Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
An Israeli army officer who fired the entire magazine of his automatic rifle into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl and then said he would have done the same even if she had been three years old was acquitted on all charges by a military court yesterday.
The soldier, who has only been identified as “Captain R”, was charged with relatively minor offences for the killing of Iman al-Hams who was shot 17 times as she ventured near an Israeli army post near Rafah refugee camp in Gaza a year ago.
The manner of Iman’s killing, and the revelation of a tape recording in which the captain is warned that she was just a child who was “scared to death”, made the shooting one of the most controversial since the Palestinian intifada erupted five years ago even though hundreds of other children have also died.
After the verdict, Iman’s father, Samir al-Hams, said the army never intended to hold the soldier accountable.
“They did not charge him with Iman’s murder, only with small offences, and now they say he is innocent of those even though he shot my daughter so many times,” he said. “This was the cold-blooded murder of a girl. The soldier murdered her once and the court has murdered her again. What is the message? They are telling their soldiers to kill Palestinian children.”
The military court cleared the soldier of illegal use of his weapon, conduct unbecoming an officer and perverting the course of justice by asking soldiers under his command to alter their accounts of the incident.
Capt R’s lawyers argued that the “confirmation of the kill” after a suspect is shot was a standard Israeli military practice to eliminate terrorist threats.
Following the verdict, Capt R burst into tears, turned to the public benches and said: “I told you I was innocent.”
The army’s official account said that Iman was shot for crossing into a security zone carrying her schoolbag which soldiers feared might contain a bomb. It is still not known why the girl ventured into the area but witnesses described her as at least 100 yards from the military post which was in any case well protected.