Tom Hurndall Killer A Bedouin Israeli
- Who put Taysir el-Heyb in charge for killing Tom Hurndall?
Date: Mon, 29 Aug 2005
....Taysir el-Heyb -....is the soldier who was recently sentenced to
eight years in prison for killing Tom Hurndall, a young Briton active
in the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who was shot in the
head in Rafah when he tried to keep Palestinian children away from an
IDF post along the Philadelphi route commanded by el-Heyb...
Who put Taysir el-Heyb in charge?
By Aryeh Dayan
Several weeks ago, two police patrol cars sped into Wadi Hamam, a
Bedouin village with 1,300 residents on the foot of Mount Arbel, a few
kilometers north of Tiberias. Moments earlier, several shots had been
heard and an anonymous caller had notified Tiberias police that the
shooters were brothers Taysir and Walid el-Heyb, local residents
serving in the IDF. "Two patrol cars stopped below the balcony and
five policemen burst into the house shouting, `Where's Taysir? Where's
Walid?'" relates Naamat el-Heyb, the mother of the two. "I told them
that Walid's away in the army and asked them if the police didn't know
that Taysir's been in prison for almost two years."
This is just one method of intimidation that Wadi Hamam residents have
been employing against the el-Heyb family. The brothers' enlistment in
the army did not make the family a target of intimidation;
approximately 40 percent of the young men in Wadi Hamam, a village
afflicted by unemployment, neglect and poverty, volunteer for the IDF
or Border Police. The main factor in turning the villagers against the
family is the fact that Amira el-Heyb, the 20-year-old sister of
Taysir (22) and Walid (21), enlisted in the Border Police, becoming
the first Bedouin woman to serve in a combat position in the security
forces (villagers were indifferent to the service of four other women
as secretaries in the police department).
Amira el-Heyb, currently serving with a Border Police unit in the West
Bank, broke a deep-seated taboo in the conservative Bedouin culture
and condemned her family to alienation of and ostracism. The fact that
both she and her brother Taysir said their enlistments came as a
result of patriotic-Israeli motivation and not as a result of economic
necessity, as most enlistees in the village usually do, also played a
part. "I was born here and this is my country," Amira told a Maariv
correspondent two years ago, right after her enlistment. "Whoever
doesn't want to live here should go to Arafat," she said. Her brother
Taysir often said similar things.
Why should we enlist?
Villagers are now gloating over the manner in which Taysir completed
his military service: Sergeant Taysir el-Heyb - who has in the
meantime been demoted to private and discharged from the army - is the
soldier who was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for
killing Tom Hurndall, a young Briton active in the International
Solidarity Movement (ISM) who was shot in the head in Rafah when he
tried to keep Palestinian children away from an IDF post along the
Philadelphi route commanded by el-Heyb.
"Before I enlisted in the IDF, many people in the village told me not
to enlist because the army would ruin my life," el-Heyb told the
judges at his trial, a moment before his sentence was handed down. "I
don't regret enlisting, but today those same people are saying that if
this is what the army did to me, then there really is no reason to
It is hard to find someone in Wadi Hamam today who will not argue that
Taysir "was framed" or, according to the more popular version, "The
army chose him to show the world how much it values human life." "If
it had been a Jewish soldier," says Mahmoud Wahib, Taysir's uncle, "he
wouldn't even have gotten a one-year sentence."
"If the deceased had been a Palestinian and not a Briton," adds Yassin
el-Heyb, a neighbor and distant relative of Taysir, "no one would have
been interested in the incident and it's doubtful whether they would
have even investigated it. The Druze officer who fired an entire
magazine at a girl in Rafah came out totally clean. Why? Because the
girl was Palestinian and not British. But in this case, the family of
the deceased made a fuss in the media, the British government
submitted protests and Israel decided to prove to the world, at poor
Taysir's expense, how much are army is concerned about human life.
"If this is how the army treats a guy like Taysir, " he concludes,
"who had nothing on his mind other than dreams of a military career
and circulated in the village and convinced people to enlist, then
it's clear that no Arab need enlist in the army anymore."
The decision written by Colonel Nir Aviram, head of the Southern
Command military tribunal that heard el-Heyb's case, describes his
serious actions in harsh terms: "While serving as commander of the
watch tower on the Philadelphi route in Rafah, when he was left alone
on the shift, on the afternoon of Friday, April 11, 2003," wrote
Aviram, "Sergeant Taysir fired from a distance, a single, unnecessary
shot, a criminal shot at an innocent man."
In a confession made to his military police interrogators, the verdict
goes on to relate, he said that he decided to shoot at the young man
wearing the orange vest of the ISM because the members of this
organization "pissed off" the army and interfered with its operations.
He did not intend to kill him, he said, only to fire a shot at him
"that would whistle in his ear" and prompt him to leave the area.
It was only months after the shooting that he made this admission. On
that April day, immediately after he realized that the bullet he fired
did not whistle past the young man's ear, but had hit him in the head,
"The accused fabricated a sequence of events to cover up his actions
and distance him from responsibility for the shooting and its
The decision lists his actions one by one: He phoned his commander and
reported that armed man was approaching his post, claimed that the
armed man was refusing to obey his instructions to halt and received
permission from his commander to fire at the man; several minutes
later he again phoned his commander, this time to tell him that he had
hit the man in the head. His commander accepted his version of events,
did not investigate the matter in depth and rushed to determine that
Taysir had acted appropriately. Only months later, in the wake of
international pressure, did the military prosecutor decide to
investigate the incident again.
The story of the young Bedouin man, who dreamt of enlisting in the IDF
in order to be accepted into the Israeli collective and who is now
ending his military service with a sentence of eight years in jail, is
an Israeli tragedy that could, perhaps, have been avoided. A review of
the sequence of events and of the documents accumulated in the court
case, and a look at el-Heyb's past, personality and social-familial
background reveals a series of warning signs that sprung up along the
way to the post on the Philadelphi route where the fatal shot was fired.
None of these warnings prompted el-Heyb's commanders to ask themselves
questions as they should have. Attorney Ilan Bombach, a leader of the
Bar Association who was appointed el-Heyb's defense attorney as part
of his reserve duty, feels the IDF should have prevented this tragedy.
The army's main mistake, Bombach told Haaretz, was that it posted
"such a soldier, with such a history, with such limited abilities and
with such a background" in a place where soldiers are required to
"exercise a lot of judgment in extremely tense situations."
Based on his personal details, which the army was well aware of,
el-Heyb "was not capable of exercising such judgment and was the last
person suited for this job," Bombach says. "He came to the army with a
lot of motivation, but with very few abilities and poor emotional
resources. Making him a commander of a post on the Philadelphi route
was like throwing him to the dogs. The army should have understood
this well before the incident."
A home without furniture
Taysir el-Heyb, the oldest of six children, was born in July 1983 and
lived most of his life in a small, rickety hut with no bathroom. The
Israel Lands Administration (ILA) recently razed the hut, saying it
had been built without a permit. His father worked as a day worker in
agricultural jobs until he became ill, first physically and then
mentally, and became unable to support the family. His mother worked
cleaning homes in Moshav Migdal, whose luxurious homes are just a few
hundred meters away from the Wadi Hamam huts that are on the brink of
collapsing. A few years ago, she also became ill sick and, like her
husband, had to stop working.
Taysir's sister Amira also cleaned homes in Migdal, until her
enlistment. Since then, her parents' monthly National Insurance
Institute allowance of NIS 2,500 has been the family's only income.
A few years ago, before Amira, Walid and Taysir enlisted and before
the ILA razed the hut where they lived, the family started to build a
two-story house. In the course of its construction, the parents became
ill, stopped working and had to halt the construction. The ground
floor still has exposed concrete walls. On the second floor, where
they now live, the walls were covered in whitewash, long since peeled,
the windows are broken and there are hastily improvised electrical
wires hanging exposed and dangerous. Most of the rooms do not have
finished floors. Apart from few plastic chairs and an old and empty
refrigerator, there is no furniture in the house - no beds, no tables
and no closets.
The family sleeps on mattresses on the floor and the few clothes they
have are piled in cardboard boxes. The father, whose illness has cut
him off from reality and is therefore unaware that his son has been
sentenced to a lengthy prison term, roams the rooms all day long,
staring at the walls and windows.
The three younger children in the family, who are 14, 16 and 18, have
never been to school. "I never had money to buy them books or
notebooks," their mother says, adding that the State of Israel's
welfare authorities have never asked her why her children are not in
school. Taysir did go to school. "Until seventh grade, he went to the
school in the village," says Mahmoud Wahib, his uncle, "but it's
impossible to say that he learned anything there. He never had books
and he never had supplies. Today he barely knows how to read and write
in Arabic and he doesn't know how to read and write in Hebrew at all."
From the age of 13 until he realized his dream of joining the Israel
Defense Forces, he worked in a metal shop in Tiberias. His enlistment
was not a given. The psychological tests determined that his skills
were very close to the lower limit, the cutoff below which potential
enlistees are not eligible for military service: Colonel Aviram made
sure to write in his verdict that el-Heyb "was given a
psycho-technical rating of 10 (on a scale of 10 to 90) and was rated
43 in the quality group (on a scale of 42 to 65)." Despite these
figures, the IDF agreed to induct him and to send him to serve as a
fighter in the desert patrol brigade, known as the Bedouin brigade."
In his first year of service, which he spent mostly in training camps,
el-Heyb managed to be absent without leave twice - once for 22 days
and once for 34 days - and to serve four short terms in military jail
- one of them for "inserting a cartridge into his gun, cocking it and
releasing the safety, contrary to orders." Later in the year, he again
used his weapon contrary to orders, this time while on vacation in
Wadi Hamam, and was sentenced to 12 days in jail and a three-month
suspended sentence. In July 2002, when he was already serving in the
Termite post on the Philadelphi route, he was sentenced to seven
months in jail for "using a dangerous drug in serious operational
Despite all this, the army subsequently decided to promote him to the
rank of sergeant, appoint him commander of the post and post him there
armed and alone, in a position on the edge of Rafah, facing a large
"This whole episode, including the verdict, is a serious indictment of
the IDF," say Bombach. "In the end the army, which inducted el-Heyb
into its ranks and did not bother to look after his needs and help him
resolve his problems, turned him into a scapegoat, so that the
military establishment as a whole could come out clean in the eyes of
the world. The prosecutor in the trial told the court that `the whole
world' was watching the trial. I said in response that it can only be
hoped that the war of perception that the state of Israel is waging at
Taysir el-Heyb's expense would not turn his trial into a show trial."
In his arguments before the court, Bombach stressed that el-Heyb was
the first soldier to be tried for manslaughter since the outbreak of
the current intifada and the first since the 1980s to be sent to jail
for a lengthy term as a result of an intifada-related shooting
incident. Two weeks ago, Bombach notified the IDF that he intends to
appeal Taysir's conviction, in order to reopen the entire case.
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