7 Aug 2014

‘You can shoot’ – was Gaza killing a war crime?

Salem Shamaly was shot as he picked through the rubble of Gaza two weeks ago. Channel 4 News reveals the shocking inside story from the Israeli unit on the ground.

On 20 July Salem Shamaly went looking for injured members of his family in Shujaiya, a densely populated suburb in the eastern part of Gaza City.

During his search the 23-year-old, also known as “man in the green shirt”, was fatally shot as he strayed into the sights of an apparent Israeli sniper.

Today, a former Israeli soldier has told Channel 4 News he can shed light on what happened.

Eran Efrati left the army in 2008. He is now an activist who has sought to expose Israeli military transgressions.

He told Channel 4 News he has taken testimony from soldiers who were there when Shamaly was shot.

Mr Efratri said: “These soldiers are deciding on a theoretical red line that nobody can pass. You can be killed for crossing this line. There is a video of a man looking for his family. Two soldiers ask if it is ok to shoot him.”

He described what happened next: “The sniper is getting into position – he is asking his offcer, three, times ‘when can I shoot him?’

“The officer tells them ‘wait, wait, we need the man in the green shirt to cross the red line’.

‘Revenge attack’

“The third time the officers tell him, ‘you can shoot’.

“He shoots two more bullets into his body and kills him.”

Mr Efrati confirmed: “I heard this testimony from three soldiers.”

He added: “They were completely convinced that what they did was wrong. They were guilty. The man in the green shirt was not any threat to their lives.

“The officer allowed this revenge attack in the middle of Gaza.”

‘Are you sure you have the whole story?

Channel 4 News has been unable to independently verify the video or Mr Efrati’s claims.

In response, Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said: “I would urge that if anyone has information that is relevant, they come forward… Obviously if there are allegations of misbehaviour by Israeli soldiers, they must be investigated. We can’t rely on hearsay from political activists.”

When questioned over whether it was appropriate for the army to investigate itself over incidents like this, he responded: “That’s what happens in all Nato forces, that’s what happens if there are complaints about UK soldiers or French soldiers. Do you expect Israel to be held to a separate standard than anyone else?”

He also said there should be caution over YouTube videos.

“We’re not sure we have the whole story. Are you sure you have the whole story?” he added.

Channel 4 News first reported on the death of Salem Shamaly on 21 July.

The video footage

In the footage which was first released on 21 July, filmed by activists from the International Solidarity Movement, Salem Shamaly, is seen being shot three times. The third bullet kills him.

Earlier on the same day Shujaiya was the scene of a Hamas attack on an Israeli armoured personnel carrier which resulted in the deaths of seven soldiers from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

The attack was followed by an intense period of bombardment in the suburb. Building after building was reduced to ruins. Today, residents began returning to their homes. A ceasefire is holding but is due to expire on Friday morning.

Was the killing of an unarmed man in Gaza a war crime?