I have written a lot on this blog trying to explain to you what life was like living in Jayyus, a small Palestinian village close to Qalqiliya in the West Bank. Equally, I tried to give the people I met a platform to tell their stories.
Well today I stumbled across this testimoney from an Israeli Lieutenant in the IDF who served close to Qalqiliya over ten years ago. Things have changed a lot since then but I thought you might appreciate this view of Qalqiliya from the eyes of an Israeli serving in the army.
The period this describes is October 2000. You can read the full testimony here.
“I was around Qalqiliya then, which was considered a very friendly town to Israelis. Many Israelis used to go there, shopping for everything, using local garages for repairs, buying stuff, drugs, everyone was hanging out there all the time, and suddenly all at once lots of Palestinians were attacking the checkpoint. A little checkpoint, and all those Palestinians coming along and throwing stones, and armed. You couldn’t even tell where this suddenly fell from.
This happened while you were already an officer?
Right after I was commissioned…Our objective was to lay ambushes on various roads in the area, which are the border line between a Palestinian village and a Jewish settlement. They would simply come down after nightfall and throw stones at a car. The driver – frightened – would move the car and get hit. Our objective was to actually catch them [The Palestinians] before the act.
What do you do to catch them?
Lay an ambush. Our instructions were: anyone seen after 9 PM or so descending towards the road, you shoot. Legs down. Every ambush of this sort goes out with a small marksman rifle.
The instructions were to shoot at anyone arriving on the road without any warning? How did it go?
Think of a road with these steep hills on both sides which do not actually enable strategic control of the road. There are terraces of olive groves, that is the reason for this structure. It was rather logical geographically. This was at the time when the east-west highway was not yet constructed. There was just the old road. The new road simply bypasses all the Arab villages, creates an isolated route. There was none of this back then.
The situation was not weird, it was ridiculous. People shot at anything they saw moving. As a commander on the ground who is not supposed to shoot, you give the order to your soldiers and expect them to understand that if they see someone through their special sights who looks like he’s going to do something, they should shoot him in the legs or lower. In the knees. That was a very clear instruction. And they knew perfectly well how to aim and where to aim, regarding ranges. There are different ranges, after all. If you shoot at a leg you might hit the chest. There are situations where you know exactly what you’re going to hit if you aim here or there as regards the weapon’s deviation. And suddenly after two months of warfare, I don’t even know how long that was, two months of uncertainty, because there actually was uncertainty, what we called ‘waning and waxing tides’, two days calm and then chaos, and wild deployments, everyone in the area would leap at anything, stressed out like crazy.
So lots and lots of people got hurt and died, for no reason. Nothing you could even say they did. They did nothing. And then the army realized it was losing control. I’m talking to you here about a company in training of young soldiers, eight months into their army service. The older companies were even in a rougher spot. They had marksmen rifles so they would simply snipe away with more serious ammunition, not 5.56 but 7.62 caliber. Suddenly the army realized it had a problem. At least, the way I understand it now, they stopped it. They said: no more shooting. You need confirmation to open fire. Suspect arrest procedure. So then this procedure came in for suspect arrest. It didn’t exist until then. No such thing. Suspect arrest procedure went like this: You detect someone, you shoot….
It was a confused time. There were stones hurled, Molotov-cocktails, but no serious terrorist attacks. No targeted alerts. Nothing of the sort. As for intelligence information, it read like this: there is an attempt to enter roads. No one spoke of infiltration into Jewish settlements, soldier kidnappings, nothing targeted.
This instruction was handed down from the top, to shoot anyone approaching the roads after 9 PM?
Yes. It was a clear order, at least in our designated area. Anyone descending from that hill and looking suspicious, with no obvious reason to be there. Look, let’s say at 11 or 10 PM people have no reason to be there. Could be, perhaps they did do something. On the other hand, people at 11 PM don’t have too much reason to travel that road, see? So perhaps people really did try to throw stones, but hitting, I mean I’m talking to you here about kids hitting. Okay, they throw stones inside the village. Or there’s a demonstration in the village. The army tricks them by trying to enter and creating a riot. We knew that every entry of an army jeep into an angry village provokes a riot. That’s what brought them on, really. Not every commander was interested in keeping things quiet.
Some wanted to heat things up. Commanders? Company commanders?
Yes. The battalion commander was moderate, the company commanders were all gung-ho. Really. They were eager to enter and create planned disturbances.
A company commander would come along and say: tonight at 8 PM we’re going in for a provocation? Or during a patrol, he’d suddenly say: ‘Let’s hop in’?
No. It was more like, let’s hop in, make the rounds of the village now”.
This testimony was taken by the organisation “Breaking the Silence“