According to testimony obtained by Haaretz, captives were ordered to line up and turn around, before they were shot in the back. The officer who gave the order was released after serving seven months in prison, while his commander was promoted to a high-ranking post.
By Aluf Benn
September 17, 2016 “Information Clearing House” – “Haaretz” – Israeli soldiers murdered dozens of captives during one of the wars the IDF fought in the first decades of Israel’s existence. The officer who gave the order to kill the prisoners was tried, but got off with a ridiculously light sentence. His commander was promoted to an extremely senior post and the entire affair was hushed up.
The dozens of prisoners were soldiers in one of the enemy armies. They had surrendered after the battle and thrown down their weapons. Some of them were seriously wounded.
The Israeli soldiers who initially took control of the place where they surrendered gathered them into an interior courtyard surrounded by a wall, gave them food and talked with them about their lives and their military service.
A few hours later, these soldiers were assigned a different mission, and another Israeli force was sent to replace them at the site where the captives were being held. This changing of the guard prompted questions among the officers at the site as to what to do with the captured enemy soldiers, because the new force refused to accept responsibility for them, while the departing force had no means of transporting the prisoners.
The company commander who was the officer in charge at the site then ordered his soldiers to kill the captives. According to testimony obtained by Haaretz, the captives were ordered to stand in a line and turn around, then shot in the back. An enemy officer who had been serving as a translator fled, but was shot to death by soldiers from the new force, who were in a jeep. Following the murder, an army bulldozer piled the bodies into an improvised grave.
Two eyewitness accounts of the prisoners’ murder were given to a Haaretz reporter many years ago. According to one account, by a man who said he refused to obey the order, the commander ordered him to go down and kill the wounded prisoners. He refused because earlier, the prisoners had asked him if they would be killed, and he had told them no.
The commander threatened to court-martial him for disobeying an order, but he continued to refuse. Then another man – the second witness – jumped up and volunteered to carry out the order.
The testimony of the second witness, who confessed to having participated in killing the prisoners together with three of his comrades, more or less agreed with that of the first witness, even though they hadn’t been in contact with each other and neither of them knew the issue had been discussed with the other. One difference was that the second man claimed he, too, had originally refused to obey the order, but when his commander insisted, he agreed to carry it out. He added that after shooting the captives, he approached them and shot them again from a distance of only five meters to ensure that they were all dead.
The Israel Defense Forces launched a Military Police investigation into the incident, and the investigation ended with the company commander standing trial for murder. He was sentenced to three years in prison and released after just seven months.
The company commander claimed he was ordered to kill the prisoners by his superior, who later reached a very senior position in the IDF. It’s not clear whether the superior officer was ever investigated, but he definitely never stood trial. The company commander worked as a tour guide after leaving the army, and when asked about the subject by a Haaretz reporter years later, he replied that “the matter is classified” and told him to direct his questions “to the security services.”
This murder of dozens of prisoners was one of the most serious war crimes in the IDF’s history, but the army whitewashed it and hushed it up. Making the details public remains important even today, in order to understand the history of the IDF’s combat ethics and to learn leadership, educational and command lessons for the future.