I know exactly how many knees I’ve hit, says Eden, who completed his service in the Israel Defense Forces as a sniper in its Golani infantry brigade six months ago. For much of the time, he was stationed along the border with the Gaza Strip. His assignment: to repel Palestinian demonstrators who approached the fence.
“I kept the casing of every round I fired,” he says. “I have them in my room. So I don’t have to make an estimate – I know: 52 definite hits.”
But there are also “non-definite” hits, right?
“There were incidents when the bullet didn’t stop and also hit the knee of someone behind [the one I aimed at]. Those are mistakes that happen.”
Is 52 a lot?
“I haven’t really thought about it. It’s not hundreds of liquidations like in the movie ‘American Sniper’: We’re talking about knees. I’m not making light of it, I shot a human being, but still …”
Where do you stand in comparison to others who served in your battalion?
“From the point of view of hits, I have the most. In my battalion they would say: ‘Look, here comes the killer.’ When I came back from the field, they would ask, ‘Well, how many today?’ You have to understand that before we showed up, knees were the hardest thing to rack up. There was a story about one sniper who had 11 knees all told, and people thought no one could outdo him. And then I brought in seven-eight knees in one day. Within a few hours, I almost broke his record.”
Seeing is believing
The mass demonstrations on Israel’s border with the Strip began on Land Day, in March 2018, and continued on a weekly basis until this past January. These ongoing confrontations, in protest of Israel’s siege of Gaza, exacted the lives of 215 demonstrators, while 7,996 were wounded by live ammunition, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Despite the large number of casualties, the grim protests and responses along the fence continued unabated for nearly two years, until it was decided to reduce the frequency to once a month. Yet even in real time, the violent Friday afternoon ritual provoked little public interest in Israel. Similarly, the international condemnations – from allegations of the use of disproportionate force to accusations that Israel was perpetrating massacres – faded like so much froth on the waves.
Shedding light on this very recent slice of history entails talking to snipers: After all, they were the dominant and most significant force in suppressing the demonstrations at the fence. Their targets ranged from young Palestinians who were trying to infiltrate into Israel or who threw Molotov cocktails at soldiers, to prominent, unarmed protesters who were considered to be major inciters. Both categories drew the same response: Live ammunition fired at the legs.
Of the dozens of snipers that we approached, six (all of them discharged from the IDF) agreed to be interviewed and to describe what reality looks like through their gun sights. Five are from infantry brigades – two each from Golani and Givati, one from Kfir – plus one from the Duvdevan counter-terrorism unit. The names of all of them have been changed. They are not out to “break the silence” or to atone for their deeds, only to relate what happened from their point of view. In Eden’s case, even the fact that he also killed a protester by mistake doesn’t rattle him. “I believe I was on the right side and that I did the right thing,” he insists, “because if not for us, the terrorists would try to cross the fence. It’s obvious to you that there is a reason that you’re there.”
Eden says he broke the “knee record” in the demonstration that took place on the day the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was inaugurated, on May 14, 2018. He did it jointly: Snipers usually work in pairs – together with a locator, who is also a sniper by training, and whose task is to give his partner precise data (distance from the target, wind direction, etc.).
Eden: “On that day, our pair had the largest number of hits, 42 in all. My locator wasn’t supposed to shoot, but I gave him a break, because we were getting close to the end of our stint, and he didn’t have knees. In the end you want to leave with the feeling that you did something, that you weren’t a sniper during exercises only. So, after I had a few hits, I suggested to him that we switch. He got around 28 knees there, I’d say.”