JERUSALEM (Apr. 22)
An Israeli couple have disputed the army’s version of an incident in the West Bank this week in which soldiers shot and wounded two masked Palestinians.
The Israel Defense Force says the pair were wounded only after ignoring verbal warnings and warning shots fired into the air.
But Aviva and David Elimelech of Moshav Luzit insist the soldiers, dressed as civilians, shot the Arabs without warning while they were painting nationalist slogans on a wall.
The Elimelechs say they witnessed the incident Monday from the home of Arab friends with whom they were spending the day in Dura village, in the Hebron hills.
Their testimony is one of the rare instances in which Israeli civilians have publicly challenged the veracity of the IDF.
If true, it would substantiate repeated claims by Palestinians that IDF soldiers are increasingly shooting suspects rather than arresting them.
The army, while standing by its denial, has appointed an officer to investigate the incident.
The Elimelechs charge, moreover, that they themselves were roughed up and verbally abused by the soldiers, who belong to an undercover unit.
They told reporters they were having dinner on the terrace when three young masked men carrying buckets of paint came to smear graffiti on a wall.
Within minutes, a car with blue West Bank license plates drove up, and its occupants, without warning, fired several rounds at the masked men, hitting one in the stomach and another in the shoulder.
The Jewish couple said they thought at first that Arabs were shooting Arabs, a frequent occurrence in the administered territories.
But as the armed men approached with drawn weapons, it became apparent they were soldiers disguised as civilians, the Elimelechs said.
The Elimelechs said they shouted at the soldiers: “Stop shooting, we are Jews.” But the soldiers advanced, ordering the couple into the house while “using dirty language.”
According to the Elimelechs, the soldiers entered the house, fired up the staircase, struck the Jewish woman, who is four months pregnant, and beat up the Arab hosts.
“I told them that they are cold-blooded murderers, and I would not keep quiet,” David Elimelech said. “Their battalion commander arrived at the scene and swore at me,” he added.
The IDF claims its unit spotted the masked men painting nationalist slogans and ordered them to cease. When they ignored the order, shots were fired into the air. Only when they continued to disobey did the soldiers open fire, an IDF spokesman said.
But David Elimelech insists his version of the incident is true.
“If the army spokesman had courage, he would go into the territories and check what is really happening there,” he said.
Elimelech, who describes himself as politically on the right, says he did military service in the territories in 1982 and it is “high time someone exposed the truth there.”
The couple said that since making their accusations against the soldiers public, they have received many threats and members of their own moshav refuse to speak to them.
The incident highlights the problems Israel is having coping with the escalating violence in the territories in recent months. IDF soldiers have engaged in an increasing number of clashes with intifada activists, while Palestinians continue to kill other Palestinians suspected of being informers.
On Wednesday, unidentified men murdered Dr. Ahmad Steti, a health service official with the Civil Administration in Jenin. He was stabbed to death as he entered his office in the West Bank city, apparently because he collaborated with the Israeli authorities. Steti had been attacked and wounded once before.