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IDF Col. Ofer Winter: Butcher of Khuza’a

What goes around comes around.  The circle of tragedy that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come full circle in the years between 1948 and 2014.  In the 1948 War, a young soldier who was to become one of the finest Israeli writers of his generation, served in Gaza and witnessed the atrocities of war from there.  Afterward, S. Yizhar (ne Yizhar Smilansky) wrote some of the most searing accounts of the brutality and immorality of Palmach tactics against the native Palestinian population.  One of these was the novella, Hirbet Hiza.  At the heart of this disturbing story is the unjust expulsion of the inhabitants of this Palestinian village from their homes.  For every reader of this story, the accounts of the expulsions and extermination of the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust rung clearly in their minds as a historical precedent.

For those who served in the War and for all Israelis with a moral conscience, the story became a bell-weather.  It was the equivalent of Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage in the context of the American Civil War. Jacqueline Rose has an excellent review here.

In those days, when the Labor Party ruled Israel, a decorated hero and literary lion like Yizhar was welcomed into the political elite.  He ran for Knesset and served several terms.  He also taught at the prestigious Hebrew University.  Today, of course, Yizhar would either have defanged his trenchant observations or he’d be persona non grata.  There is no more tolerance of non-conformity within Israeli arts or society.  You are either a cheerleader or you are in cherem.  Israel has no more room for prophets, whether Biblical or literary.

Before bringing this story up to present day, I want to take a detour to 1982.  In that year, Israel invaded Lebanon and there were many Lebanese villages treated by the IDF the way Hirbet Hiza had been treated.  At the time, I was in graduate school at UC Berkeley enrolled in a PhD program in Comparative Literature.  That was when I first read Yizhar’s powerful story.  It was so riveting that I began translating it into English.  I didn’t even know why I was doing it except that it struck me as a powerful moral indictment of Israeli hubris.  I thought it was critical that this eyewitness testimony be read and known by English speaking readers.

I wrote to Yizhar and he expressed interest in seeing my work.  After I sent it to him, I never heard a reply.  No doubt, my Hebrew translation skills then (hopefully they’ve improved over the years) didn’t do justice to the majesty of his work.  For this reason, I was both wistful and pleased to learn that a fine translation was finally published three decades later.  This book deserves to be in the pantheon of great Hebrew literature and such a translation will help it get even more recognition than it already has.

In recent weeks, both Israelis and foreigners following the Gaza massacre have begun hearing of IDF massacres and mass executions in a Gaza neighborhood called Khuza’a.  Here is Jesse Rosenfeld’s account of one of those incidents, which provides a great deal of circumstantial proof that the IDF was the perpetrator of this mass murder.

Idan Landau, one of Israel’s finest moral and political bloggers writes about the village:

Khuza’a is a village in the southern portion of Gaza, east of Khan Younis, 500 meters from the border.  On the opposite side of the fence is Kibbutz Nir Oz.  In the village are 10,000 residents (some say 14,000) who earn their living primarily from agriculture.

It was.  There was a village.  There were residents.  Now, everything is a shambles.  Courtesy of the IDF.  The State of Israel erased this place off the face of the earth.  Tens, if not hundreds of the residents lie buried underneath the rubble.  This happened less than a month ago, that is, ages ago.  And all within spitting distance of the border.  That is, beyond the mountains of darkness.

Now there is quiet in Khuza’a.  The silence of death.

idf executions in khuza'a

Suspected IDF mass execution in Khuza’a

Here is how Jesse Rosenfeld described the scene based on his eyewitness reporting:

Suddenly journalists and local residents are shouting from a house on the edge of the front. The small family home is still intact but the stench of rotting flesh that comes from inside is overpowering.

A barefoot corpse in camouflaged khakis is being carried into the street, partially wrapped in rug, as I enter the house.  His partly burned and partly decomposing face is unrecognizable as anyone who was ever alive and breathing. Witnesses say there were at least six bodies piled together inside this one tiled room where the air is poisonous with decay.

Blood and blackened remnants are caked on the bathroom floor. The walls have been drenched in blood and they are pocked with scores of bullet holes that look as if they were fired from an automatic weapon at waist level. Some of the bullet holes are in line, as if the gun were sweeping across its targets. There is also soot staining the tiles, suggesting the bodies were burned or there had been a small blast. Several tiles have fallen away from the wall. The house is filled with casings from the bullets used in assault rifles. They are marked on the bottom as “IMI” (Israel Military Industries).

What happened here? It is the kind of place and the kind of incident that may be studied for years. We may hear that…a lone Israeli soldier went mad and started murdering prisoners. It could be that members of an Israeli army unit at the center of the fighting decided to take out their rage on those they captured. There may be many theories. All I can tell you is what I saw and heard at the scene this day.

Twenty-one-year-old Naban Abu Shaar told me he was one of the first to find the bodies. He said they looked as if they were “melted” and piled on top of each other.

“When we entered the bathroom, I found the bodies of people slumped on top of each other in the corner,” he said, staring into the distance as if disconnected from his words.

Naban Abu Shaar told me he was one of the first to find the bodies. He said they looked as if they were “melted” and piled on top of each other.

The owner of the house, Mohammad Abu Al Sharif, said he couldn’t recognize the bodies but believed, because of their clothes, some of the dead may have been from his family. He did not say if any of them were fighters. The house had nine members living in it before Abu Al Sharif, his wife and four daughters escaped Khuzaa 20 days ago. He lost contact with those who stayed, he said.

Who was the overall commander who executed this abomination?  Who was the Butcher of Khuza’a?  His name will be familiar to anyone who’s been reading this blog lately.  And now let it be immortalized forever in the pages of infamy: Col. Ofer Winter.  The same who ordered his soldiers to fight a holy war against the Philistine/Palestinian defiler’s of the Israeli God.  The same one who ordered one of his unit leaders to execute Lt. Hadar Goldin by throwing a hand grenade and firing indiscriminately into the tunnel into which he’d been dragged.  The same one who ordered carpet bombing of Rafah that murdered 150 Palestinians in a matter of hours.  The same one who refused to allow his troops to hear a female Israeli musical performer because Orthodox Jews believe a woman’s voice infatuates men.

Let this man (if he may be graced by that term) be forever known as the Butcher of Khuza’a.  Let his name never be uttered again without it being associated with the word “butcher.”

Now, let’s close that circle we began with Hirbet Hiza in 1948, with the help again of Idan Landau:

Winter’s Khuza’a is S. Yizhar’s Hiza.  65 years separate the two, which are one.  But even 1,000 years can’t close the ethical gap.  Yizhar’s Hiza, which “only” suffered expulsion, rather than mass slaughter [like Khuza’a], stood for years as a remembrance of Israeli shame. In Winter’s Khuza’a, in which tens of innocent civilians were slaughtered in the full light of day, a true divine miracle occurred. No less than this: heavy clouds descended on the soldiers, clouds of His glory, which protected them. This is the new divine splendor of Israel, light years away from the forgotten shame [of Hiza of 1948].

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Frank August 14, 2014, 1:14 AM

    [comment deleted: justifying mass execution is a major comment rule violation]

    • Frank August 14, 2014, 2:27 AM


      I haven’t ‘justified’ anything.
      I merely pointed out that the lack of clarity regarding the identity of the dead of Khuza’a, makes it difficult to prove that a massacre occurred.

      • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2014, 3:09 PM

        @ Frank: Of course it’s “difficult” to prove. Do you think the killers left a calling card? But difficult is not impossible. All the circumstantial evidence points to a mass IDF execution. IDF was killing people all over Gaza indiscriminately.

        It doesn’t matter whether these were militants or civilians. Once you’ve taken someone prisoner even if a combatant you may not summarily execute them & burn their corpses. That is a clear violation of the laws of war.

        Don’t belabor this point. If your goal is to get into an extended bout of nit-picking I have no patience for it. Move on to another subject or thread.

        • Frank August 15, 2014, 12:01 AM

          [comment deleted: “move on” is NOT an invitation to continue your hasbara efforts in this thread.]

      • Walk Tall Hang Loose August 15, 2014, 1:38 AM

        A pile of bodies, blood on the wall, scores of IMI cartridge cases: a massacre, whoever were the victims.

        • Jafar Siddiqui August 15, 2014, 9:47 AM

          You are wrong, the I “D” F left them sitting in the room drinking tea. Hamas sent their children to come and kill them and drag more bodies into the room and set fire to everything. Just as Hamas dragged bodies into the schollyard.

  • traducteur August 14, 2014, 6:08 AM

    Well said. Now may we have an article advocating the return of the Palestinian refugees to their ancestral homeland?

  • Donald August 14, 2014, 8:42 AM

    The Jesse Rosenfeld link goes to a wikipedia article about an Australian actor by that name. How did that happen?

    • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2014, 3:06 PM

      @ Donald: My error. Now fixed.

  • ted August 14, 2014, 9:20 AM

    stephen crane, not hart crane, wrote the red badge of courage

    • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2014, 3:05 PM

      @ ted: Oops, thanks.

  • Probably be Israeli PM one day August 14, 2014, 3:36 PM

    Well, if Sharon is anything to go by then I would predict that Ofer will continue to rise through the ranks of the IDF until he decides to enter politics, at which point he will be fast-tracked to the role of Prime Minister of Israel.

    • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2014, 4:42 PM

      Probably: Yeah a few days ago a pro-Israel commenter tried to tell me Winter was an outlier & not representative. My response was he’ll probably be promoted & become IDF chief of staff in a few years.

      • Kafka August 15, 2014, 2:44 AM

        Winter is a blood thirsty killer, most likely a psychopath. He is surely going to be the IDF chief of staff – can’t think of someone more suitable for the job.

  • arie brand August 14, 2014, 3:55 PM

    At my time of life one is aware of various things one would like to see happen before one’s demise. I have, among other things, a short list of people I would like to see in The Hague before a relevant court. The Butcher of Khuza’a now has a definite place on that.

    • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2014, 4:46 PM

      @ arie brand: I regret also there is no more Sanhedrin that could try him for defiling God’s Name & turning Judaism into a religion of blood lust.

      • walter benjamin August 15, 2014, 8:38 AM

        [comment deleted: off topic]

    • Jafar Siddiqui August 15, 2014, 9:52 AM

      Netanyahu is no fool, he has already asked the ever-compliant US to make sure Israelis do not get dragged into the International Court of Justice and the US will make certain no Israeli and no American ever gets on the dock there. Otherwise, who will protect Bush and now, Obama?

  • Jafar Siddiqui August 14, 2014, 11:48 PM

    I met a visitor from Israel a few days ago at Seattle University, who was here only for a few days. She vehemently denied Israel would or, could murder anyone or that any Israeli could possibly even order the murders of Palestinians. Just about called me a liar.

    This is not the first time Israeli “Defense” forces have committed mass slaughters, executions and many other war crimes. In the past, Israelis who have openly admitted to mass killing, have had no actions taken against them (presumably, “IDF is investigating…”). Israelis have no interest in bringing their own to justice.

    • Lobsang Tenzin August 19, 2014, 4:04 AM

      Jafar, which other Armies or Defense-Forces have not killed civilians in times of war. Please Tell me.
      Do you know how many civilians were killed in ww2 in Germany alone by the USA and Great Britain?! And let us not speak here about the two Iraq wars, or the Afghanistan war.
      War is a bad and dirty thing.
      Hypocrisy is a form of violence and as such contribute nothing for peace.

      • Richard Silverstein August 19, 2014, 10:01 PM

        @ Lobsang Tenzin: Please do not assume the name of a real person as your nickname here. That becomes far too confusing & it’s also misleading since you’re Israeli but assuming the name of a Tibetan.

        As for killing civilians in war, you mean to say that since the U.S. committed evil acts that this means we can’t hold Israel accountable for its own unspeakable acts? This is a tried & true hasbara method. Doesn’t work bud.

      • Jafar Siddiqui August 19, 2014, 10:31 PM

        “Lobsang” whay are oyu afriad of using your real name? I am not and I say some very dangerous things.
        You are right, of course…
        Nazis killed millions in WWII, so it’s okay for Israelis to kill a few hundred thousand.
        The US killed hundreds of thousands since 1991 in the M-E, so it’s okay for Israelis to kill a few hundred thousand.
        Rapes happen a lot in war, so it’s okay for Israelis to have a little “fun” themselves.
        Children are killed in huge numbers in war so it’s pokay for Israelis to kill a few hundred or a few thousand children.
        Besides, it is Hamas, that is forcing…FORCING, mind you, Israel to kill civilians in Gaza.
        All the Israelis clapping at hilltops when they see explosions in Gaza are doing it as praise for Israel’s precision and restraint.
        What am I thinking?

      • Rahman Moosa (not my real name) September 17, 2014, 12:13 AM

        For the record, this is not my real name. However, since I am a Muslim I chose a Muslim name for my alias. Rahman means compassionate.

        Anyhow, international law does not allow either the deliberate nor the indiscriminate killing of civilians. In looks as if in Khuza’a there has been deliberate killing of civilians in the absence of any battles between the IDF and Hamas. This is serious indeed. I hope that Abbas takes this to the ICC. That way both the IDF and Hamas will be in the dock for their actions.

  • Kafka August 15, 2014, 2:41 AM

    The people killed in Gaza are all Arabs. Therefore, according to the current IDF international law department (also called Dabl”a in Hebrew) they can be killed. As Col. Winter suggests, these “Gazans” are not really humans.

    Richard, surely you know Holy War (or Jihad) is an important part of Judaism.

    • Jafar Siddiqui August 19, 2014, 10:35 PM

      Kafka, Before oyu get carried away with the term “Jihad”, I suggest you spend a little time understanding it. You can start by reading a brief outline describing Jihad on my blog http://www.penjihad.com (yes, the “J”-word!). First page, panel at right (“Dare I say Jihad?”).

  • yehon October 21, 2014, 6:22 AM

    I fought in khuza’a under the command of Winter
    The bodies were found in the room they are not of citizens, they are of Hamas terrorists who attacked the soldiers who were standing nearby the room.
    The soldiers had to break into the room on fire to neutralize the threat.

    • Jafar Siddiqui October 21, 2014, 5:44 PM

      Yehon. Something does not make sense, perhaps you can help clarify it.
      OKAY, so the “Terrorists” (Hamas, not Israelis) were fighting to the last person and poor IDF had to break in in order to establish peace…okay, I getb that.
      Why are fighters clustered so closely with each other? as if they were collected there and executed.
      If they had been shot, why were they burnt?
      If they were burnt to death with flame-throwers, why is there so much blood on the walls?
      Why are they clustered together so they died in a pile, instead of apart, like people fighting would have been killed?
      Where are their guns?
      Were oyu there when this apparent slaughter took place or, were you busy killing others elsewhere? “terrorists”, of course!

    • Richard Silverstein October 22, 2014, 2:32 AM

      @ yehon: Apparently Yehon hasn’t read what I’ve had to say about his august commander. If he had, he’d know that his boss is a butcher and wants his soldiers to be butchers as well. I know what I see in the picture & don’t believe a word of what Yehon says. He only says he was in the town, but not that he witnessed or was part of the assault that led to this massacre. So why should we believe his second hand testimony intended to white wash war crimes he & his boss cooked up there? I’d love to see Yehon give this testimony to the UN panel convened to examine Gaza war crimes, along with any evidence he might have to confirm his claims.

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