Child's testimony incriminates soldiers
Indictments issued Thursday against two soldiers who fought in Operation Cast Lead for allegedly forcing child to open bags suspected of being booby trapped. Ynet reveals full testimony of child, Majd that lays out alleged events of that day. The war through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy
"I thought they would kill me. I became very scared and wet my pants. I could not shout or say anything because I was too afraid… He pushed me towards the small corridor in front of the bathrooms. He began shouting at me and speaking a language I did not understand… There were two bags in front of me. I grabbed the first one as he stood one and a half meters away. I opened the bag as he pointed his weapon directly at me. I emptied the bag on the floor. It contained money and papers. I looked at him and he was laughing. I grabbed the second bag to open it but I could not. I tried many times but it was useless, so he shouted at me. He grabbed my hair and slapped me very hard across the face."
Location: The Tel al-Hawa neighborhood in Gaza City
Date: January 15, 2009
Time: 5:00 am
Witness: Majd R., a Palestinian boy, 9 years old
On this morning, IDF soldiers stormed the ground floor of a residential building in the neighborhood, while firing live ammunition. The soldiers separated the men from the women and children and ordered the men to strip before leading them one by one outside the building. A soldier approached Majd, who was hiding behind his mother in fear – and motioned for him to step forward.
Rubble in Gaza. Operation Cast Lead (Photo: AP)
What took place from here is the basis for an indictment issued against two Givati soldiers for overstepping their authority to the point of endangering life or health and unfit behavior. The soldiers, according to the indictment issued by the Military Prosecutor, asked Majd to open bags suspected of being booby trapped.
This is the second indictment filed against soldiers for their conduct during Operation Cast Lead, and additional indictments, much more serious, are already underway.
Investigation of this incident was initiated in June 2009 after the IDF was made aware of it by the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and by the Israeli branch of Defense for Children International. Members of the organization were the ones who took the child's testimony on March 30, 2009.
That testimony is printed here in near entirety.
40 people in a storage room
"I live in the Tel Hawa neighborhood in a residential building on the sixth floor," Majd told Defense for Children International.
"On the night of January 14, the bombing increased and explosions were heard every few minutes. So, we decided, my family and I, to go down to the ground floor where we stored water tanks. There, my brother said, it would safer for all of us. We were 40 people in the storage room with all the neighbors – men, women, and children."
An IDF tank entering Gaza (Photo: AFP)
"At 5:00 am, I heard doors being broken. I heard heavy fire and bullets entered the windows of the warehouse. We had no electricity; the only light came from my brother N.’s torch that was placed on a concrete pillar inside the warehouse, and our vision was limited.
"Around 40 people were inside. Everybody was standing because there was no place to sit. We stood for about 10 minutes, during which the sound of explosions grew bigger. We heard Israeli soldiers shouting nearby, and the sound of gunfire entering the warehouse. I then heard the door of the warehouse being broken and Israeli soldiers shouting in a language that I later learned was Hebrew.
"The soldiers entered the warehouse firing everywhere. I saw small red lights moving everywhere inside the warehouse. I saw the shadows of around 30 soldiers on the wall in front of us. At this point, A. S. shouted at us “Say katan...katan; a word in Hebrew meaning small.” He was telling everyone, including the children, to say this. Everyone shouted but I did not because I was scared if they heard me they would shoot me. I then learned that katan means children. After the shouting stopped, the shooting also stopped.
'He shouted at me, but I didn't understand' (Photo: AP)
"I saw two soldiers standing by the door of the bathrooms where I was hiding behind my mother. One of them lit a torch he held in his hand and said in broken Arabic “Come on, get out, one by one.” My brother N. was the first to get out. Once he got out, the soldiers shot at him. I thought they killed him but then I saw him; he was still standing. He began taking off his clothes. A.S. and his sons, I do not know their names, got out and the other men followed them. The soldiers took them and forced them to lie down on the floor on the eastern side of the warehouse. My mother, sisters, and the other women and children got out as well.
At this moment, I saw a large number of soldiers standing in the warehouse. They were carrying weapons and wearing green caps. Their faces were painted with the same color I see in action movies on television. A soldier spoke to us in broken Arabic that was difficult to understand. He told us to go to the southwestern corner of the warehouse. My mother, the other women, children, and I went to the southwestern corner as he said. I was very scared thinking they would shoot me. I was grabbing my mother’s hands and hiding behind her. We stood for about 10 minutes as the soldiers walked through the warehouse searching the men and forcing them to strip down to their underwear.
'He grabbed my hair and slapped me across the face'
"At this moment, a soldier came and stood two meters away from us. “Come here,” he said while pointing at us. “Me?” my mother asked. “No, him,” he said in broken Arabic as he pointed at me. He approached me and grabbed my shirt from my neck and dragged me away. “He’s a child,” my mother began shouting. I thought they would kill me. I became very scared and wet my pants. I could not shout or say anything because I was too afraid.
The soldier dragged me towards the bathrooms, 20 metres away. He pushed me towards the small corridor in front of the bathrooms. He began shouting at me and speaking a language I did not understand. I was very scared by the way he looked. He was very tall and his face was painted black, green, and other colors. He was wearing a cap. Everything about him scared me. He lit a torch he was carrying in his hand and I saw his face very well. He pointed his weapon at me. He was shouting at me and I did not understand him, so he grabbed me and pushed me against the wall.
He then started motioning with his hand and I figured out he wanted me to open the bags; small bags that the residents brought down with them containing their personal effects and money. The bags were similar to the bags used by soccer players. I understood from his hand gestures that he wanted me to open the bags.
"There were two bags in front of me. I grabbed the first one as he stood one-and-a-half meters away. I opened the bag as he pointed his weapon directly at me. I emptied the bag on the floor. It contained money and papers. I looked at him and he was laughing.
"I grabbed the second bag to open it but I could not. I tried many times but it was useless, so he shouted at me. He grabbed my hair and slapped me very hard across the face. I did not shout or cry, but I was very scared. He dragged me away from the bags and forced me to stand against the wall, as he stood about one and a half meters behind me. He then shot at the bag that I could not open. I thought he shot at me, so I shouted and put my hands on my head. He then pulled me through the corridor.
"'Go to your mother,' said another soldier who spoke Arabic well, but was dressed like them and was carrying a weapon. I ran to my mother and hid in her arms. 'I wet my pants,' I said to her. 'It’s fine,' she said. I then saw the soldiers drag the men to the southern side of the warehouses near the water tanks.
'The soldier yelled 'Boom, boom' and laughed'
Majd said the soldiers forced them to sit on the floor.
"I understood later that they asked who spoke English and my sister-in-law M. talked to them. She asked us to sit on the mattresses on the floor. The mattresses and blankets were burnt from the gun fire. She then told us that the soldiers wanted us to sit in a circle with our backs facing each other. We did what they said. I was sitting next to my mother. A soldier then came and brought a chair, which was already in the warehouse, and placed it in the middle of the circle. I thought they would ask us to sit on this chair and then shoot us.
"He then went and sat about five meters away from us. Four other soldiers sat next to him. The soldiers pointed their weapons at us, and I would get scared. I could see the red light moving over my body and on my siblings and mother. There was a thin red light coming from their weapons. Whenever I saw them lifting their weapons or the red light, I thought they would shoot us. I relaxed a little whenever they lowered their weapons.
"The soldiers then took out chocolates and biscuits and began eating. I was very hungry. The soldiers looked at us and lifted their chocolate bars. I thought they would give us some. One of them then pointed at me to sit down, while another placed his hand against his neck, as if he was telling us they would slaughter us. I was scared to death and focused my eyes on the ground so that he would not see me. We stayed like this for about five hours.
'I'm ashamed to talk about it'
At around 3:00 pm, a soldier came and told M. as I understood to 'hold a white flag and head to the Red Crescent.' My mother took off her white headscarf and we all left the warehouse and headed west to the Red Crescent, about 150 meters away. The men remained in the warehouse and did not come with us. I did not see them when we left the warehouse. M. walked in front, holding the white flag. I was holding my mother and siblings’ hands.
"I saw a tank positioned at the front door of the tower, while other tanks were on the street that leads to the Red Crescent.. We walked over the rubble until we reached the Red Crescent. M. brought us biscuits and water. We then heard extensive fire and the sound of explosions grew bigger. The bombardment and shelling also intensified. The situation remained like this for several hours.
'M. walked ahead with a white flag, I held my mother's hand' (Photo: AFP)
"At around 8:00 pm, I heard the doctors and some people shouting 'Get out, the hospital is on fire.” I grabbed my mother’s hand tightly. My siblings were with us. My mother gave us white napkins and said, 'Lift them and let’s get out.' I lifted it and ran out to the street. I saw many people outside. I think they got out of the hospital just like we did. We quickly headed north to the main street. I saw black smoke rising from the hospital, especially from the top floor. At this moment, I heard a woman shouting 'Come, come.' She was in an ambulance. I looked at her and saw it was M. We went inside the ambulance and it quickly drove away.
"On the street, I saw patients on hospital beds accompanied by doctors fleeing the area. I also saw something strange. There was a patient lying on a bed with a generator hanging from it. Another person was pushing the bed. The people were shouting loudly. Everyone in the street was shouting. The ambulance drove us to some relatives living in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood. We spent the night there. We were less scared than before. There, my mother did laundry. She also asked me to take a shower. I took some clothes from my relatives and changed my dirty clothes. I slept in my mother’s arms that night and I did not leave her.
"At school, I am afraid of remembering and talking about what happened. Some people from different organizations came to the school and talked to us about the events and all the dead and injured people. I am sometimes ashamed to talk about things in detail with people I do not know. I am also afraid to tell people about the difficult situation I experienced, which I do not like to remember. I don’t even talk about it with my mother. I prefer to forget, and sometimes I cry when I remember. I talked to you only because you said you are from an organization that is devoted to helping children."
'We hope soldiers be held accountable'
Isabelle Guitard, the Defense for Children International lawyer assigned to Majd's case, expressed her satisfaction with the indictment issued against the soldiers.
"We praise the development in the investigation of the complaint and hope the responsible soldiers will be held accountable in a way that will recognize the gravity of the documented actions," said Gittar in a conversation with Ynet. "Majd was only nine, and he suffers from a severe trauma from the event."
According to her, "The indictment must create a precedent for other instances of using children as human shields."