- The undisputed facts are these: it was broad daylight,
13-year-old Iman al-Hams was wearing her school uniform, and when she walked
into the Israeli army's "forbidden zone" at the bottom of her
street she was carrying her satchel. A few minutes later the short, slight
child was pumped with bullets. Doctors counted at least 17 wounds and said
much of her head was destroyed.
- Beyond that there is little agreement between the army
top brass and Palestinian witnesses as to how Iman came to die last week,
or even among members of the military unit responsible for killing the
child in Gaza's Rafah refugee camp.
- Palestinian witnesses described the shooting as cold-blooded.
They say soldiers could not have failed to see they were firing at a child,
and she was killed as she already lay wounded and helpless.
- "Some soldiers were lying on the ground and shooting
very heavily toward her," said Basim Breaka, who saw the killing from
her living room. "Then one of the soldiers walked to her and emptied
his clip into her. For sure she died on the second or third bullet. I could
see her lying on the ground, not moving. I can't imagine why that soldier
wanted to shoot her after she was dead."
- This week an army investigation cleared the unit's commander
after some of his own soldiers accused him of giving the order to shoot
knowing the target was a young girl, and of then emptying the clip of his
automatic rifle into her.
- On the day she died, Iman left home shortly before 7am
for the short walk to school in Rafah's Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood. The
school, facing the heavily militarised border with Egypt, is under the
shadow of a towering camouflaged Israeli gunpost.
- Like almost every other building in the area, Iman's
school is pockmarked by bullets. Last year, a 13-year-old boy was shot
dead by the army outside the school. This year, two pupils and a teacher
were wounded by bullets inside the grounds.
- Iman walked past her school with her satchel over her
shoulder, crossed the road and climbed down a small sandy bank to an area
that was an olive and citrus orchard until the army's bulldozers flattened
it in April. She had entered the "forbidden zone" next to the
watchtower where any Palestinian risks being shot.
- The schoolgirl kept on walking toward the tower but was
still several hundred metres away when two shots caught her in the leg.
She dropped her bag, turned, tried to hobble away, and fell.
- Four or five soldiers emerged from the army post and
shot at her from a distance. Palestinian witnesses and some Israeli soldiers
say that the platoon commander moved in closer to put two bullets in the
child's head. They say that he then walked away, turned back and fired
a stream of bullets into her body.
- Iman's corpse was taken to Rafah's hospital and inspected
by Dr Mohammed al-Hams. "She has at least 17 bullets in several parts
of the body, all along the chest, hands, arms, legs," he said. "The
bullets were large and shot from a close distance. The most serious injuries
were to her head. She had three bullets in the head. One bullet was shot
from the right side of the face beside the ear. It had a big impact on
the whole face. Another bullet went from the neck to the face and damaged
the area under the mouth."
- The doctor said that the nature of the wounds suggested
that Iman was already dead when some of the bullets hit her. The army swiftly
blamed Iman for her own death by entering the forbidden zone. At first,
the military said soldiers suspected the girl was carrying a bomb in her
satchel. When it turned out there was no bomb, it said she was being used
by Palestinian combatants to lure troops from their post.
- But some soldiers in the unit responsible, the Shaked
battalion, were outraged at what they saw as a cover-up. One told Yedioth
Ahronoth newspaper that a soldier in the watchtower had told the company
commander that he was about to shoot a child: "Don't shoot, it's a
- "The company commander approached her, shot two
bullets into her, walked back towards the force, turned back to her, switched
his weapon to automatic and emptied his entire magazine into her. We were
in shock. We couldn't believe what he was doing. Our hearts ached for her.
Just a girl of 13," a soldier told the newspaper.
- Other soldiers said that if the company commander was
not dismissed they would refuse to serve under him: "It is a disgrace
that he is still in his position. We want him kicked out."
- The accounts of Palestinian witnesses back the claims
of the protesting soldiers.
- Fuad Zourob was working at a small brick factory overlooking
the area where Iman was shot. "The girl was walking in the sand. She
was shot from the army post. She was hit in the leg and she was crawling.
- "Then she stood up and started to try and run and
then she fell. The shooting went on. The soldiers arrived by foot. One
came close to the girl and started to shoot. He walked away, turned back
and then shot her some more," he said.
- Yousef Breaka watched from the balcony of his second
floor flat. He owns the 12 acres of bulldozed land beside the building
which Iman crossed minutes before she was shot.
- "The first shot came from the army post. It hit
her in the leg. She was starting to walk on and then fell. She dropped
her bag. They were firing, heavy shooting. I am sure she died before the
two soldiers came and shot her bag and then her," he said.
- Mr Breaka's living room wall is decorated with the holes
of nine bullets fired from the Israeli army watchtower two years ago. A
tenth bullet killed his 80-year-old mother, Jindiya.
- Neither Iman's father, Samir al-Hams, nor the witnesses
know why the girl walked into the forbidden zone.
- "I can't explain why she was there. I've asked everyone
and no one can explain it. Perhaps she just wanted to walk on the sand.
Perhaps she was confused. I don't know," said Mr al-Hams.
- Mr Zourob was surprised to see Iman walking at the back
of his factory. "I was astonished. I didn't know why she was there.
No one goes toward that area. She was alone but some of the schoolchildren
were calling her: Iman, why are you there?" he said.
- The watchtower sits atop a large hill of sand. It is
surrounded by barbed wire and other defences. Even before she was hit in
the leg, it would have taken Iman 10 minutes or more to scramble up the
hill. Once she was wounded, there was little chance she could have got
to the watchtower.
- If she was carrying a bomb, it could have harmed Israeli
troops had she got close enough to them. But after Iman was shot in the
leg she dropped her school bag.
- Palestinian witnesses say soldiers pumped it full of
bullets, establishing that it was not a bomb, but still went on to shoot
- The Israeli army's rules of engagement permit soldiers
to wound a person who enters a security zone and does not heed warning
shots to leave. But once the person is wounded, soldiers are only permitted
to kill if there is an imminent threat to their lives. Witnesses say Iman
was helpless and posed no such threat.
- Her father is a teacher at a primary school neighbouring
his daughter's. "The day Iman was killed, the headmistress of her
school called me at 8.15 and asked why she wasn't at school. I said I had
no idea.," he said.
- "I ran to the school. The teachers and headmistress
told me the army shot toward a small girl but she was fine, don't worry.
I calmed down a bit when I heard that and thought maybe they shot toward
her to make her afraid and arrested her for interrogation and they will
release her. But then they declared her dead. That was the worst moment
in my life."
- This week, the officer responsible for the Gaza strip,
Major General Dan Harel, completed his investigation and pronounced that
the company commander had not acted unethically in the shooting of Iman
but was being suspended for losing the confidence of his soldiers.
- The speed of the investigation has revealed once again
the cursory nature of the army's inquiries into such shootings. A more
thorough investigation usually only follows if there is external pressure,
such as in the case of three Britons shot dead by Israeli soldiers over
the past two years.
- The military has quietly dropped an investigation into
the killing by an Israeli sniper of a brother and sister, both teenagers,
in Rafah in May. The army falsely claimed that the pair were killed by
a Palestinian bomb and only began the investigation after journalists found
the bodies of the children and reported that both had a single shot to
- Under pressure from the revelations of the Shaked battalion
soldiers, the military police has launched a separate investigation into
the death of Iman al-Hams. The soldiers say they will insist that it is
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