'Don’t hesitate for a second if you see a terrorist'

‘Not your fault’: Mother sends love, support to troops who killed son in tragic error

Iris Haim records message for battalion involved in killing of 3 escaped hostages, insisting her family doesn’t blame them for what happened and that they want to meet them

Yotam Haim, left, and his mother, Iris Haim. Yotam was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, to Gaza. (Courtesy)
Yotam Haim, left, and his mother, Iris Haim. Yotam was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, to Gaza. (Courtesy)

Iris Haim, whose son Yotam was shot dead in error by IDF troops in northern Gaza, recorded a message on Wednesday for the soldiers who killed him, telling them that she and her family love them and do not blame them for his death.

Yotam, 28, was abducted by Hamas terrorists from Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7. He was shot dead, together with two other hostages, Alon Shamriz and Samar Talalka, by IDF troops who mistakenly identified them as a threat, in a tragic incident on December 15 that is the subject of an ongoing IDF investigation.

Addressing herself to the soldiers of the Bislamach Brigade’s 17th Battalion, Iris Haim said, “I am Yotam’s mother. I wanted to tell you that I love you very much, and I hug you here from afar.

“I know that everything that happened is absolutely not your fault, and nobody’s fault except that of Hamas, may their name be wiped out and their memory erased from the earth,” she continued.

“I want you to look after yourselves and to think all the time that you are doing the best thing in the world, the best thing that could happen, that could help us. Because all the people of Israel and all of us need you healthy,” Haim said.

“And don’t hesitate for a second if you see a terrorist,” she urged. “Don’t think that you killed a hostage deliberately. You have to look after yourselves because only that way can you look after us.”

Iris, Raviv and Tuval Haim, at the funeral of Yotam Haim, a hostage mistakenly killed by the IDF in Gaza, in Kibbutz Gvulot, December 18, 2023. (Screenshot used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

“At the first opportunity,” Haim continued, “you are invited to come to us, whoever wants to. And we want to see you with our own eyes and hug you and tell you that what you did — however hard it is to say this, and sad — it was apparently the right thing in that moment.

“And nobody’s going to judge you or be angry. Not me, and not my husband Raviv. Not my daughter Noya. And not Yotam, may his memory be blessed. And not Tuval, Yotam’s brother. We love you very much. And that is all,” she concluded.

A military investigation into the accidental killing of the three escaped hostages found that one of them was recorded days earlier shouting for help during a gun battle between troops and Hamas terrorists at a site where they were being held.

The new details from the probe, released by the Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday, were the latest indication of how far hostages Shamriz, Haim and Talalka went to signal their identities to the IDF after they managed to escape captivity. Ultimately, they approached a group of soldiers, seeking to be rescued in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood on Friday, but the soldiers fired as they came near, killing all three.

According to the probe, on December 10, troops from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit clashed with a group of Hamas operatives who opened fire at them from a building.

During the gun battle, a dog from the military’s Oketz canine unit was sent into the building, which the army, days later, determined was where the hostages had been held. The dog was killed by the Hamas gunmen, who were in turn killed by the Golani soldiers, enabling Shamriz, Haim and Talalka to escape, according to the investigation.

A camera mounted on the dog, which continued to record even after the animal was killed, caught the voice of a hostage, apparently Shamriz, shouting, “Help” and that there were hostages there. They were not seen in the footage.

The voice was also heard shouting at least one of the names of the hostages. Soldiers at the time may have heard Hebrew being shouted but assumed it was an attempt by terrorists to deceive them, the IDF found.

(From L-R) Hostages Yotam Haim, Samar Talalka and Alon Lulu Shamriz, who were killed mistakenly by IDF troops in Gaza on December 15, 2023. (Courtesy)

The feed from the dog’s body camera was not being monitored live and was only discovered on December 18 after the body of the canine was recovered.

The families of the slain hostages were informed of the latest findings in the probe.

Previously, the IDF said the three approached troops shirtless, waving a white banner, and with their hands up, but the soldiers nonetheless opened fire on them.

The escaped hostages had also left a sign reading “SOS” and, in Hebrew, “3 hostages. Help,” on another building in the area, but soldiers who earlier found the messages believed it was a ruse by Hamas. The signs were written on fabric using leftover food.

On Tuesday a television report revealed other details about the IDF’s probe into the killing of the hostages, including that troops were not informed of the signs indicating the captives may have been in the area.

The building with the signs, located a few hundred meters away from the tragic shooting of the hostages, was discovered by troops days earlier but was initially dismissed as potentially boobytrapped by Hamas, as the terror group had recently attempted to lure soldiers into traps in the area.

This photo released by the Israel Defense Forces on December 17, 2023, shows a sign reading ‘Help, 3 hostages,’ that was put up in Gaza by three Israeli hostages who were later mistakenly killed by troops. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the 17th Battalion, which was involved in the incident, was not briefed by the unit it was replacing, the Kfir Brigade, about the latter group’s spotting of the nearby sign calling for help.

Moreover, the probe reportedly determined that the IDF sharpshooter who killed Shamriz and Talalka did not recognize the white cloth they were carrying. In the briefing he received upon starting his shift, the soldier was told that the entire area was a combat zone and he was allowed to open fire at anyone suspicious.

The report said the probe was focusing on the killing of Haim, which was found to be particularly egregious since he managed to flee back into a nearby building after being shot along with Shamriz and Talalka.

The 17th Battalion commander shouted at the soldiers to hold their fire, but one of them nevertheless proceeded to shoot and kill Haim when he emerged from the building a second time.

An initial IDF probe into the incident found that the soldier who opened fire upon misidentifying the three men as terrorists did so against open-fire protocols, as did the soldier who killed Haim, according to a senior officer in the Southern Command.

Still, the IDF understood that conditions in the field were a factor in the soldiers’ actions; the senior officer said the military had not identified any Palestinian civilians in Shejaiya in recent days. The scenario itself, of hostages walking around in a battle zone, had not been taken into account by the IDF.

Immediately following the incident, the IDF sent new protocols to ground troops for the possibility of more hostages managing to flee captivity.

This photo released by the Israel Defense Forces on December 17, 2023, shows signs reading ‘SOS’ and ‘Help, 3 hostages,’ that were put up in Gaza by three Israeli hostages who were later mistakenly killed by IDF troops. (Israel Defense Forces)

The war erupted when Hamas led some 3,000 terrorists in a devastating cross-border attack on October 7 that killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. At least 240 people of all ages were kidnapped and taken as hostages.

Israel responded with a military campaign aimed at destroying Hamas, removing it from control over Gaza, and releasing the hostages.

A week-long truce saw 105 hostages released until Hamas violated the terms of the ceasefire and fighting resumed. One of those released, a dual Russian-Israeli citizen, reportedly also managed to escape his guards but was eventually recaptured after spending four days trying to reach Israel.

Families of hostages have repeatedly voiced their concerns that Israel’s military campaign, which includes intense airstrikes, is endangering the lives of those in captivity. They have urged the government to seek freedom for the hostages via a broad deal with Hamas.

Emmanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: