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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pini Levy's murderer

Those of you outside Israel sometimes read the headlines and don't appreciate what's behind them. But Israel is a small country and everyone knows everyone. I've debated Efraim Zuroff, who wrote this article, online - I don't even recall in what forum.

The Olmert - Barak - Livni government is about to turn four Jordanian murderers over to the Jordanian government in return for a promise that the murderers - who have served seventeen years out of a life sentence - will not be considered for a pardon for at least eighteen months. The rationale for this - if it can be called one - is so that they will not appear on the lists of prisoners terrorists to be released in return for Gilad Shalit.
On November 13, 1990, I was on reserve duty at a small lookout directly above the Adam Bridge, overlooking the Jordan River. We were a group of nine soldiers, most of us relatively older reservists, whose major task was to guard the bridge and help prevent the infiltration of terrorists.

A few days previously, three Jordanian soldiers had crossed the river further south and murdered Captain Yehuda Lifshitz, so all of us were well aware of the importance of our mission.

That evening we had a barbecue and enjoyed the camaraderie that makes reserve duty almost bearable, and discussed that night's guarding assignments with our commander, Pini Levy. I wanted to do guard duty with Baruch Eliaz, a reservist from Har Adar with whom I had developed a good relationship over the first two weeks of duty; but Pini insisted that he would take the first shift, from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., with Baruch - a decision which ultimately cost him his life.

I have to admit that at the time I was annoyed at the prospect of spending three hours in the middle of the night with someone less interesting than Baruch. On the other hand, I thought that Pini, who had been sick the last two days and was doing guard duty out of pure self-sacrifice, really deserved a break; and if he wanted to guard with Baruch, so be it.

THAT NIGHT, at approximately 12:10, a terrorist infiltrated our lookout and managed to get to the guard post overlooking the river. He shot Pini with his pistol, grabbed his M-16 and headed for the hut where the rest of us were fast asleep. Luckily Baruch, who was initially shocked by the shooting, came to his senses and ran to the hut to alert us and try and catch the killer.

He caught him in our kitchen, about to open the door to the room where we were sleeping. It would have been dangerous to shoot (the walls were as thin as paper), so he hit him with the butt of his rifle.

By this time all of us were up, and had surrounded the terrorist. We held a quick consultation regarding what to do with him - decided a few minutes later when an area commander came to the lookout and handcuffed him. In the meantime, a team of medics arrived to try and save Pini, who was lying wounded outside the guard post. Unfortunately, their efforts failed and he died in a helicopter on the way to Hadassah Hospital.

Next day, the IDF's top brass came to the lookout to investigate the incident. Baruch related what had happened step-by-step. After he finished the story in the kitchen, Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, at that time head of the Central Command, asked him bluntly: "Lama lo haragtem oto?" (Why didn't you kill him?) - to which no one gave a clear answer.

But it was obvious that by the time we caught the terrorist he did not pose any danger to any of us and thus, according to the Geneva Convention, we should not have shot him.
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