UPDATE: Just to clarify what I know and don’t know. When I first published this post I believed that the soldier shown firing his weapon on this CNN video was the killer of the two boys. That remains a very distinct possibility. That shooter is a Dover Tzahal videographer, as noted in this post, and did fire on the boys in the precise instant when one of them was killed. But it’s not yet been proven conclusively he was indeed the killer, as there was another IDF unit firing at that time from a nearby location.
Ben Ehrenreich, reporting for LA Weekly and his own blog, after having interviewed eyewitnesses, strongly believes the shooter involved in the first killing was not with the Border Police, among whom the videographer is shown firing. He believes the shooter had to be in the parking lot in which the IDF unit was stationed.
Ehrenreich also says, based on eyewitness accounts, that there were commanders spotting for snipers and pointing out specific targets among the Palestinian youth. This might mean an entire chain of command is implicated in the killings and not just a single IDF videographer.
There is some chance that the IDF, in order to protect an entire unit is willing to sacrifice some poor grunt video guy, who decided that was the day on which he would play John Wayne.
Because it’s very important to get this right, what we can say with certainty is that the Dover Tzahal shooter fired at precisely the instant the first boy was killed. He may’ve been the killer. But even if he wasn’t, another Israeli unit was also firing which would’ve included the killer. As Electronic Intifada has shown, the bullet that killed the first victim was live ammunition manufactured by the Israeli Military Industries.
A major break in the story of the Nakba Day murder of two Palestinian boys at Bitunia. Yesterday, Haaretz published an important new development in the story when it wrote that the soldier shown on a CNN videotape of the incident firing at precisely the instant when one of the boys was shot was not a member of the Border Police unit policing the protest. It added the tantalizing fact that the shooter was serving in a “non-combat” role in the IDF “communications division.” The Haaretz report noted that an IDF artillery unit was providing backup support for the incident and left the impression that the soldier who fired might’ve been from that unit. It also noted the IDF’s excuse that soldiers serving in other units often have line of command problems, in that the commander on scene doesn’t have full control of soldiers from another unit, which leads to failure of discipline. Finally, the IDF told the newspaper the shooter had been suspended.
The shooter served in none other than the IDF spokesperson’s unit (Dover Tzahal). Today’s scoop indicates he served in the video unit which films all Border Police and IDF operations at protests. The unit exists to surveill Palestinian demonstrations and pick out ringleaders that can be used for intelligence purposes. However, the unit inadvertently films atrocities such as this as well. The irony is that the guy videotaping IDF mayhem might’ve been the one who murdered the Palestinian boys. If not, he may’ve videotaped the soldier who did.
Though I requested this information, my source could not identify the name of shooter. I am hoping that this new reporting will lead to such information being revealed. The only reason it isn’t, is that the IDF is protecting its own reputation and wants to ensure nothing is released about this incident that isn’t under its control.
My source further says the IDF has the video from the incident but has not released it. My natural inclination is to believe that’s because it would rebut its false claims about what happened. My source was told the spokesperson’s office refuses to release it “for obvious reasons.” There is also an important note about how the soldier came to fire a weapon. Such soldiers, despite their serving in a non-combat role are armed. It’s highly likely the weapon shown being taken away from the shooter on the CNN video is his weapon. This would also explain why the majority of the ammunition used during the protest was rubber bullets, but live ammunition killed the boys. The killer’s weapon undoubtedly had live ammo and not rubber bullets. For Hebrew speakers, Eishton published a blog post today proving that live ammunition was fired at the protest. The IDF has consistently denied there was any live fire, which clearly is a lie. There may’ve been no live fire from the Border Police, but there was from the only soldier there who shouldn’t have been firing at all, let alone live ammunition.
This raises the question, why does a videographer carry a weapon at such a protest? Why does a videographer fire his weapon when he’s not under threat, let alone supposed to be in a combat role. If he’s going to carry a weapon, why isn’t it supplied with the same ordnance the other Border Police are using in order to avoid precisely the tragedy that occurred?
The crowning irony here is that the IDF spokesperson’s unit is tasked with defending the army’s reputation even including lying when necessary. In this case, Dover Tzahal itself was the cause of embarrassment to the IDF. This is a deep stain on both the IDF and its public affairs function. Of course, it should mean a careful examination of what went wrong in this incident and operational reforms. But the army is expert at covering its ass. At examination of its failure and accountability for its actions…not so much.
I tweeted a series of questions to IDF Lt. Peter Lerner and asked him for direct comment. He’s noted that if a Dover Tzahal soldier was at Bitunia, since it was considered a ‘conflict zone,’ the soldier would be armed. He’s not answered whether there was such personnel at the scene, under what circumstances he would be allowed to fire his weapon and whether he did fire his weapon. He’s pleaded “ongoing investigation” as a reason not to comment further. I tweeted to him that this was an excuse and that he certainly could comment if he wished. I invited him to watch this space to find out what I know (and what he too knows).
UPDATE: John Brown posted this on Facebook last night:
Haaretz breaking story: Soldier from IDF Spokesperson Unit was among those firing on demonstration contrary to regulations.
IDF replies: Sorry…budget cuts. Now we have to shoot protesters in addition to whitewashing their deaths. Direct all complaints to Treasury.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.