As the furor over the IDF soldier who shot a wounded Palestinian terrorist continues—demonstrations were held across Israel this weekend, and the nation’s media have been discussing little but the case—I’d like to share one of the most pertinent and heartbreaking accounts of another IDF soldier, who faced a similar situation as the one now under investigation. It was posted on Facebook by a young Israeli named Dror Zicherman, and is recounted here with his permission.
On December 29, 2005, Zicherman was in active IDF duty near Tul Karem. As he and his friends were patrolling the area, they received concrete intel that terrorists were attempting to make their way from Tul Karem into Israel in order to perpetrate an attack at a well-attended Hanukkah show for families. To foil this attack, Zicherman and his friends decided to set up a checkpoint at Tul Karem’s southern exit. They were given no particular name of a suspect, but were told that the person they were looking for was born in 1976. The orders they received, then, were simple: stop every car and search it for anyone born that year.
Fifty minutes later, a Palestinian cab slowed down, then stopped at the checkpoint. Eight passengers were inside. Zicherman asked for their papers. All passengers had valid permits to enter and work in Israel, but one of them, Zicherman noticed, was born in 1976, and so Zicherman rushed and instructed the cab’s passengers to step outside for inspection. Three men hurried out. They had no weapons and were asked to step to the side and wait. The fourth wore a leather jacket. Zicherman grew nervous: it was December, but the day was unseasonably warm, and a heavy leather jacket, Zicherman was afraid, could conceal an explosive vest.
As Zicherman’s commanding officer, Uri Binamo, approached to search the man, Zicherman instinctively aimed his rifle at the Palestinian with the coat. Binamo turned around. The short dialogue he had with Zicherman is one the latter would never forget:
Binamo: Zicherman, you’re not going to shoot.
Zicherman: But he’s wearing a leather jacket.
Binamo: You’re not going to shoot and that’s that.
Binamo was obeying the army’s strict open-fire regulations, which permit shooting only when a soldier’s life is in clear and immediate danger and which require giving a suspect ample warning before squeezing the trigger. He turned back to the Palestinian and asked him, in Hebrew, to remove his jacket and show Binamo his shirt. The Palestinian looked at Binamo blankly, not moving. Binamo started shouting in Arabic, ordering the man to remove his jacket immediately while all the while signaling with his hand for Zicherman not to open fire. The Palestinian looked at Zicherman, then at Binamo. Then, he reached into his jacket, as if getting ready to remove it. Instead, he pulled a switch and detonated a 33-pound explosive device. Binamo was killed instantly, and Zicherman was severely wounded.
“Every evening,” he wrote on Facebook, “this moment comes back again to haunt me. I acted according to regulations. I didn’t shoot the terrorist. I wanted to, but Uri, who was a stickler, didn’t let me, and we both paid a price, he with his life and me with my health. All because I obeyed the regulations. Even though I really wanted to shoot the terrorist, I didn’t. That’s the kind of guy I am, never breaking the rules.”
The young soldier who shot the wounded Palestinian attacker last week did it, he told military investigators, because he believed there was a real risk that the terrorist was wearing an explosive vest. “I salute him,” wrote Zicherman. “Go ahead, tell me how humane our army is, but before you tell me about open-fire regulations, remember that because of these same regulations Uri is gone and I’m badly wounded.”
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Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.