- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

TEL AVIV — The calculated killing of an unarmed Palestinian schoolgirl in the Gaza Strip in October has prompted unusual public scrutiny of the Israeli army and its treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

A military court last week indicted a company commander in the Oct. 5 killing of 13-year-old Iman Hams after she wandered near an army outpost.

In two counts of improper use of firearms, prosecutors charge that the officer, identified only as “Capt. R,” needlessly fired several rounds of bullets into the girl’s body at close range.

Details of the incident came to light last week after military video and audio recordings of the incident were leaked to news media. The cold-blooded way the girl was killed — even after she had been identified as an unarmed and nonthreatening child — has disturbed commentators and former military officers.

“If a real court battle is conducted in this case,” wrote Amos Harel, a military correspondent for the Ha’aretz newspaper, “the trial of the company commander will turn into a discussion about the [Israel Defense Force’s] behavior in the Gaza Strip during the past years and about the freedom of action it has allowed itself in the name of confronting terror in this war.”

An internal review of the incident submitted to Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon supported Capt. R’s contention that he was unaware that the girl did not pose a threat when his unit opened fire.

It also supported his argument that he did not fire into the girl’s body, but into the ground next to her to ward off militants from the nearby border town of Rafiah.

“She was close to the outpost by infiltration standards,” said Capt. Jacob Dallal, an army spokesman. “When a suspicious figure approaches an outpost, they’re allowed to open fire.”

But a subsequent investigation by military police and the tape of the soldiers’ chatter showed that others in the unit already had identified the girl as an unarmed child trying to flee the scene when the initial command was given to open fire.

“This is the commander,” Capt. R is heard saying on the tape at the conclusion of the incident. “Anyone who moves in this zone — even if it’s a 3-year-old child — must be killed. Over.”

The army said it routinely documents its field operations through video and audio recordings. The tapes were leaked to the press by either the soldiers in the unit or the commander’s attorney.

Though Gen. Yaalon has since admitted that the killing was a “grave” mistake, observers are questioning the ability of the army to investigate the treatment of Palestinian civilians.

“The investigations in the army have become bankrupt,” reserve Col. Ilan Katz, a former deputy chief military prosecutor, told the online edition of the Ma’ariv newspaper. “Action needs to be taken immediately because it is no longer possible to have any faith in the army inquiries.”

The schoolgirl shooting is one of three incidents in the past few weeks that have thrown into question whether the army is adhering to its code of conduct.

Earlier last month, at a checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Nablus, a Palestinian musician was told to unpack his violin for inspection.

A picture of the musician playing his instrument for the soldiers appeared on the cover of Ha’aretz, reminding many older Jews of prisoners being forced to perform for Nazi officers during the Holocaust.

The army denied newspaper reports that the soldiers had forced the violinist to perform, saying the man had done so of his own volition.

In the third incident, reported by the newspaper Yediot Ahronot, a group of soldiers photographed themselves while desecrating the bodies of Palestinian militants killed in a gunfight.

“All three [incidents] are very troubling,” especially when taken together, said Dan Meridor, a former Likud Party justice minister and head of parliament’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee. “It’s unlike what we thought the Israeli army should be.”

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