אלוף (מיל') גיורא איילנד
Giora Eiland
Photo: Amit Sha'al
Footage of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah with his father

In wake of reporter's death, Israel must be careful not to repeat past mistakes

Opinion: When it comes to civilian casualties, past experiences have taught us not to issue unfounded apologies right away, instead ignoring outside noise in order to conduct a thorough investigation to find absolute truth

Giora Eiland |
Published: 05.13.22, 23:39
In 2001, during the first days of the Second Intifada, 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah was killed during a fierce gunfight in Gaza between IDF forces and Palestinian militants.
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  • A French TV reporter, who filmed the moment the boy was shot, testified that he was killed by IDF soldiers.
    3 View gallery
    Footage of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah with his father
    Footage of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah with his father
    Footage of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah with his father
    (Photo: AFP)
    Back then, I was the head of the military’s Planning Directorate - and due to countless fire exchanges that took place at the time of the incident, and because it was reported by a European and not an Arab media channel - I assumed that the eyewitness account was correct.
    That is when I made an unforgivable mistake - I took public responsibility for the boy's death in front of foreign media. I explained that the incident was preceded by massive Palestinian gunfire toward an Israeli settlement, and the Palestinians deliberately pushed children to the front line. I believed it would suffice as an explanation. I was gravely wrong.
    A thorough investigation of the incident conducted by the IDF revealed that the boy was almost certainly killed by Palestinian fire. Moreover, strong evidence started to crop up, which pointed to the possibility that the boy was not killed at all, and that the whole ordeal was staged.
    About two and a half years later, in April 2003, another high-profile killing occurred in Jenin. An Israeli commando force hunted a lone terrorist in close proximity to a UN facility.
    3 View gallery
    Shireen Abu Akleh
    Shireen Abu Akleh
    Shireen Abu Akleh
    (Photo: AP)
    During the manhunt, some of the soldiers identified and subsequently killed a suspicious figure - who was later revealed to be a senior British intelligence official working for the UN. The man’s two sons were officers in the United Kingdom Special Forces. They arrived in Jenin, conducted their own interrogation of Palestinian so-called witnesses, and then accused the IDF of premeditated murder.
    As the head of the Planning Directorate, I was responsible for relations with foreign countries. And so, I was asked by then-chief of staff to fly to London to issue a formal apology, and to meet with then-UN Secretary-General Koffi Annan. I said that I would do so, but only after I, myself, conduct a thorough investigation of the shooting. My probe revealed that the man’s killing was an unfortunate mistake that happens on battlefields.
    The soldiers saw that the man was holding a gun a few meters away from them, and concluded he must be eliminated immediately. In retrospect, it turned out that he did not have a gun in his hand, but a large satellite telephone.
    Was it a tragic event? Yes. A professional error? Perhaps. But it was certainly no "predetermined murder".
    With a detailed presentation of my investigation, I flew to London and New York. I was able to convince not only the British Foreign Office’s Deputy Secretary, but even the two sons of the victim, as well as the UN Secretary General and some generals he brought to the meeting.
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    זירת האירוע
    זירת האירוע
    The scene of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh's shooting
    (Photo: AFP)
    These events lead us to three conclusions - which are extremely relevant to the death of the Al-Jazeera reporter who was killed Wednesday during a fire exchange in Jenin. First, there are events that must be investigated thoroughly, provided the IDF vows to finish the investigations by a specific date and eventually publish its findings.
    Second, the purpose of an investigation is not to prove that "the IDF is the most ethical military in the world," but to find the truth, even if it is painful or embarrassing.
    Third, if the conclusion is that the killing was caused by the other side, it is imperative to find evidence that will convince not only the Israeli public, but the international community as well.
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