’ll deny it, of course, but they say you hit them, tied their hands behind their backs and left them on the ground. They also said that three of you – and you’ll definitely not deny this – gave Yusef first aid.
Afterward, you blindfolded them with field dressings. You left and other soldiers came. They removed the handcuffs and the blindfolds and began asking questions in Hebrew. Meanwhile, a military ambulance came and took Yusef away.
The boys were taken to a military post in a nearby settlement. There, too, the boys said the soldiers hit them. So far, nobody had yet spoken with them in Arabic.
Two women soldiers arrived with a telephone and turned on the speaker. Somebody questioned them in Arabic and translated, and the women soldiers took notes.
From there, the boys were taken to the police station in Kiryat Arba, questioned briefly and released – 12 hours after they had gone out to pick tumble thistle.
There is something rotten in the orders that you — the troops stationed in ambush in the West Bank – receive and obey. A rare verdict that found Staff Sgt. M.M. of Home Front Command guilty of having killed Uday Darawish, a laborer who crossed the separation barrier to look for work in Israel, quotes the open-fire orders to be followed at the separation barrier.
On the one hand, these orders state that “since an infiltrator is considered suspected of committing a dangerous crime, it is permitted to use the procedure for arresting a suspect in dealing with him on condition that when this is done, the suspect is in the fence area.
But they also state: “No shots must be fired, nor must the procedure for arresting a suspect be used, either by day or by night, against anyone found to be an innocent person who poses no danger to our troops.”
Thanks to these contradictory orders, you can claim that you felt your lives were in danger – and the people of Israel will cheer for you, since you are the people of Israel.
Article was published in Haaretz