Above photo: The home of Pessi Cohen in Be’eri. Kobi Wolf, Bloomberg.
Dozens of Hamas’ Qassam Brigades fighters and 13 Israeli captives were killed in a home in Be’eri.
An Israeli general ordered a tank to open fire ‘even at the cost of civilian casualties’.
The families of 13 Israeli civilians killed during an intense firefight between Hamas and Israeli troops in Be’eri on 7 October are asking the Israeli military to investigate the cause of the victims’ deaths, Israeli media reported on 7 January.
The families are requesting the investigation due to the likelihood that most were deliberately killed by an Israeli general, who ordered a tank to fire on a home where they were being held captive by fighters of Hamas’ Qassam Brigades.
The fighters had gathered 14 Israelis into the home of Pessi Cohen. They were seeking to use them as human shields to safely return to Gaza while surrounded by Israeli forces and as Israeli helicopters were targeting anyone near the Gaza border fence.
Qassam fighters had infiltrated Be’eri on 7 October during the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation, which targeted Israeli military bases and settlements in the Gaza envelope.
In a letter dated 4 January and published in Hebrew media Saturday, the families demanded the Israeli army “carry out an in-depth and transparent investigation of the decisions and the actions that led to this tragic outcome.”
Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram, commander of the 99th Division who was at the scene, told the New York Times that at nightfall, he told his soldiers: “The negotiations are over,” and told a tank commander to “break in, even at the cost of civilian casualties.”
The tank fired two shells at the house, killing 12 of the captives and dozens of Hamas fighters. One other captive, Yizhak Sitton, had already been killed by Hamas, according to family members. The fourteenth captive, Hadas Dagan, was the only survivor.
Those killed inside the house have been named as Pessi Cohen, Hanna Sitton, Yitzhak Sitton, Tal Sitton, Tal Katz, Ayala, 12-year-old twins Liel and Yannai Hetzroni, Hava Ben-Ami, Ze’ev and Zehava Hacker, Adi Dagan and Suhaib Abu Amer Razeem.
The letter, addressed to Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, noted that “according to the evidence, the tank shells were fatal and killed many hostages in addition to the terrorists.”
The letter stated: “It is important to the bereaved families and to the public to understand the circumstances in which these decisions were made and to ensure that public trust, the values of the IDF, and the responsibility of command are maintained even in these difficult days.”
Israel officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have refused to investigate the events of 7 October and the alleged intelligence and security failures that led to the unprecedented Hamas attack, claiming they cannot investigate until the war in Gaza is over.
But the families said that in light of the “seriousness of the incident, we do not think it is right to wait with the investigation until after the end of the war” and that it was better to conduct interviews when “the memory is still fresh” and before the home at the center of the event is bulldozed.
They also requested that the outcome of any such investigation be submitted first to the families and then to the general public “to provide closure and clarity to the involved families who lost their loved ones and to maintain the principles of transparency and accountability in the army.”
On Thursday, it was revealed that the military had appointed a team to probe the army’s actions on 7 October, which caused a major argument and shouting match during a war cabinet meeting. Far-right ministers, including Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, became angry after learning Chief of Staff Halevi was considering starting an investigation.
But it is unclear if such a probe will investigate the killing of Israelis by the army at Be’eri or elsewhere. Because Israeli forces deployed tanks, Apache helicopters, and armed drones within Israeli settlements to respond to the Hamas attack, it is likely that most of the 1,200 Israelis killed that day were killed by Israeli forces themselves.