Israeli Sniper's Anguished Look Into Crosshairs

Order To Shoot Palestinan Suspect — and Return to Normalcy

All Along the Watchtower: An IDF sniper keeps watch over the town of Bethlehem.
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All Along the Watchtower: An IDF sniper keeps watch over the town of Bethlehem.

By Gershon Morris

Published March 17, 2014, issue of March 21, 2014.

(page 2 of 6)

As we check the target, Lieutenant B gets a call on his secure phone about a border incident, and we rush to pack everything into our armored vehicle and speed over. We were missing a small tool necessary to finish the process of zeroing the scopes at the range, and are forced to do so later back at base. I am nervous, as always, that my M24 isn’t perfectly zeroed. Being a sniper makes you a perfectionist. Success is so black and white, hit or miss, and the difference is so delicate. A bump to the scope or the whisper of a breath while shooting could change everything.

That evening, I feel an urge to pray. I borrow a siddur, and lock myself in a bathroom stall (the only private place around). The prayers aren’t too important but the act feels very necessary.

I think about how the Shamen is going to bed, not realizing a whole group of us are planning to shoot him the next day. I try to remember that he wants to hurt us. He would harm little girls walking in the street. He would probably kill my little sister or brother. It’s still hard for me to accept that he deserves to lose his foot.

As usual, anticipation is what causes the nerves. When we parachuted in the army, the jump itself was a matter of a minute and a half, but the hours of waiting, hoping your parachute wasn’t going to be faulty, were what made it so scary. I get the sense that I am more bothered by the thought of shooting someone than the others, but who knows?

We wake up at 5 a.m. The battalion commander wants us to practice looking at a person’s leg through our scopes from 400 meters, so we stop on the way and wait for light. After a few minutes, the snipers and spotter get out, and we set up the guns to look at the driver and lieutenant standing some 500 meters away. We discuss coordinating which leg we will shoot at, to make sure we’re all on the same leg.

We get back in the vehicle, and the lieutenant gets a call from the lookout girls. Code name “Barry,” an accomplice of the Shamen, is at the border. There’s a cheer in the vehicle, and we roll towards Gaza.

The four of us gear up, and walk north. A few times, we stop and the spotter and lieutenant go up on the berm that shields us from Gaza to scout. Suddenly, we hear gunshots, and my first thought is that some other sniper from a different unit has beaten us to it. An ear by his radio, the lieutenant tells us it was actually warning shots fired by the regular battalion on patrol, and we curse them for ruining everything. However, our battalion commander says it’s good that they shot, because now if Barry comes back, we have permission to shoot according to our strict rules of engagement. Turns out, Barry isn’t too worried about his safety, because he comes right back.

The sniper team reaches one spot where we get the guns up and on the target, but he’s walking away from us at 500 meters. Our lieutenant doesn’t chance the shot. The lookout girls tell us on the secure phone that Barry is on the move north again, and the lieutenant takes us north and decides to cross the berm and advance up to the fence itself. Trudging along the path, my M4 slung on the left side of my body, M24 sniper rifle on my right shoulder, I think that I should write all this down — the feelings of a sniper before a mission.

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