How do you defend yourself against snipers?

The images of the mass protests in Gaza on Monday went around the world. According to Palestinian sources, 61 people were killed and more than 2,700 injured on the 70th anniversary of Israel's founding. There are fewer pictures of the Israeli soldiers on the other side of the fence. Your job is to stop those people who are running towards the border. How do the Israeli soldiers feel about it?

Nadav Weiman was an elite soldier in a sniper unit from 2005 to 2008 and was mainly deployed in the West Bank. It then took him years to process his experiences as a sniper. The 32-year-old now heads the education department at Breaking the Silence, where former Israeli soldiers testify. The organization is particularly controversial in Israel, in 2017 the then Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel caused a diplomatic scandal because he met with representatives of Breaking the Silence.

SZ: Have you ever shot at protesting Palestinians?

Nadav Weiman: No. I can hardly believe that snipers are now being used against protesters. Snipers target individuals; those who want to warn unarmed demonstrators use normal soldiers. We snipers are trained to kill, we don't stop a protest. Our job is to lie somewhere unnoticed, wait a long time and finally fire a shot that hits.

Can you really only see it as a job of shooting people?

That's what it feels like in that moment. You aim as precisely as possible in order to accomplish your task. Some brag about the number of their victims. The formulation is then not "so many dead", but "so many crosses on the rifle". I don't know what it was like for those who were stationed at the border fence lately. It can feel different when you have to shoot unarmed women or children who do not pose a threat.

I was always aware that I was ending a life. When I aimed at a person through the riflescope, I thought: I am now watching the last moments of his life. I knew when I pulled the trigger that I would see this forever. It's like when you break your leg or have a car accident, you never forget it.

A broken leg or an accident is something that happens to me unintentionally. A rifle is deliberately fired.

Yes, but they are all examples of trauma. Shooting someone is traumatic. Even though we have been taught that the Palestinians pose a threat to us and our country. It is confusing.

During the Gaza protests, according to the Israeli army, the snipers had instructions to shoot only after warning and on the legs.

Yes, you do that to turn people off. For example, those who lead the protest can be identified, those who chant the loudest. You aim at the ankle or the kneecap. Above the knee it becomes life-threatening because of the artery in the thigh. You can control whether you injure or shoot someone. The figure of more than 60 dead is insane.

14- and 15-year-olds are among the fatalities in recent weeks. Are there no exceptions for children and young people?

Sometimes a distinction is made between "under four feet tall" and "eight feet tall", but there are usually no specific exceptions for children: if a Palestinian is in danger, you have to kill him. The three rules of engagement apply to everyone. These three rules are very, very simple: whoever threatens you must have means, intention, and opportunity. Then you can shoot. For example, he must have a Molotov cocktail in hand, want to throw it and be within throwing range. Anyone waving a knife 400 meters away is not a threat.

And these three rules apply to everyone?

For every Palestinian. Not for Israelis. Back then in the West Bank I was told: If theoretically a settler is standing in front of you with a rifle and wants to kill you, then hide behind a large stone and wait until his ammunition is empty. Then you have to call the border police, you are not allowed to touch him yourself. Settlers are above the law.

Do the protesters in the Gaza Strip have means, intention and opportunity?

I'm not there, but I think: no. For me, an unarmed protest is declared an armed conflict. So far, no Israeli soldier has died, no Israeli civilian has a hair pulled, no kibbutz has been overrun.

How do you think Israel should defend itself?

You can injure and deter people with tear gas or rubber bullets, or you can warn them in some other way. Above all, I think that such protests can be prevented in the future if Israel stops suppressing Palestinians.

When I was in the West Bank for the first time in my life, people in the street stared at me with this mixture of fear and hatred. For a long time I thought: This is because they hate Jews. That's what our government says, too. At some point I noticed: They stare at me like that because I'm a soldier and occupy their country.

Years after your military service, you began to speak publicly about your experiences. Why?

Because the pictures wouldn't let go of me. We intimidated people at the checkpoint. We stormed private houses in the middle of the night, woke the family and dragged them out of bed. Then we locked her in a room for hours so we could shoot people in the dark from the windows of her apartment. In five missions in three years, my unit has deliberately killed Palestinians.

In Israel everyone has to do military service - why does the public first find out about all of this from you?

Not everyone has to do military service, for example there are exceptions for married women, Orthodox and settlers. Most of the rest of the conscripts do not become combat soldiers, even fewer become snipers - and very few are deployed in areas like I did back then. There were twelve of us in my unit. After serving, not a single one made a career in the army. We all had enough.