Not guilty. The Israeli captain who emptied his rifle into a Palestinian schoolgirl

· Officer ignored warnings that teenager was terrified
· Defence says ‘confirming the kill’ standard practice

An
Israeli army officer who fired the entire magazine of his automatic
rifle into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl and then said he would have
done the same even if she had been three years old was acquitted on all
charges by a military court yesterday.

The soldier, who has only
been identified as "Captain R", was charged with relatively minor
offences for the killing of Iman al-Hams who was shot 17 times as she
ventured near an Israeli army post near Rafah refugee camp in Gaza a
year ago.

The manner of Iman’s killing, and the revelation of a
tape recording in which the captain is warned that she was just a child
who was "scared to death", made the shooting one of the most
controversial since the Palestinian intifada erupted five years ago
even though hundreds of other children have also died.

After the verdict, Iman’s father, Samir al-Hams, said the army never intended to hold the soldier accountable.

"They
did not charge him with Iman’s murder, only with small offences, and
now they say he is innocent of those even though he shot my daughter so
many times," he said. "This was the cold-blooded murder of a girl. The
soldier murdered her once and the court has murdered her again. What is
the message? They are telling their soldiers to kill Palestinian
children."

The military court cleared the soldier of illegal use
of his weapon, conduct unbecoming an officer and perverting the course
of justice by asking soldiers under his command to alter their accounts
of the incident.

Capt R’s lawyers argued that the "confirmation
of the kill" after a suspect is shot was a standard Israeli military
practice to eliminate terrorist threats.

Following the verdict, Capt R burst into tears, turned to the public benches and said: "I told you I was innocent."

The
army’s official account said that Iman was shot for crossing into a
security zone carrying her schoolbag which soldiers feared might
contain a bomb. It is still not known why the girl ventured into the
area but witnesses described her as at least 100 yards from the
military post which was in any case well protected.

A recording
of radio exchanges between Capt R and his troops obtained by Israeli
television revealed that from the beginning soldiers identified Iman as
a child.

In the recording, a soldier in a watchtower radioed a
colleague in the army post’s operations room and describes Iman as "a
little girl" who was "scared to death". After soldiers first opened
fire, she dropped her schoolbag which was then hit by several bullets
establishing that it did not contain explosive. At that point she was
no longer carrying the bag and, the tape revealed, was heading away
from the army post when she was shot.

Although the military
speculated that Iman might have been trying to "lure" the soldiers out
of their base so they could be attacked by accomplices, Capt R made the
decision to lead some of his troops into the open. Shortly afterwards
he can be heard on the recording saying that he has shot the girl and,
believing her dead, then "confirmed the kill".

"I and another
soldier … are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill
… Receive a situation report. We fired and killed her … I also
confirmed the kill. Over," he said.

Palestinian witnesses said
they saw the captain shoot Iman twice in the head, walk away, turn back
and fire a stream of bullets into her body.

On the tape, Capt R
then "clarifies" to the soldiers under his command why he killed Iman:
"This is commander. Anything that’s mobile, that moves in the
[security] zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, needs to be killed."

At no point did the Israeli troops come under attack.

The
prosecution case was damaged when a soldier who initially said he had
seen Capt R point his weapon at the girl’s body and open fire later
told the court he had fabricated the story.

Capt R claimed that
he had not fired the shots at the girl but near her. However, Dr
Mohammed al-Hams, who inspected the child’s body at Rafah hospital,
counted numerous wounds. "She has at least 17 bullets in several parts
of the body, all along the chest, hands, arms, legs," he told the
Guardian shortly afterwards. "The bullets were large and shot from a
close distance. The most serious injuries were to her head. She had
three bullets in the head. One bullet was shot from the right side of
the face beside the ear. It had a big impact on the whole face."

The
army’s initial investigation concluded that the captain had "not acted
unethically". But after some of the soldiers under his command went to
the Israeli press to give a different version, the military police
launched a separate investigation after which he was charged.

Capt R claimed that the soldiers under his command were out to get him because they are Jewish and he is Druze.

The transcript

The
following is a recording of a three-way conversation that took place
between a soldier in a watchtower, an army operations room and Capt R,
who shot the girl

From the watchtower [three-way
conversation between watchtower soldier, the operations room in another
location, and finally, Captain R, the officer on the ground near
watchtower
"It’s a little girl. She’s running defensively
eastward." "Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?" "A girl
about 10, she’s behind the embankment, scared to death." "I think that
one of the positions took her out." "I and another soldier … are
going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill … Receive a
situation report. We fired and killed her … I also confirmed the
kill. Over."

From the operations room "Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?"

Watchtower "A girl about 10, she’s behind the embankment, scared to death."

A few minutes later, Iman is shot from one of the army posts

Watchtower "I think that one of the positions took her out."

Captain R
"I and another soldier … are going in a little nearer, forward, to
confirm the kill … Receive a situation report. We fired and killed
her … I also confirmed the kill. Over."

Capt R then "clarifies" why he killed Iman

"This is commander. Anything that’s mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, needs to be killed. Over."


This article was amended on 1 September 2010, to make explicit that the
opening watchtower conversation is between three participants.

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