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Photo: B'Tselem
The shooting incident
Photo: B'Tselem
Soldier who shot bound Palestinian talks
Minutes after being discharged from army IDF soldier documented firing rubber bullet at bound, blindfolded Palestinian in Naalin in July tells Ynet of misunderstanding, betrayal that led to the most difficult months of his life
"I didn't believe my service would end this way," Staff Sergeant L., the soldier who was documented firing a rubber bullet at a bound Palestinian in Naalin in July, said in an interview with Ynet moments after taking off his uniform for the last time.

 

"I joined the army with a lot of motivation, I enjoyed every second of it, I was always proud of what I was doing. Now I am leaving with an uneasy feeling, and disappointment, and anger," the soldier said, speaking for the first time since the incident. "I've been through the hardest time of my life with the most extreme thoughts going through my head."

 

After being discharged from the army and taking his first steps as a civilian at the Tel Hashomer recruitment center on Tuesday, L. gave his account of what he has been through since the severe incident that was exposed on Ynet and that he is expected to stand trial for.

 

L.'s discharge certificate shows only praise for the former artillery fighter, with his characteristics noted as "having leadership skills, resourceful, helpful and assisting, responsible, diligent". His commanders also defined him as on who "works well under pressure and is disciplined".

 

The fighter from command post 71 who shot blindfolded Ashraf Abu Rahma who had his hands bound, has taken a few blows in the past few months, and now weighs his words very carefully.

 

"I wanted to be a fighter," he said, "it was completely clear, I requested the armored forces and I got it. I was recruited with a lot of joy and motivation." L. began his service in November 2005, and immediately stood out as exceptional.

 

He was initially stationed in the Gaza Strip, but on July 7, 2008, was sent to take care of riots near the separation fence in Naalin. "It's very difficult to deal with these riots; they throw stones and Molotov cocktails at you. It's hard to deal with the person in front of you. It's not an enemy like in Gaza. It feels like an annoying game."

 

L. called the shooting incident a "misunderstanding" and said he did not really intend to hit Abu Rahma. "It was an incident that was happening so fast, with different orders being thrown in the air. It was obvious that whatever the regiment commander orders – you do.

 

'I was told to fire, so I fired'

"It all happened in real time, without the ability to analyze everything, I just did what I understood. I was told to fire, so I fired. I fired downwards, near his sneakers, and not beyond.

 

"In hindsight I realized there was a problem here. Omri (the regiment commander) pointed it out and I immediately said I was willing to take the blame for the shooting itself, I also had no problem paying for the mistake," L. said.

 

At the time of the shooting L. did not know it was being documented by a B'Tselem video camera. "There was an inquiry in the brigade. I explained the misunderstanding that occurred, the things I misunderstood, my mistake and it ended with that. Two weeks past and nothing happened, I thought I may go to jail, but no one said anything," he said.

 

After the video appeared in the media, the IDF quickly demanded an explanation from the regiment commander.

 

"He called me into his office and we both watched it. I immediately recognized the incident and myself, but for me there was one truth and the movie did not change that. Omri said he would take care of it," L. said.

 

The next day Military Police investigators took L.'s first testimony and told him he would be detained for questioning. "They wanted to handcuff me, I begged them not to, and I had no intention of running. I asked to walk with the investigator with my hands in my pockets, but they did not accept. They handcuffed me in front of my friends, I felt like a criminal," he said.

 

L. said the 24 hours he spent in jail were the hardest of all, "Suddenly everything I had done in the army, everything I had done for this country, all disappeared. I was thrown in jail. When they started to talk to me about a confrontation with Omri, I realized something was not right. Confrontations are done when there is a problem with versions.

 

"For me everything was clear. I got an unclear order and I carried it out. I am guilty here for part of the incident and am willing to take my punishment, but it wasn't just me, and I won't have it all put on me."

 

In the Investigating Military Police's inquiry room L met his commander and for the first time felt disappointment and frustration. "I was taken in with handcuffs, humiliated, and he sat there smiling. I felt bad, it seemed that he was trying to put a lot more blame on me than I deserved. He tried to say that I didn't understand some things or that I was taking things out of context."

 

'Did not want to be near commander'

After L. was released from detention he was notified by his commander that in light of the circumstances, he would be sent back to the squadron. "I felt relief. I didn't want to be near him," said L., who was eventually stationed as a driver.

 

L. was suspended from operational activity until the military advocate general gave his ruling in the case. "My situation kept getting worse," he said, "I didn't do anything. I saw my friends returning from operations, having a good time and laughing, and I was stuck with my own troubles. I felt like I was reaching the bottom, I went crazy, I thought of the most extreme things someone could do."

 

The military advocate general eventually ruled that L. would be tried for conduct unbecoming an officer, a less severe charge than was expected. The case was then brought before the High Court of Justice, which ordered the advocate general to reconsider the ruling. Last week the advocate general announced that the indictment would stand.

 

"Of course I am tense, but I've decided that I have to keep moving forward, and not sink into this," L. said. "Sometimes I wonder what I did to deserve this, I could have just not cared, I could have been a desk jockey and none of this would have happened. It's sad that someone who gives his all ends up feeling like this."

 

"I hope the indictment stays as it is and that this case comes to an end. I will get my punishment and I can continue with my reserve duties," L. said, adding that he could not even look at the video documenting the shooting.

 

"Despite everything," he added at the end of the interview, "I still think it's important to go to combat service and give your all".

 

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