Controversy Erupts in Israel over Shooting at Fence Protest

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 Friday by 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.

“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 Sunday from his hospital bed, where he was recovering from wounds to his leg and hip. “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.

Chief of staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon ordered an investigation of the shooting, which came as Na’amati and fellow members of a fringe pro-Palestinian group called Anarchists Against the Fence, who were protesting along with the International Solidarity Movement, attacked the barrier with wire cutters. An American activist also was lightly hurt.

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.

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 that account. One estimated that troops fired as many as 30 rounds, but that was unlikely given the lone casualty.

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

Ami Ayalon, a former Shin Bet chief, said any orders to shoot were illegal and should have been disobeyed. His viewpoint was endorsed by Avshalom Vilan, a former commando, member of the liberal Meretz Party and 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.”

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