Pinchas Levi 88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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.
THAT QUESTION, however, has been resonating in my mind with great force ever since the government's announcement that, as a gesture to Jordan's King Abdullah, it planned to transfer Sultan Ajloni, the killer in question - who had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in Israel - to Jordan, to serve the rest of his sentence there.
The question became even stronger when it became clear, several days later, that contrary to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's announcement that even after his transfer to Jordan Ajloni would serve his full sentence, all Israel had asked of Jordan was that he not be considered for a royal pardon for at least 18 months.
This news hit me like a ton of bricks. It was bad enough that Israel was breaking its long-standing policy of refraining from trading or even transferring terrorists who had committed murder. In this case, it was clearly facilitating the early release of a convicted murderer without any commensurate benefit whatsoever; thereby not only seriously weakening Israel's position in any future negotiations, but undermining a critically important unwritten rule: Any enemy who harms Israelis will be held fully accountable for his or her crimes.
And in the process, moreover, Israel was harming and insulting the bereaved family. As Pini's mother so courageously stated, if such a transfer at least resulted in the return of any of our captives, it might be justified - but what is the benefit of releasing a killer with no return whatsoever?
UNDER THESE circumstances, perhaps we made a terrible mistake 17 years ago by not seeing to it that the State of Israel and Pini's family would never have to face such a situation.
But who could have known, on that fateful night, that our government would betray its own principles, leaving the rest of us, and particularly Pini's family, in the lurch?