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From the field

Lethal Training: The Killing of Muhammad Al-Hilu by Undercover Soldiers in Hizmeh Village

March 1997, Summary

The results of B'Tselem's investigation indicate that the soldiers acted illegally during the incident. Without justification, they shot and beat village residents, killing Muhammad al-Hilu and wounding three others. The investigation further indicates that al-Hilu very likely died from blows to the head and not from gunshots to his leg, as reported. He received blows from one of the soldiers while the soldier was sitting on the back of his neck.

According to the testimonies, three soldiers from the "Duvdevan" undercover unit, dressed in civilian clothes, attacked one of the village residents, Hamzeh Salah a-Din, without any provocation. When village residents, thinking the three soldiers were Jewish settlers, assembled at the site, one of the soldiers turned a-Din into a hostage. Simultaneously, the soldiers fired at the legs of the crowd. After a-Din succeeded in fleeing, the soldiers grabbed, in his stead, the fifty-seven-year-old Muhammad al-Hilu, who had been wounded in the leg from the gunfire. One of the soldiers compelled the wounded al-Hilu to sit on the ground. The soldier then sat on the back of his neck and beat him in the head with his radio transmitter for some twenty minutes. Al-Hilu was killed. Three other persons were wounded by the gunfire.

Attempts of village residents to summon security forces failed. Soldiers at the checkpoint and police whom the residents stopped on the nearby main road refused to enter the village. Only much later did a Border Police jeep reach the scene.

The testimonies clearly indicate that the soldiers could have left the village without being injured and without injuring any of the residents. The entire incident occurred on the outskirts of the village, about half-a-kilometer from the military checkpoint. The soldiers were equipped with radio transmitters with which they could have summoned help. Moreover, village residents, among them al-Hilu, offered to help the soldiers leave the village. In spite of all this, the soldiers chose to remain in the village and confront its residents.

Al-Hilu was taken to Hadassah Hospital, Ein Karem. He was dead-on-arrival. The hospital spokesperson, Yossi Shoval, stated that "the cause of death can only be known after an autopsy; however, the physicians consider it very unlikely that he died from a wound to his knee." No autopsy was performed. The IDF Spokesperson contends that the reason was that the family firmly opposed an autopsy. However, there have been cases in which the family opposed an autopsy, but the State, thinking that an autopsy was necessary to determine the cause of death, applied to court, which authorized the autopsy. Other tests, such as a CT scan, which might have helped in determining the cause of death, were also not performed.

In the past, B'Tselem has protested that the methods used by undercover units, particularly the open-fire regulations, are illegal. Soldiers from these units enter hostile civilian populations disguised as civilians and armed only with firearms. These actions create a substantial likelihood that they will be exposed, which would place their lives in danger and require them to use their weapons. B'Tselem views with great severity the sending of soldiers dressed in civilian clothes into an innocent civilian population for the purpose of undercover training where there is a calculated danger that confrontation and injuries to civilians will result. Such activity demonstrates the IDF's profound disregard for Palestinian life.