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'I saw fit to remove her from the world'
By Aviv Lavie and Moshe Gorali

There was a particularly festive atmosphere at the
Nirim outpost on August 12, 1949, the eve of
Shabbat. A week of dusty patrols and pursuits of
infiltrators in the sands of the western Negev
desert was at an end, and the commander of the
hilltop site, Second Lieutenant Moshe, gave the
order to make the preparations for a party. The
tables in the large tent that was used as a mess
hall were arranged in rows, sweets of various
kinds were laid out on them and even a bit of wine
was poured, though not enough to get drunk on. At
exactly 8 P.M. the soldiers took their places and
platoon commander Moshe recited the blessing over
the wine. He then gave a Zionist pep talk,
reiterating the importance of the unit's mission
and the troops' contribution to the infant state.
At the order of his deputy, Sergeant Michael,
Private Yehuda read from the Bible. When he
finished the soldiers burst into song, told jokes,
ate and drank. A merry time was had by all.



Shortly before the end of the
party, at about 9:30, the
platoon commander asked for
quiet. He got up and, with a
smile on his face, reminded
the soldiers about the
Bedouin girl they had caught
earlier that day during a
patrol in their sector. They
had brought her to the
outpost and she was now locked up in one of the
huts. Platoon commander Moshe said he was
putting forward two options for a vote. The
first was that the Bedouin girl would become
the outpost's kitchen worker; the second was
for the soldiers to have their way with her.
The proposals got an enthusiastic reception. A
melee ensued. The soldiers raised their hands
and the second option was accepted by majority
vote. "We want to fuck," the soldiers chanted.
The commander decided on the order: Squad A on
day one, Squad B on day two and Squad C on day
three. The driver, Corporal Shaul, asked
jokingly, "And what about the drivers? Are they
orphans?" The platoon commander replied that
they were part of the staff squad, together
with the sergeant, the squad commanders, the
cooks, the medic and he himself, of course. He
added a threat - if any of the soldiers touch
the girl "the tommy [tommy gun] will talk." The
soldiers took this as a warning not to violate
the order the commander had decreed.

The party ended, the soldiers went off to their
tents. The officer ordered the platoon sergeant
to bring a folding bed to the tent they shared
and to place the Bedouin girl on it. Sergeant
Michael did as he was told, entered the tent,
closed the flap and shut off the lantern.

Thus began one of the ugliest and most appalling
episodes in the history of the Israel Defense
Forces. Even at a remove of 54 years, it is
difficult to understand how an event of this
kind could have happened with the
participation, active or less active, of dozens
of soldiers in uniform.

Low professional and moral level

The IDF of 1949, still in its infancy and
called upon to defend the borders of the
newborn state, found itself having to cope -
not always successfully - with the rapid
absorption of a very large number of untrained
soldiers, especially those who were sent to the
front immediately after disembarking from the
ship in which they had arrived in Israel. "A
rabble of new immigrants with a low
professional and moral level," was the blunt
description offered by the special military
court in its verdict on the episode of the
Nirim outpost.

Yehuda (his full name, as well as the names of
others who were interviewed for this article,
are in the possession of Haaretz) was one of
the soldiers serving in the outpost in August
1949. He is now a 74-year-old pensioner who
lives in the north. He accepts the description
of the group as a "rabble": "I was then 20
years old," he says. "I ran away from the
Turkish Army to Palestine and immediately
enlisted. I remember that all the members of
our battalion were new immigrants. Everyone was
from a different country: Algeria, Hungary,
Romania, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco. We didn't
know Hebrew, we communicated between us by sign
language. We did our basic training at the Dead
Sea. We were taught how to hold a rifle in a
mess hall at Sodom. Then we were sent to the
outpost, where we did patrols or trained in the
trenches and practiced rushing to our
positions."

Yehuda remembers the night of the party, but
claims that he was then on guard duty and that
he heard the story about the vote and what
happened afterward only as a rumor. Together
with 17 members of the platoon he was
court-martialed for "negligence in preventing a
crime." He was sentenced to four years in
prison; his term was cut in half by the appeals
court.

Yitzhak, who is the same age as Yehuda and now
lives in the center, received the same
punishment. He, too, had arrived in Israel a
few months before the summer of 1949, and he
did not know Hebrew. Today he is retired and
has health problems. "I remember being in the
Negev but I can't even remember the name of the
unit. I had just arrived in the country, I
looked like a boy, I did a lot of guard duty. I
had forgotten about that whole affair, I don't
remember a thing, I haven't thought about it
for maybe 50 years. The only reason I was tried
was that I was in the outpost when it happened.
Beyond that I don't remember a thing and I have
nothing to say. Was I angry at those who did
it? What would it help me to be angry?"

The developments in the IDF after the War of
Independence may furnish a partial explanation
for the chain of events that is described in
this article; but no more than a partial
explanation. After all, the platoon commander,
Moshe, who spearheaded the affair, was not part
of the "new IDF." "The officer and the sergeant
were veteran Israelis and spoke fluent Hebrew,"
Yehuda recalls. As far as is known, Moshe
served in the British Army and afterward in the
8th Brigade under the command of the legendary
Yitzhak Sadeh in what was the only IDF armored
brigade in the War of Independence. The brigade
was disbanded after the war and its officers
and soldiers were reassigned to various units.
Officer Moshe was sent to the Negev.

The Negev Region Command was established after
the War of Independence. It was a regional
command and its assignment was to secure the
lengthy new border line between Israel and
Egypt. The staff headquarters were located in
Be'er Sheva, and the units were deployed in
outposts along the border with the aim of
preventing the infiltration of Bedouin from the
Egyptian desert. The military historian Meir
Pa'il, a retired colonel, was appointed
operations officer of the Negev Region in
December 1949, four months after the events
with which this article deals. Pa'il: "The
Negev was sparsely populated. We were barely
able to cobble together one reserve battalion
from all those who lived in the settlements in
the region. In order to man the border line,
units were sent on a rotating basis from other
regions, such as the Golani Brigade, the 7th
Brigade and so forth. In addition to preventing
infiltrations, there was also an effort to
remove as many Bedouin as possible from the
country - from the Halutza Dunes area, for
example. It was a kind of cleansing across the
Egyptian border. The tribes who had cooperated
during the war were left where they were; those
who were hostile were expelled."

One of the battalions of the Negev Region was
known as the Sodom District Battalion. The
battalion was originally in charge of the Dead
Sea and Arava area, but at the beginning of
August 1949 it was moved to the Bilu Junction,
near Rehovot, where it waited a few days for
new orders. The battalion commander was Major
Yehuda Drexler, who was nicknamed "Idel." Over
the years, Drexler, afterward a leading
architect, worked for the Jewish Agency, was
one of the planners of Kibbutz Sde Boker in the
Negev (Ben-Gurion's kibbutz) and reached the
rank of department head in the Israel Lands
Administration. One of the company commanders
in the battalion was Captain Uri.

On August 8, his company was ordered to move
south to man the outposts in the western Negev.
The platoons were stationed at three kibbutzim:
Be'eri, where the company headquarters and
Captain Uri himself were stationed, Yad
Mordechai and Nirim. Platoon 3, headed by the
new commander, Second Lieutenant Moshe, who had
been given command of the unit only a few days
earlier, was sent to the Nirim outpost, which
was responsible for the most remote and most
dangerous sector - adjacent to the border with
Egypt. Sergeant Michael was the deputy
commander of the platoon.

On the eve of the move south, the company
commander, Captain Uri, briefed the soldiers.
Intelligence reports received from aerial
patrols over the western Negev mentioned two
Bedouin tribes that had been spotted in the
sector. "You are to shoot to kill at any Arab
in the territory of your sector," the company
commander said. Moshe asked for the operational
order in writing, as customary. The company
commander promised to bring the written
document to the outpost at a later date.

Platoon 3 reached Nirim on the afternoon of
Tuesday, August 9. The infrastructure of the
camp was quickly put in place: three large
tents as the soldiers' quarters, a small tent
for the officer and the sergeant, and a big
tent as the mess hall. In addition, there was a
small hut that served as the office of the
platoon's headquarters and another hut, unused,
which would play a central role in the
episode.

In the summer of 1949, there was no longer any
connection between Kibbutz Nirim and the
outpost of the same name. The outpost bore the
name Nirim because it was situated at the place
where Kibbutz Nirim was originally established,
in June 1946. The young kibbutz, which was
located on the edge of the desert, fought for
its survival in the harsh climatic conditions
of the area and became the first settlement to
be attacked on the first day of the War of
Independence, on May 15, 1948. The Egyptians,
with a force that included an artillery
battalion, an infantry battalion and dozens of
armored vehicles, launched a heavy barrage that
caused immense damage: all the buildings of the
kibbutz were burned to the ground, the animals
died, and eight kibbutz members were killed and
four wounded (of a total of 39 members). The
barrage was followed by an assault mounted by
hundreds of infantry soldiers, who reached the
fence of the kibbutz. The kibbutzniks, firing
from their trenches, inflicted heavy losses on
the Egyptian force and miraculously the attack
ended. The Egyptians changed their mind and
decided to forgo the pleasure of infiltrating
and capturing the kibbutz. Instead, they simply
went around it on their way north.

The Nirim group spent the war in shelters and
caves that they dug. When the hostilities ended
and they were finally able to come to the
surface in safety, they entered into talks with
the army and the state authorities. There was a
confluence of interests: the army coveted the
site because of its strategic location; the
kibbutzniks wanted to move north, to the line
of 200 millimeters of rain a year.

In March 1994 the kibbutz moved about 15
kilometers north, to its present location. The
IDF took over the terrain-dominating outpost,
which was henceforth known as "Old Nirim," or
"Dangour," as it was originally called - the
name still appears on some maps - apparently
after an Egyptian Jew who purchased land in the
area. There is now a monument of rough concrete
at the site that commemorates the kibbutz
members who were killed in the Egyptian assault
on the first day of the 1948 war. The monument
bears an inscription: "It is not the tank that
will triumph, but man." If you climb the
monument and look west, you can see the
rooftops of Khan Yunis.

The commander orders an execution

On Tuesday, August 9, the platoon organized
itself at the outpost. The soldiers soon got
used to the ways of the new commander. Second
Lieutenant Moshe turned out to be a strict
disciplinarian who demanded order and
obedience. The soldiers had to dress properly
and shave every day. Anyone who violated the
orders was hauled before Moshe. The soldiers
were apparently somewhat in awe of him. The
next day the company commander, Captain Uri,
visited the platoon. The first couple of days
passed uneventfully. Until the morning of
Friday, August 12.

At about 9 A.M. that day, Second Lieutenant
Moshe set out on a patrol in the southwestern
section of the sector, in a vehicle known as a
"command car." With him were two squad
commanders, Corporal David and Corporal Gideon,
and three soldiers: privates Moshe, Yehuda and
Aziz. The driver was Corporal Shaul. All the
men were armed.

On the way they came across an Arab who was
holding an English rifle. When the Arab spotted
them he threw down the rifle and started to run
up the dune. One of the soldiers opened fire at
him with a submachine gun. The Arab was hit and
died on the spot. His rifle was taken as
booty.

A short time later, the patrol encountered three
Arabs - two men and a girl. There are different
versions regarding the girl's age. According to
some accounts she was a young girl aged between
10 and 15; others say she was between 15 and
20. Platoon commander Moshe ordered the
soldiers to seize the Arabs and search them.
The soldiers found nothing. Officer Moshe then
ordered the soldiers to bring the girl into the
vehicle. Her shouts and screams were to no
avail. Once she was inside the vehicle the
soldiers scared off the two Arabs by shooting
in the air. On the way back to the outpost they
came across a herd of camels grazing. Officer
Moshe ordered the soldiers to shoot the
animals. Six camels were shot dead; their
carcasses were left to rot in the field.

After the girl calmed down a bit, the soldiers
exchanged a few words with her - especially
Corporal David. They also talked among
themselves, and the word "fuckable" came up in
the conversation. The patrol returned to the
outpost in the afternoon. At about the same
time, another vehicle also arrived at the
outpost: the battalion commander, Yehuda
Drexler, was paying a visit, He was accompanied
by Captain Mordechai (Motke) Ben Porat,
operations officer of the Negev Region. Ben
Porat eventually reached the rank of brigadier
general in the Armored Corps and after his
retirement from the army served as chairman of
the National Parks Authority.

At the outpost, the soldiers removed the girl
from the vehicle. Officer Moshe ordered that
she be taken to the unused hut and a guard
placed at the door. Private Avraham was
designated the guard. Drexler, who noticed a
certain commotion around the girl, asked what
she was doing there. Officer Moshe replied that
on the patrol he had encountered her and her
husband, who was armed with a rifle. He told
Drexler that they had killed the husband and
taken the girl prisoner in order to interrogate
her about the location of her tribe. Drexler
authorized her interrogation but ordered that
afterward she be taken back to the place where
she had been seized, and released. He also
asked platoon commander Moshe to ensure that
the soldiers did not abuse her. Drexler and Ben
Porat spent about two hours at the outpost, had
lunch and left.

Shortly after their departure, Officer Moshe
went out on another patrol, this time in the
northern sector, in the direction of the new
location of the kibbutz. After he had left, the
platoon sergeant, Michael, removed the girl
from the hut and pulled off the traditional
garment she was wearing. He then made her
stand, completely naked, under the water pipe
that the soldiers used as a shower, then soaped
her and rinsed her off. The pipe was outside
and everyone at the outpost was able to witness
the spectacle.

After the shower was over, Sergeant Michael
burned the girl's dress and dressed her in a
purple jersey and a pair of khaki shorts. Now
looking like a regular Palmach commando, she
was taken back to the hut and placed under the
guard of Private Avraham. In short order a
group of soldiers gathered around the hut. They
milled around the guard and demanded that he
let them go inside. At first he refused, but
finally relented. In fact, he was the first to
go in. He spent about five minutes in the hut
and emerged buttoning up his trousers. He was
followed by Private Albert, who was also in the
hut for about five minutes, and then Private
Liba.

Liba was still in the hut when platoon commander
Moshe returned from the patrol. A few soldiers
shouted a warning to Liba, who ran out of the
hut and disappeared. Officer Moshe apparently
understood what had happened, conducted a quick
debriefing, and afterward, in the dining room,
was heard to say that "three soldiers raped the
Arab girl." He ordered her to be brought to the
staff hut. The squad commanders, Corporal David
and Corporal Gideon, were present in the hut.
Officer Moshe took note of the girl's new
apparel but said nothing. She told him, in
Arabic, that the soldiers "played with her." It
was obvious to Moshe what she meant. Corporal
Gideon, who would be one of the main
prosecution witnesses in the trial, testified
that after the girl told Officer Moshe what she
told him, he said to the others that she must
be washed so she would be clean for fucking.
Gideon, who lives in Givatayim and works as a
tour guide, declined to be interviewed for this
article.

At about 5 P.M., the platoon commander ordered
Private Moshe, who was a barber by profession,
to give the girl a haircut. That was done in
the presence of the commander and the sergeant.
Her hair, which had spilled down to her
shoulders, was cut short and washed with
kerosene. Again she was placed under the pipe,
naked, before the scrutinizing eyes of the
officer and the sergeant. Afterward she was
dressed in the same jersey and shorts and sent
back to the hut.

Then came the party, after which Officer Moshe
and Sergeant Michael closeted themselves with
the girl in their tent. After about half an
hour, Officer Moshe ordered her taken out of
the tent, because "there is a stink coming off
her." Sergeant Michael called Private David and
the two of them removed the bed from the tent,
with the girl lying on it in a state of
unconsciousness. They carried the bed to the
entrance of the hut. Michael placed the girl on
the floor, went to get water and poured the
water on her. He then carried her in his arms
into the hut. Corporal David accompanied him.

At about 6 A.M. the next day, Private Eliahu was
on guard duty and saw the girl leaving the hut.
He asked her where she was going and she told
him, weeping, that she wanted to see the
officer. Private Eliahu showed her the way to
Officer Moshe's tent. She complained to him
that the soldiers had "played with her." He
threatened to kill her and sent her back to the
hut. A short time later, while shaving at the
water pipe, Sergeant Michael asked the platoon
commander what to do with her. Officer Moshe
ordered him to execute the girl.

Michael ordered Corporal David to have two
soldiers get shovels and accompany him. Michael
and David removed the girl from the hut and had
her get into the patrol vehicle. Just before
the vehicle left the outpost, one of the
soldiers shouted that he wanted back the short
pants the girl was wearing. Officer Moshe
ordered her to be stripped and the pants
returned to the soldier. She now wore only the
jersey, her lower body exposed.

Eliahu and Shimon dig a grave

The vehicle set out, driven by Corporal Shaul.
Also in the vehicle were Sergeant Michael,
Corporal David, the medic, and the two soldiers
who were to be the gravediggers, Privates
Eliahu and Shimon, with their shovels. They
drove about 500 meters from the outpost. The
driver, Shaul, stayed in the vehicle, while the
others, with the girl, moved off a little way
into the dunes. Privates Eliahu and Shimon set
about digging a grave. When the girl saw what
they were doing, she screamed and started to
run. She ran about six meters before Sergeant
Michael aimed his tommy gun at her and fired
one bullet. The bullet struck the right side of
her head and blood began to pour out. She fell
on the spot and did not move again. The two
soldiers went on digging.

Sergeant Michael went back to the vehicle. Pale
and trembling, he laid down his weapon and said
to Shaul, "I didn't believe I could do
something like that." Shaul said that maybe the
bullet didn't kill her and that she was liable
to lie in torment for a few hours, buried
alive. He asked Michael to do him a personal
mercy by going back to the girl and shooting
her a few more times, to ascertain that she was
dead. The sergeant did not manage to carry out
that mission. Corporal David came over, took
the tommy gun and fired a few bullets into the
girl's body. The pit the privates dug wasn't
very deep, only about 30 centimeters. They
placed the body in the pit, covered it over
with sand and returned to the outpost.

That afternoon the company commander, Captain
Uri, visited the outpost. Not finding Second
Lieutenant Moshe at the site, he left the
written operation order that Moshe had
requested with the platoon sergeant. Officer
Moshe was then on his way to Be'er Sheva. It
was Saturday night and he was on his way to see
a movie. At the movie theater he met the
battalion commander, Drexler. Drexler asked
whether the Bedouin girl had been taken back to
the place where she was found. Officer Moshe
said she hadn't: "They killed her," he said,
"it was a shame to waste the gas." Drexler said
nothing but the next day ordered the company
commander to go to the outpost and find out
exactly what happened there.

Even before he received the order, Captain Uri,
who had heard rumors about the events at the
outpost, asked Officer Moshe for a report about
what had happened with the Arab girl. Moshe
ordered Sergeant Michael to draw up the report
in his handwriting. When the report was
completed, Officer Moshe signed it and sent it
to the company commander. The following is the
report, dated August 15, 1949:

"Nirim Outpost. To: Company Commander. From:
Commander, Nirim Outpost.

Re: Report on the captive

In my patrol on 12.8.49 I encountered Arabs in
the territory under my command, one of them
armed. I killed the armed Arab on the spot and
took his weapon. I took the Arab female
captive. On the first night the soldiers abused
her and the next day I saw fit to remove her
from the world.

Signed: Moshe, second lieutenant."
Nirim outpost, 1948. "All the members of our battalion were new immigrants," says one of the soldiers who served there in 1949.
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