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 3 of 6)

We sneak through the open space, moving slowly and one at a time. We go up into a mound used by tanks as cover. We’re too visible, so we go down to the low bushes right next to it. Finally, we’re in position, and see Barry in our sights. There are five “bird catchers,” not that I can see anything related to birds. They are moving around, observing our side of the fence. Barry moves toward the fence with a bag. We are constantly trying to move back and forth, and it is rare that all of us have a clear view of Barry and even rarer that his legs are visible over the plants and the folds in the ground. He approaches 200 meters from us to mess with something on the ground, but bushes hide his body from the waist down. He starts walking southwest, and the spotter has trouble getting an accurate distance with the laser range finder. He says 300 meters. Lookout girls on the phone say 350. I raise four clicks on my scope. The spotter then says to raise seven. I raise another click or two and call it good enough. Eventually, there’s a window of opportunity to shoot. The spotter counts down: seven, four, two, esh. We fire.

Barry is about 400 meters away, walking with his back toward us. We miss, and fire again. Barry does not react. The spotter gives no correction, so we fire a third shot. Barry hits the ground, seeming to touch his leg on the way down. After a few minutes, a man in an orange jacket begins to make his way towards Barry. The other sniper and spotter think we hit. I hope they’re right, but my first impression was that we didn’t. I didn’t see his body take any sudden impact, no jump of the shoulders. I’m still trained on the spot where he went down. His bike is visible above the plants. Other heads can be seen cautiously poking up out of the greenery. After a few minutes, I see movement, and Barry stands straight, grabs his bike, and walks away. We are full of disappointment. We crawl a few meters down behind the cover of the hill, and sleep the rest of the morning until the order is given to walk back to where we will be picked up. It’s a strange feeling to have shot at a real person.

Back at base, the social pressure on the snipers for missing is tough. Some people treat us as if our grandmother died. Others tease. The other sniper and I talk about how they don’t understand — there’s a lot more to being a sniper than sharp vision and steady hands. I feel like most of the blame should be on the spotter, for not being organized, being unsure with the range, and not giving corrections.

We discuss what went wrong with the lieutenant, and then give the official report to the major. Plans are made to try again the next morning. In the morning, we get as far as exiting the vehicle, but rain cancels the mission since the targets probably won’t show up. We spend the day guarding a field intelligence vehicle as it scans the border with its periscope cameras. I just want to get out there and shoot again. I won’t be happy now until I hit Barry’s foot. Snipers are trained to be perfectionists. The strange feeling about shooting a person is gone — I want to hit my target.

A long day of boring guarding ends, and as the sun sets into Friday evening, we drive back to base. Our driver is religious, and the rest of us are varying degrees of observant. We sing Lecha Dodi as we drive, a sort of military kabbalat Shabbat. We get back to base for Shabbat dinner. I sit with the sniper squad, rather than my regular team. After the meal, my unit stays late for silly stuff and songs. Among the things that the songs make fun of are the snipers who missed.

That evening we upgrade the camouflage aspect of the mission. I organize face paints, and the spotter finds a camo net for each of the four in the sniper squad. While we are in bed, banter flying back and forth, the lieutenant comes in and confirms that the snipers are waking up at 4:45 a.m.; the mission is a go for the morning.

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