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Título: Descubierto cadáver de joven chica beduina violada por 22 soldados israelíes en 1949 - I saw fit to remove her from the world- Enlace 1 - Enlace 2

Texto del artículo:

Cristina, de Al-Quds Málaga, nos ha hecho llegar estas dos referencias que reproducimos del periódico israelí Haaretz.

Es un artículo del 29 de octubre del 2003 sobre el asesinato de una chica adolescente beduina en el Negev que se produjo en 1949 pero que no salió a la luz hasta el 2003.
El nombre de la joven chica beduina es uno de los innumerables hechos silenciados de la guerra de ocupación sionista. Fue violada por la eterna y maldita soldadesca humana de todas las guerras, un batallón de unos 22 hombres y luego asesinada. Debía tener 12 años. Su padre, que iba con ella cuando la secuestraron, fue asesinado de inmediato. A la chica se le dió por desaparecida y entre los beduinos se decía que había sido asesinada, pero no se les hizo mucho caso hasta que en el 2003 el viento dejó aparecer sobre la arena la mano de una niña. Y se descubrió el pastel de todo lo que ocurrió y del vergonzante juicio casi sin culpas, secreto que hizo el ejército...

En breve más información y opinión sobre el tema.


Last update - 20:37 29/10/2003
'I saw fit to remove her from the world'
By Aviv Lavie and Moshe Gorali

There was a particularly festive atmosphere at the Nirim outpost on August 12, 1949, the eve of Shabbat. A week of dusty patrols and pursuits of infiltrators in the sands of the western Negev desert was at an end, and the commander of the hilltop site, Second Lieutenant Moshe, gave the order to make the preparations for a party. The tables in the large tent that was used as a mess hall were arranged in rows, sweets of various kinds were laid out on them and even a bit of wine was poured, though not enough to get drunk on. At exactly 8 P.M. the soldiers took their places and platoon commander Moshe recited the blessing over the wine. He then gave a Zionist pep talk, reiterating the importance of the unit's mission and the troops' contribution to the infant state. At the order of his deputy, Sergeant Michael, Private Yehuda read from the Bible. When he finished the soldiers burst into song, told jokes, ate and drank. A merry time was had by all.

Shortly before the end of the party, at about 9:30, the platoon commander asked for quiet. He got up and, with a smile on his face, reminded the soldiers about the Bedouin girl they had caught earlier that day during a patrol in their sector. They had brought her to the outpost and she was now locked up in one of the huts. Platoon commander Moshe said he was putting forward two options for a vote. The first was that the Bedouin girl would become the outpost's kitchen worker; the second was for the soldiers to have their way with her. The proposals got an enthusiastic reception. A melee ensued. The soldiers raised their hands and the second option was accepted by majority vote. "We want to fuck," the soldiers chanted. The commander decided on the order: Squad A on day one, Squad B on day two and Squad C on day three. The driver, Corporal Shaul, asked jokingly, "And what about the drivers? Are they orphans?" The platoon commander replied that they were part of the staff squad, together with the sergeant, the squad commanders, the cooks, the medic and he himself, of course. He added a threat - if any of the soldiers touch the girl "the tommy [tommy gun] will talk." The soldiers took this as a warning not to violate the order the commander had decreed.

The party ended, the soldiers went off to their tents. The officer ordered the platoon sergeant to bring a folding bed to the tent they shared and to place the Bedouin girl on it. Sergeant Michael did as he was told, entered the tent, closed the flap and shut off the lantern.

Thus began one of the ugliest and most appalling episodes in the history of the Israel Defense Forces. Even at a remove of 54 years, it is difficult to understand how an event of this kind could have happened with the participation, active or less active, of dozens of soldiers in uniform.

Low professional and moral level

The IDF of 1949, still in its infancy and called upon to defend the borders of the newborn state, found itself having to cope - not always successfully - with the rapid absorption of a very large number of untrained soldiers, especially those who were sent to the front immediately after disembarking from the ship in which they had arrived in Israel. "A rabble of new immigrants with a low professional and moral level," was the blunt description offered by the special military court in its verdict on the episode of the Nirim outpost.

Yehuda (his full name, as well as the names of others who were interviewed for this article, are in the possession of Haaretz) was one of the soldiers serving in the outpost in August 1949. He is now a 74-year-old pensioner who lives in the north. He accepts the description of the group as a "rabble": "I was then 20 years old," he says. "I ran away from the Turkish Army to Palestine and immediately enlisted. I remember that all the members of our battalion were new immigrants. Everyone was from a different country: Algeria, Hungary, Romania, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco. We didn't know Hebrew, we communicated between us by sign language. We did our basic training at the Dead Sea. We were taught how to hold a rifle in a mess hall at Sodom. Then we were sent to the outpost, where we did patrols or trained in the trenches and practiced rushing to our positions."

Yehuda remembers the night of the party, but claims that he was then on guard duty and that he heard the story about the vote and what happened afterward only as a rumor. Together with 17 members of the platoon he was court-martialed for "negligence in preventing a crime." He was sentenced to four years in prison; his term was cut in half by the appeals court.

Yitzhak, who is the same age as Yehuda and now lives in the center, received the same punishment. He, too, had arrived in Israel a few months before the summer of 1949, and he did not know Hebrew. Today he is retired and has health problems. "I remember being in the Negev but I can't even remember the name of the unit. I had just arrived in the country, I looked like a boy, I did a lot of guard duty. I had forgotten about that whole affair, I don't remember a thing, I haven't thought about it for maybe 50 years. The only reason I was tried was that I was in the outpost when it happened. Beyond that I don't remember a thing and I have nothing to say. Was I angry at those who did it? What would it help me to be angry?"

The developments in the IDF after the War of Independence may furnish a partial explanation for the chain of events that is described in this article; but no more than a partial explanation. After all, the platoon commander, Moshe, who spearheaded the affair, was not part of the "new IDF." "The officer and the sergeant were veteran Israelis and spoke fluent Hebrew," Yehuda recalls. As far as is known, Moshe served in the British Army and afterward in the 8th Brigade under the command of the legendary Yitzhak Sadeh in what was the only IDF armored brigade in the War of Independence. The brigade was disbanded after the war and its officers and soldiers were reassigned to various units. Officer Moshe was sent to the Negev.

The Negev Region Command was established after the War of Independence. It was a regional command and its assignment was to secure the lengthy new border line between Israel and Egypt. The staff headquarters were located in Be'er Sheva, and the units were deployed in outposts along the border with the aim of preventing the infiltration of Bedouin from the Egyptian desert. The military historian Meir Pa'il, a retired colonel, was appointed operations officer of the Negev Region in December 1949, four months after the events with which this article deals. Pa'il: "The Negev was sparsely populated. We were barely able to cobble together one reserve battalion from all those who lived in the settlements in the region. In order to man the border line, units were sent on a rotating basis from other regions, such as the Golani Brigade, the 7th Brigade and so forth. In addition to preventing infiltrations, there was also an effort to remove as many Bedouin as possible from the country - from the Halutza Dunes area, for example. It was a kind of cleansing across the Egyptian border. The tribes who had cooperated during the war were left where they were; those who were hostile were expelled."

One of the battalions of the Negev Region was known as the Sodom District Battalion. The battalion was originally in charge of the Dead Sea and Arava area, but at the beginning of August 1949 it was moved to the Bilu Junction, near Rehovot, where it waited a few days for new orders. The battalion commander was Major Yehuda Drexler, who was nicknamed "Idel." Over the years, Drexler, afterward a leading architect, worked for the Jewish Agency, was one of the planners of Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev (Ben-Gurion's kibbutz) and reached the rank of department head in the Israel Lands Administration. One of the company commanders in the battalion was Captain Uri.

On August 8, his company was ordered to move south to man the outposts in the western Negev. The platoons were stationed at three kibbutzim: Be'eri, where the company headquarters and Captain Uri himself were stationed, Yad Mordechai and Nirim. Platoon 3, headed by the new commander, Second Lieutenant Moshe, who had been given command of the unit only a few days earlier, was sent to the Nirim outpost, which was responsible for the most remote and most dangerous sector - adjacent to the border with Egypt. Sergeant Michael was the deputy commander of the platoon.

On the eve of the move south, the company commander, Captain Uri, briefed the soldiers. Intelligence reports received from aerial patrols over the western Negev mentioned two Bedouin tribes that had been spotted in the sector. "You are to shoot to kill at any Arab in the territory of your sector," the company commander said. Moshe asked for the operational order in writing, as customary. The company commander promised to bring the written document to the outpost at a later date.

Platoon 3 reached Nirim on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 9. The infrastructure of the camp was quickly put in place: three large tents as the soldiers' quarters, a small tent for the officer and the sergeant, and a big tent as the mess hall. In addition, there was a small hut that served as the office of the platoon's headquarters and another hut, unused, which would play a central role in the episode.

In the summer of 1949, there was no longer any connection between Kibbutz Nirim and the outpost of the same name. The outpost bore the name Nirim because it was situated at the place where Kibbutz Nirim was originally established, in June 1946. The young kibbutz, which was located on the edge of the desert, fought for its survival in the harsh climatic conditions of the area and became the first settlement to be attacked on the first day of the War of Independence, on May 15, 1948. The Egyptians, with a force that included an artillery battalion, an infantry battalion and dozens of armored vehicles, launched a heavy barrage that caused immense damage: all the buildings of the kibbutz were burned to the ground, the animals died, and eight kibbutz members were killed and four wounded (of a total of 39 members). The barrage was followed by an assault mounted by hundreds of infantry soldiers, who reached the fence of the kibbutz. The kibbutzniks, firing from their trenches, inflicted heavy losses on the Egyptian force and miraculously the attack ended. The Egyptians changed their mind and decided to forgo the pleasure of infiltrating and capturing the kibbutz. Instead, they simply went around it on their way north.

The Nirim group spent the war in shelters and caves that they dug. When the hostilities ended and they were finally able to come to the surface in safety, they entered into talks with the army and the state authorities. There was a confluence of interests: the army coveted the site because of its strategic location; the kibbutzniks wanted to move north, to the line of 200 millimeters of rain a year.

In March 1994 the kibbutz moved about 15 kilometers north, to its present location. The IDF took over the terrain-dominating outpost, which was henceforth known as "Old Nirim," or "Dangour," as it was originally called - the name still appears on some maps - apparently after an Egyptian Jew who purchased land in the area. There is now a monument of rough concrete at the site that commemorates the kibbutz members who were killed in the Egyptian assault on the first day of the 1948 war. The monument bears an inscription: "It is not the tank that will triumph, but man." If you climb the monument and look west, you can see the rooftops of Khan Yunis.

The commander orders an execution

On Tuesday, August 9, the platoon organized itself at the outpost. The soldiers soon got used to the ways of the new commander. Second Lieutenant Moshe turned out to be a strict disciplinarian who demanded order and obedience. The soldiers had to dress properly and shave every day. Anyone who violated the orders was hauled before Moshe. The soldiers were apparently somewhat in awe of him. The next day the company commander, Captain Uri, visited the platoon. The first couple of days passed uneventfully. Until the morning of Friday, August 12.

At about 9 A.M. that day, Second Lieutenant Moshe set out on a patrol in the southwestern section of the sector, in a vehicle known as a "command car." With him were two squad commanders, Corporal David and Corporal Gideon, and three soldiers: privates Moshe, Yehuda and Aziz. The driver was Corporal Shaul. All the men were armed.

On the way they came across an Arab who was holding an English rifle. When the Arab spotted them he threw down the rifle and started to run up the dune. One of the soldiers opened fire at him with a submachine gun. The Arab was hit and died on the spot. His rifle was taken as booty.

A short time later, the patrol encountered three Arabs - two men and a girl. There are different versions regarding the girl's age. According to some accounts she was a young girl aged between 10 and 15; others say she was between 15 and 20. Platoon commander Moshe ordered the soldiers to seize the Arabs and search them. The soldiers found nothing. Officer Moshe then ordered the soldiers to bring the girl into the vehicle. Her shouts and screams were to no avail. Once she was inside the vehicle the soldiers scared off the two Arabs by shooting in the air. On the way back to the outpost they came across a herd of camels grazing. Officer Moshe ordered the soldiers to shoot the animals. Six camels were shot dead; their carcasses were left to rot in the field.

After the girl calmed down a bit, the soldiers exchanged a few words with her - especially Corporal David. They also talked among themselves, and the word "fuckable" came up in the conversation. The patrol returned to the outpost in the afternoon. At about the same time, another vehicle also arrived at the outpost: the battalion commander, Yehuda Drexler, was paying a visit, He was accompanied by Captain Mordechai (Motke) Ben Porat, operations officer of the Negev Region. Ben Porat eventually reached the rank of brigadier general in the Armored Corps and after his retirement from the army served as chairman of the National Parks Authority.

At the outpost, the soldiers removed the girl from the vehicle. Officer Moshe ordered that she be taken to the unused hut and a guard placed at the door. Private Avraham was designated the guard. Drexler, who noticed a certain commotion around the girl, asked what she was doing there. Officer Moshe replied that on the patrol he had encountered her and her husband, who was armed with a rifle. He told Drexler that they had killed the husband and taken the girl prisoner in order to interrogate her about the location of her tribe. Drexler authorized her interrogation but ordered that afterward she be taken back to the place where she had been seized, and released. He also asked platoon commander Moshe to ensure that the soldiers did not abuse her. Drexler and Ben Porat spent about two hours at the outpost, had lunch and left.

Shortly after their departure, Officer Moshe went out on another patrol, this time in the northern sector, in the direction of the new location of the kibbutz. After he had left, the platoon sergeant, Michael, removed the girl from the hut and pulled off the traditional garment she was wearing. He then made her stand, completely naked, under the water pipe that the soldiers used as a shower, then soaped her and rinsed her off. The pipe was outside and everyone at the outpost was able to witness the spectacle.

After the shower was over, Sergeant Michael burned the girl's dress and dressed her in a purple jersey and a pair of khaki shorts. Now looking like a regular Palmach commando, she was taken back to the hut and placed under the guard of Private Avraham. In short order a group of soldiers gathered around the hut. They milled around the guard and demanded that he let them go inside. At first he refused, but finally relented. In fact, he was the first to go in. He spent about five minutes in the hut and emerged buttoning up his trousers. He was followed by Private Albert, who was also in the hut for about five minutes, and then Private Liba.

Liba was still in the hut when platoon commander Moshe returned from the patrol. A few soldiers shouted a warning to Liba, who ran out of the hut and disappeared. Officer Moshe apparently understood what had happened, conducted a quick debriefing, and afterward, in the dining room, was heard to say that "three soldiers raped the Arab girl." He ordered her to be brought to the staff hut. The squad commanders, Corporal David and Corporal Gideon, were present in the hut. Officer Moshe took note of the girl's new apparel but said nothing. She told him, in Arabic, that the soldiers "played with her." It was obvious to Moshe what she meant. Corporal Gideon, who would be one of the main prosecution witnesses in the trial, testified that after the girl told Officer Moshe what she told him, he said to the others that she must be washed so she would be clean for fucking. Gideon, who lives in Givatayim and works as a tour guide, declined to be interviewed for this article.

At about 5 P.M., the platoon commander ordered Private Moshe, who was a barber by profession, to give the girl a haircut. That was done in the presence of the commander and the sergeant. Her hair, which had spilled down to her shoulders, was cut short and washed with kerosene. Again she was placed under the pipe, naked, before the scrutinizing eyes of the officer and the sergeant. Afterward she was dressed in the same jersey and shorts and sent back to the hut.

Then came the party, after which Officer Moshe and Sergeant Michael closeted themselves with the girl in their tent. After about half an hour, Officer Moshe ordered her taken out of the tent, because "there is a stink coming off her." Sergeant Michael called Private David and the two of them removed the bed from the tent, with the girl lying on it in a state of unconsciousness. They carried the bed to the entrance of the hut. Michael placed the girl on the floor, went to get water and poured the water on her. He then carried her in his arms into the hut. Corporal David accompanied him.

At about 6 A.M. the next day, Private Eliahu was on guard duty and saw the girl leaving the hut. He asked her where she was going and she told him, weeping, that she wanted to see the officer. Private Eliahu showed her the way to Officer Moshe's tent. She complained to him that the soldiers had "played with her." He threatened to kill her and sent her back to the hut. A short time later, while shaving at the water pipe, Sergeant Michael asked the platoon commander what to do with her. Officer Moshe ordered him to execute the girl.

Michael ordered Corporal David to have two soldiers get shovels and accompany him. Michael and David removed the girl from the hut and had her get into the patrol vehicle. Just before the vehicle left the outpost, one of the soldiers shouted that he wanted back the short pants the girl was wearing. Officer Moshe ordered her to be stripped and the pants returned to the soldier. She now wore only the jersey, her lower body exposed.

Eliahu and Shimon dig a grave

The vehicle set out, driven by Corporal Shaul. Also in the vehicle were Sergeant Michael, Corporal David, the medic, and the two soldiers who were to be the gravediggers, Privates Eliahu and Shimon, with their shovels. They drove about 500 meters from the outpost. The driver, Shaul, stayed in the vehicle, while the others, with the girl, moved off a little way into the dunes. Privates Eliahu and Shimon set about digging a grave. When the girl saw what they were doing, she screamed and started to run. She ran about six meters before Sergeant Michael aimed his tommy gun at her and fired one bullet. The bullet struck the right side of her head and blood began to pour out. She fell on the spot and did not move again. The two soldiers went on digging.

Sergeant Michael went back to the vehicle. Pale and trembling, he laid down his weapon and said to Shaul, "I didn't believe I could do something like that." Shaul said that maybe the bullet didn't kill her and that she was liable to lie in torment for a few hours, buried alive. He asked Michael to do him a personal mercy by going back to the girl and shooting her a few more times, to ascertain that she was dead. The sergeant did not manage to carry out that mission. Corporal David came over, took the tommy gun and fired a few bullets into the girl's body. The pit the privates dug wasn't very deep, only about 30 centimeters. They placed the body in the pit, covered it over with sand and returned to the outpost.

That afternoon the company commander, Captain Uri, visited the outpost. Not finding Second Lieutenant Moshe at the site, he left the written operation order that Moshe had requested with the platoon sergeant. Officer Moshe was then on his way to Be'er Sheva. It was Saturday night and he was on his way to see a movie. At the movie theater he met the battalion commander, Drexler. Drexler asked whether the Bedouin girl had been taken back to the place where she was found. Officer Moshe said she hadn't: "They killed her," he said, "it was a shame to waste the gas." Drexler said nothing but the next day ordered the company commander to go to the outpost and find out exactly what happened there.

Even before he received the order, Captain Uri, who had heard rumors about the events at the outpost, asked Officer Moshe for a report about what had happened with the Arab girl. Moshe ordered Sergeant Michael to draw up the report in his handwriting. When the report was completed, Officer Moshe signed it and sent it to the company commander. The following is the report, dated August 15, 1949:

"Nirim Outpost. To: Company Commander. From: Commander, Nirim Outpost.

Re: Report on the captive

In my patrol on 12.8.49 I encountered Arabs in the territory under my command, one of them armed. I killed the armed Arab on the spot and took his weapon. I took the Arab female captive. On the first night the soldiers abused her and the next day I saw fit to remove her from the world.

Signed: Moshe, second lieutenant."


Last update - 23:50 29/10/2003
Continuation of 'I saw fit to remove her from the world'

Tufts of hair

Captain Uri arrived at the outpost the next day to conduct a thorough investigation. Officer Moshe wasn't there. Uri asked Sergeant Michael to show him where the girl was buried. They collected the squad commanders and set out. Uri asked them to dig up the grave and take out the body. The soldiers refused. Uri took a shovel and dug the grave up himself. He saw the body and then covered it again with sand. They returned to the outpost. On the way back, Captain Uri asked the sergeant whether his conscience was bothering him. Michael said it was.

At the outpost, Uri collected a few items that were connected with the girl: the khaki shorts, a bead necklace, a headscarf with rings, two bracelets and tufts of hair that the company commander found hidden in the sand. The sergeant showed him the hut where the girl had been locked up and the torn bed on which she had lain. The company commander drew up a report summarizing his findings, and the sergeant and the three squad commanders signed it.

At that very moment, Second Lieutenant Moshe was meeting in Be'er Sheva with the battalion commander, Major Drexler. During the conversation, Drexler said, "Rumors have reached me about unruly behavior in connection with the Arab girl." He told Moshe that he had sent the company commander to investigate. Moshe replied: "What can I do? It's the guys. If it had been just one, I would have brought him under control." On the way back to the outpost, Moshe ran into Captain Uri, who had just come from there. He told Moshe that he was going to file charges against him over the events at the outpost. Moshe remained in command of the outpost for three more days. On August 19, he and sergeant Michael were arrested by the Military Police and taken to Be'er Sheva for interrogation.

Six days later, on August 25, two Military Police investigators, Second Lieutenants Zelig Kingsbuch and Haim Kazis, arrived at the outpost, along with Dr. Eliahu Fakbaum, a gynecologist. They hoped that the physician would be able to examine the girl's body, but when they opened the grave they found that the body was already in a state of decomposition, the skull coming apart and fluid leaking from the brain. The physician was unable to determine the cause of death or whether the girl had been raped.

Three days earlier, on August 22, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary: "The military advocate general, Aharon Hoter Yishai, reports a horrific atrocity: a battalion in Be'er Sheva found an Arab male and an Arab female. They killed the man, and 22 people discussed what to do with the female: it was decided and carried out - they washed her, cut her hair, raped her and killed her."


The investigation did not stop with the platoon's command staff. Most of the soldiers who were at the outpost that weekend were also arrested and spent the following months in custody and undergoing questioning at the IDF's Tzrifin base. Yehuda: "We were in detention together for almost a year, and there were a lot of arguments. Everyone tried to pin the blame on the others. All in all, they were good guys, but there were exceptions, too. The new people, like myself, who barely knew Hebrew, didn't understand what they wanted from us. I went on leave for a few days, and when I got back to the outpost I was told that I was under arrest. At first I didn't understand what it was all about, afterward everyone knew. I spent two years in Military Prison 4, and it was hard. Hard doesn't begin to describe it."

Haim Kazis, who was a Military Police investigator at the time of the event, later became one of the country's top criminal lawyers. Even today, at the age of 86, he continues to represent clients and appear in court. In his dusty office in the center of Tel Aviv, the walls covered with old photographs of him in the company of the country's leaders, Kazis has to make a pronounced effort to dredge up the memories of what happened in that summer of 1949, 54 years ago: "I was a practicing lawyer already in the British Mandate period, and after I served in the Palmach in the Negev, the commander of the Military Police got a hold of me to help with investigations," he relates. "The first thing we did was to go to the site and see the body. Then a few investigators worked on the case at the same time. There were doubts about the validity of some of the confessions. I was invited to the Green House in Jaffa - the military court was already located there - and I was asked by the military advocate general, the late Aharon Hoter Yishai, if the confessions had been taken according to the law. I told him frankly that some of the investigators hadn't always stuck to the rules, and he asked me to go over those cases and try to obtain evidence for conviction. And that's what happened."

At the time, the most effective way to disseminate information of this kind was by word of mouth. Indeed, as the investigation proceeded the rumors intensified and spread through the army. Just about everyone heard something. In 1949, Lieutenant Didi Minussi, who became a well-known journalist and writer, was the commander of the Sa'ad outpost, which was just a few kilometers from the Nirim site. "I remember that there was gossip about the subject in the Negev Brigade," he says. "There was talk about a rape, there was a rumor, but I never succeeded in finding out what was behind the rumor, and the truth is that I didn't really try." Benny Maitiv, who was a member of the small group that founded Kibbutz Nirim, researched Bedouin culture and was the governor of Gaza, with the rank of colonel, after the 1967 Six-Day War. "In the first years things weren't yet stabilized," observes Maitiv, who now lives in Ashkelon. "I heard about it at the time. When people started to talk about it, I was one of those who made sure people knew it was the outpost, not the kibbutz. Our reputation was at stake."

"We all knew," says Shaul Givoli, another of the founders of Kibbutz Nirim and afterward the IDF chief education officer and commander of the Civil Guard. "It absolutely destroyed the people in Nirim. It was absolutely the desecration of the place."

Amnon Dagieli, another of the kibbutz founders - he still lives in Nirim - recalls: "The talk was that they killed her and then tried to cover it up. Immediately afterward there was also a reaction by the other side. At the time there was retaliation for whatever was done by either side, and a few days after what happened at the outpost, a car hit a landmine near [Kibbutz] Nir Yitzhak. One girl was wounded."

Yehuda Drexler, the battalion commander, didn't need any rumors. Now 79 and living in Holon, he was a witness for the prosecution at the trial. Drexler prefers not to go into details about the event. "I don't understand why we have to go back to that today," he says. Still, the little he agreed to say sheds an interesting light on the course of events: "I remember there was a driver, Shaul, who came to me in Be'er Sheva and told me everything that happened. He was the only one who objected. `This and this is what's going on, and I can't accept it,' he told me. What he said came as a surprise, because earlier, when I saw the girl at the outpost, I told the officer to release her and he said alright. That's what he said, but he did something different."

The norms of the time

The trial went on for months. One of the five judges was Captain Haim Zadok (Wilkenfeld), who later became justice minister of Israel. There were 23 prosecution witnesses and four defense witnesses. One of the witnesses for the prosecution was Mordechai Ben Porat, now 76, who is also loath to scratch old wounds: "I remember it happened, but because I wasn't present at the events themselves I don't think I have anything to add."

The prosecution was led by attorney Yitzhak Tunik, a former state comptroller. Second Lieutenant Moshe was represented by attorney Levitzky and Major Oren, and Sergeant Michael was defended by attorney Arazi. Michael stated in his defense that he had only carried out the orders of his superior, platoon commander Moshe. That contention was reinforced by the testimonies of Private Eliahu and Corporal Shaul, who told the judges that if they had received a similar order from the platoon commander they would have carried it out. Another soldier, though, said he would have refused to obey such an order. The judges rejected the sergeant's line of defense, telling him that he should have seen that the orders were illegal. He was convicted of murder under Par. 214(B) of the Criminal Code of 1936. Taking into account the nature of the crime, the sentence he received was relatively very light - five years in prison.

The proceedings involving Second Lieutenant Moshe were emotionally charged. He put forward a series of arguments, some of them mutually contradictory. He denied raping the girl, stating, "Morally speaking, it was impossible to sleep with such a dirty girl." As to the charge of murder, he claimed he was only carrying out the operational order he had received from the battalion commander, Captain Uri. He also told the court that in a private discussion Uri told him that in regard to the local Arabs, he should engage in "killing, slaughter." The judges rejected this account, as they did most of his testimony, terming it unreliable. The judges' opinion of the platoon commander is apparent in these remarks: "The court believes that the words `killing, slaughter' originate in a psychosis that seems to have taken root in the officer's blood, to the effect that Arabs were to be massacred indiscriminately. These words were frequently repeated in the continuation of the officer's account before the court. They are characteristic of a person who presented himself to us as an advocate of the methods of Deir Yassin [referring to an Arab village on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, where Jewish forces perpetrated a massacre in April 1948] and even of Hitler's methods in France. The officer presented himself to us as being ready to murder even women and children in cold blood."

Second Lieutenant Moshe was acquitted of the rape charge, despite the wealth of circumstantial evidence and despite the fact that the court itself found that a heavy cloud of suspicions hung over him on this count, too. On November 15, 1950, he was convicted of murder according to Par. 214(B) and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The appeals court, under Major General Eitan Avisar which handed down its decision on May 25, 1951, left the conviction and the sentence intact.

In addition to the officer and the sergeant, 18 other soldiers who were at the outpost were also tried. They were charged with "negligence in preventing a crime" or "complicity in a crime." Most of them were convicted and sentenced to one to three years in prison. Only one soldier, Private Herman, was convicted of rape, on the basis of his confession; he received 30 months in prison.

Some of the participants in the events of 1949 are divided in their opinion about whether the atrocity at the Nirim outpost was, all in all, an expression, perhaps extreme, of the spirit of the time. Was what we now perceive as a brutal collective crime perceived differently 54 years ago? The battalion commander, Drexler, rejects this argument outright: "Anyone who says that there were different norms then is being misleading. That just isn't so. Everyone who heard about what happened at the outpost was shocked. It wasn't by chance that as soon as the events became known another platoon was brought in to replace the first platoon and they were all sent to prison. The response was immediate and the case was placed in the hands of the Military Police."

Yet the judges of the appeals court took a different view. Explaining why Sergeant Michael was given such a light sentence, they wrote, in part: "At the time there was a general feeling of contempt for the life of Arabs in general and infiltrators in particular, and sometimes wanton events occurred in this sphere. All this helped create an atmosphere of `anything goes.' We are convinced that this atmosphere existed at the Nirim outpost, too."

Mordechai Ben Porat: "The Palmach was a homogeneous group with the same codes of behavior and morality, and there it wasn't accepted. In the army of the post-1948 period there were apparently such phenomena. Discipline was already different, procedures were different." Kibbutz member Amnon Dagieli: "It was certainly not normative. It was an earthquake. Until then there was never anything like it."

Shaul Givoli: "It was difficult to talk about moral norms, because some of those soldiers had come through the Holocaust and were sent straight to the desert when they reached Israel. What for us was home was for them a hole under the ground, with nothing. When we got leave, some of them didn't go home because they had nowhere to go. It was around then that the Soldier's House idea began to be realized - there was a branch in Be'er Sheva. It was a kind of hotel, and for some of the soldiers it was the place where they went on Shabbat. There was a rabble of survivors."

Benny Maitiv: "I was a member of [the left-wing youth movement] Hashomer Hatza'ir, and I can tell you that even then it was considered a terrible act. True, we tried to come across as just and innocent, to give the impression that we were in the right and good people. But if you look closely you will find a lot of sins, you will find that we looted, murdered, abandoned our God and committed all the transgressions that are written in the Torah."

Last meeting with Officer Moshe

The name of the Bedouin girl is not known. She is probably still buried in the sands of the western Negev. "A few years after the episode," Shaul Givoli relates, "I was wandering around in the abandoned outpost, when I suddenly saw, inside the outpost, that the desert winds had uncovered the bones of a very small hand, which looked like the palm of a boy or a girl. In the light of the fact that no children were killed in the battle for the kibbutz, you can understand what I thought."

The platoon commander, Second Lieutenant Moshe, also seems to have been swallowed by the earth. None of the people who were interviewed for this article knew what happened to him after he was sent to prison to serve his lengthy sentence. The last person who is known to have seen Moshe or heard from him is attorney Kazis: "One day, quite a few years after this whole affair was over, I came to a Be'er Sheva court for a hearing. Suddenly someone came up to me, offered me his hand and said, `You don't know me, but I'm the officer you sent to prison in the episode of the Nirim outpost. I should have put a bullet into your head but I forgive you, because you were just doing your job.' Then he shook my hand and left."

Another black flag

The case of the rape and murder of the Arab girl at the Nirim outpost is contained in four judgments (two verdicts and two appeals of the verdicts) that were handed down as part of the prosecution summations in the Kafr Qassem trial.

On October 29, 1956, soldiers of the Border Police murdered 43 civilians, including women and children, and wounded many others because they were outside their homes after curfew was imposed on the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Qassem at the beginning of the Sinai War. The perpetrators knew that they were killing villagers who were returning from work in the fields without knowing anything about the existence of a curfew.

The soldiers were tried and convicted in a judgment whose major contribution was the concept of the “black flag” that has ever since flown above a “flagrantly illegal order.” The prosecution submitted to the court a number of judgments that were originally classified as “secret,” all of which dealt with cases of the murder of Arabs and in all of which the defense claimed that the soldiers involved were only following orders.

The judgments in question were discovered by Prof. Yoram Shahar about 10 years ago in a box that included a great deal of material from the Kafr Qassem trial. The material was donated by Yitzhak Oren to the library of the Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University. Oren, who was a defense attorney in the Kafr Qassem trial, afterward became a judge and a teacher in the faculty. Shahar, then a young investigator who was interested in legal history, as he still is, recalls: “To the best of my recollection, there were about 10 judgments dealing with the murder of civilians, mostly in the Negev, in which the victims were shepherds, some of them children, who were described as ‘infiltrators.’ The IDF orders defined an infiltrator very broadly, to include anyone who was found 10 kilometers from the armistice line boundary, even if there was nothing suspicious about him and even if he did not engage in hostile behavior.

“The order, to the best of my recollection, was to treat such a person in one of two ways: If the infiltrator was thought to be in possession of information of security value, he was to be turned over to Military Intelligence. If not, he was to be killed immediately. Some of the defendants cited in their defense the text of the order, which was quoted in full in the judgments. The soldiers maintained that they were following the order exactly.”
Shahar remembered the episode of the Nirim outpost from the judgments that were in Oren’s box. Today there is one judgment in it: the appeal of 18 of the outpost’s soldiers who were convicted of “negligence in preventing a crime (rape of a Bedouin Arab).” Only one of them, Private Herman, was convicted of the rape itself. On the basis of that lead, we found in the IDF archives the judgments in the trials of the commander of the outpost, Second Lieutenant Moshe and Sergeant Michael, who were tried separately and convicted of the premeditated murder of the Bedouin girl, but were acquitted of the charge of murder intended to cover up an act of rape.

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