Controversy Erupts in Shooting at Fence


Talk about trading places. Last month, Gil Na’amati finished
his three-year stint of compulsory military service after serving in Israel’s
artillery corps and spending time operating in the West Bank. Now the
22-year-old kibbutznik is the poster boy for Palestinian grievances against Israel.

During a demonstration last week by Palestinians and Israeli
left-wingers against Israel’s West Bank security barrier, Na’amati was shot by
soldiers, who until recently might have stood shoulder to shoulder with him at
a checkpoint. An American activist also was lightly hurt in the clash.

“I was in the military and am familiar with the rules of
engagement. What I did was not even close to something that I think would
warrant opening fire,” Na’amati said from his hospital bed, where he was
recovering from leg and hip wounds. “It’s unbelievable.”

The sentiments were echoed around the country after last
week’s incident at a section of the security fence outside Kalkilya. It was the
first time an Israeli Jew had been targeted by forces meant to protect Israelis
from Palestinian terrorism.

The shooting was the latest incident to divide the country
in the ongoing dispute over how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinians and some left-wing Israelis have complained that the fence
disrupts Palestinian civilian life and livelihood, while Israeli officials have
maintained that it is a necessary bulwark against terrorism.

Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, army chief of staff, ordered an
investigation of the shooting, which occurred when Na’amati and fellow members
of a fringe pro-Palestinian group, Anarchists Against the Fence, were
protesting, along with the International Solidarity Movement. They attacked the
barrier with wire cutters.Â

Police questioned Na’amati under warning, meaning that his
statements could be used against him if he is prosecuted for causing damage to
the fence, unruly behavior and violating a military order prohibiting entry to
the area next to the fence.

Na’amati’s father, Uri, said he advised his son to exercise
his right to remain silent. The investigator decided not to press the wounded
man for answers at this stage, in light of Na’amati’s medical condition, the
Israeli daily newspaper, Ha’aretz, reported.

Ya’alon made no secret of where he believed blame for the
incident lay. The protesters “masqueraded as Arabs, mingled with Palestinians
and entered the Palestinian side of the fence illegally,” he told Israel Radio.

The commander of the force involved reportedly told
investigators that he thought it was a group of Palestinians trying to break
through the fence into Israel, and that it might be a diversionary tactic aimed
at allowing a terrorist to infiltrate the fence at another location.

Deputy Defense Minister Ze’ev Boim said soldiers followed
orders by first shouting warnings and firing shots over the protesters’ heads,
before aiming at their legs. Witnesses disputed the account.

Television footage showed soldiers taking aim at the
protesters from approximately 50 feet away, despite clear appeals to the
soldiers in Hebrew not to shoot. The footage had a major impact on public
opinion.

Ami Ayalon, a former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet security
service, said any orders to shoot the unarmed protesters were illegal and
should have been disobeyed. His viewpoint was endorsed by Avshalom Vilan, a
former commando, member of the liberal Meretz Party and a founder of the Peace
Now movement.

“In a proper country, you don’t shoot civilians,” Vilan
said.

At least one newspaper said the issue wouldn’t have been a
matter of such great debate had it been a non-Jew who was injured.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” an editorial in Israel’s daily
Yediot Achronot said. “If a Palestinian” had been shot, “it probably would not
have merited even one line in the newspaper.” Â