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Gideon Levy, Israel
August 16, 2002
Nothing happened. Soldiers opened fire, no one was hurt. Not a
thing happened. The soldiers evacuated the bullet-riddled taxi
and its passengers from the zone of fire and no officer appeared:
not to investigate, not to take testimony, not to explain, not to
apologize, and above all not to show the soldiers that, after
all, something did happen.
No one came because nothing happened. Nothing happened because it
happens almost every day, usually to Palestinians. Only this
time, it happened to us, too. It usually ends with people wounded
and even killed, people who violated the curfew, approached a
checkpoint, who didn't know or didn't understand—or just like
that, without reason or excuse; but not this time, thanks to the
bulletproof windows of the taxi we were traveling in.
Last Friday it was Ahmed al-Karini, an employee of the Nablus
Municipality, who was driving, with the authorization of the
army, to repair telephone poles, who was killed by soldiers in
his vehicle—a "lapse of coordination." On Saturday it was a
farmer, Hosni Damiri, who went out to his field on the outskirts
of Tul Karm with the authorization of the army, and again—a
"lapse of coordination," as the army describes it, as though the
appalling ease with which soldiers open fire is not the real
problem, only a "lapse of coordination."
Generally, the unnecessary victims are Palestinians, like the
electrician Karini or the farmer Damiri—it was the circumstances of his death that we had come to investigate on Sunday—but this time, the bullets were aimed at us. Aimed with intent to kill. There is no other way to describe the purpose behind five bullets that slam into an Israeli taxi, two or three of them in the center of the front windshield, aimed directly at
the passengers and blocked only because of the armored glass.
Shooting without any sort of warning or alarm. You shoot, period.
Just like you light up a cigarette.
No call to stop, no shooting in the air with time given to come
to a halt, no shooting at the wheels—live fire straight into an
Israeli taxi that was moving slowly and with the greatest
possible caution, so as not to arouse suspicion, not frighten
anyone, not make anyone edgy, a car whose driver and passengers
are very experienced in trips such as these in the face of the
But nothing happened. Tomorrow, or the next day, it will happen
again, bet on it. After the many bullet-riddled cars we have
seen, their seats covered with blood, their Palestinian drivers
and passengers killed or wounded by soldiers for no reason, it
was apparently time for us to be on this side of the bullet, in
the first person, first-hand. Are they the only ones who have it
Taibeh checkpoint, the southern entry to Tul Karm. A helicopter
hovers above the city , a bad omen. The authorizations were
obtained, the coordination arranged ahead of time with the IDF
Spokesperson's Office. A soldier at the checkpoint: "We know
about you, but the city is under curfew, it's a closed military
area." An IDF spokesperson on the phone: "We'll check, wait." The
freedom of movement we have been given lately in the territories
arouses respect for the Israel Defense Forces.
In the meantime, some Palestinians arrive, dressed in rags. They
were "illegally present" in Israel and have been swept here from
the streets of Taibeh. A Border Police jeep is behind the group,
urging them on, threatening to run them over, and they are forced
to flee from the vehicle. The expressions on the faces of the
coerced sprinters are a mixture of humiliation, exhaustion and
disgust. A few of them are elderly people whose breath is short.
This is jogging, Border Police style.
Finally, with obvious experience, they enter a kind of makeshift
compound below the deserted checkpoint. No one has told them to
do this, but they are well-trained. They will wait there, on the
ground, until they are checked out, a matter of hours upon hours.
They are a pitiful sight. Across the way, a few trucks load and
unload crates of potatoes for the besieged city beyond the
checkpoint, using the back-to-back method. After a wait of about
two and a half hours, the authorization arrives. The soldier
instructs us to open the heavy yellow barrier ourselves and to
proceed on our way.
Salah Haj Yehiye, a field worker for Physicians for Human Rights,
who knows Tul Karm well, joins us, sitting in front. Photographer
Miki Kratsman and I are in the back seat of an armored taxicab
belonging to a Jerusalem driver, Meno Lehrman, nine years in the
"They have never shot at an Israeli taxi," he says. The back
windshield is not bulletproof. Lehrman: "They never shoot from
behind, except to make sure of a kill."
Tul Karm is under a curfew the likes of which we have never seen.
We have visited the West Bank town a number of times in the past
few weeks, but there has never been a curfew like this. The
silence and desolation of the streets are compounded by the
feeling that there is no one inside the houses, either, that the
city is deserted. Everything is shut and sealed, locked and
bolted—blinds, windows and iron gratings through which no one
even dares to peek. Only one elderly man wearing a white
undershirt glances out of a window, and with a frightened look
On the way to the city center, after passing the municipal
cemetery, which resembles the rest of the city, we see an armored
personnel carrier standing on the corner of the street. A young
police lieutenant emerges from the APC, checks us out, and orders
us to proceed toward the IDF's District Coordination Office (DCO)
until he can find out whether our presence here is authorized. He
knew nothing about us.
We do as ordered. A dirt road leads west to the DCO, atop which
fly two flags, Israeli and Palestinian, recalling another time.
Both flags look like rags. We drive very slowly, as befits
situations like this. Very slowly we make our way along the
deserted road, in the direction of the base, which is enclosed by
a concrete wall and iron gates, and has a high, armored guard
tower at its entrance, from which a soldier is undoubtedly
watching us with cocked rifle, seeing but unseen.
Our car bears all the identification signs of an Israeli cab:
it's a white Mercedes 220, it has yellow license plates, a
yellowish taxi sign on the roof, a sticker of a French television
station on the front windshield. Meno, the driver, lights a
cigarette and opens the unprotected part of his window. Hot air
surges into the car. We are 100 to 150 meters from the base.
Suddenly a bullet whistles by. Immediately afterward, but
immediately, without any pause, the bullets begin to slam into
the front windshield of the taxi. Bullet after bullet. An
explosive sound, and straightaway there is another hole in the
glass, but the bullets don't penetrate. Five or six shots. Four
or five hits. Two or three bullets in the center of the front
windshield, one in the engine, one on the side, to the right of
Meno moves the car quickly to the side of the road, taking
shelter behind a tin wall. The car is out of the line of fire and
the shooting stops. Where will it come from next? From behind,
where the windshield is not bulletproof? A few long minutes
later, which feels like an eternity—as everyone always says in
these situations because it always does—as we lie on the floor
of the taxi, covering our heads with our hands and phoning in
horror to the whole world, the APC rumbles up with the officer
who sent us here, escorted by a Border Police jeep. After a few
minutes in shock, we follow them to the DCO.
The young officer offers us water, but there is no one on behalf
of the IDF to explain or investigate. Not a brigade commander,
not a battalion commander, not a company commander. No one. Only
a few curious soldiers. At my initiative, I call the sector
brigade commander, Colonel Dan Hefetz, who says there had been a
hitch and therefore the soldiers had opened fire.
We make our way home. The damage to the taxi is estimated at tens
of thousands of shekels, because of a bullet that plowed into the
engine. That afternoon I receive a call from the IDF Spokesperson, Brigadier General Ruth Yaron, who apologizes in the name of the IDF. There was a call from the defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who sounded very agitated and said he was shocked and that he personally would see to it that an investigation was carried out and that the soldiers who were
responsible would be sent to prison, he said. The investigation
was concluded that evening: without an investigation by the
Military Police, a disciplinary court sentenced a platoon
commander—the polite lieutenant from the APC—to 35 days in
prison and gave the operations sergeant, who ordered one of the
soldiers to open fire, a suspended sentence of 21 days in prison.
The soldier who did the shooting was not tried. The IDF stated
that the investigation had turned up two hitches: one by the
operations sergeant, who had failed to update the company
commander and the positions in the sector about the movement of
the taxi, and the second by the company commander, who had been
in the APC and had ordered the taxi to proceed west. Not a word
about the shooting.
Colonel Hefetz, the brigade commander, explained that the road we
were on was "sterile"—no vehicles of any kind were allowed on
it. Are we to understand from this that his soldiers, who were
guarding the road, had become automatons? If not, what went
through the mind of the soldier from the Paratroop Brigade who so
easily gave the order to open fire at the passengers in an
Israeli taxi? And what went through the mind of the paratrooper
who carried out the order, as he stood in his armored guard post,
not facing any sort of mortal or other danger, certainly not from
a car that was inching its way forward, and fired bullet after
bullet into it in single-shot sequence?
Do the soldiers give any thought to the people on whom they fire,
with the intent to kill, without prior warning, and thus
offhandedly seal their fate? Maybe they are Israelis? Maybe they
are Palestinians who got lost? Maybe the car is carrying a dying
child to a hospital? Maybe there is a woman in labor in the car?
Are they all to be condemned to automatic death? Has this
incident bothered the soldiers since it happened, or did they
again take refuge in the excuse of the true dangers they face, to
the point where they think of nothing else? How many times have
they done this in the past, and will do so in the future, without
any reason—open fire at innocent Palestinians in cars that do
not have bulletproof windshields?
Gideon Levy is an Israeli journalist.
From the Ha'aretz Magazine, August 16, 2002. (C) Copyright 2002 Ha’aretz. All rights reserved.