How Many Israelis Killed by ‘Friendly Fire’?

An elderly Israeli woman abducted by Hamas during the group’s October 7 attack was likely gunned down by an IDF aircraft, an internal military probe has found. To date, Tel Aviv has offered few details about other captives who may have been killed by friendly fire.

The 67-year-old grandmother, Efrat Katz, was taken hostage from the Nir Oz Kibbutz during Hamas’ surprise assault on Israel last year. Footage of her kidnapping showed the woman squeezed into the bed of a truck alongside her daughter and two grandchildren, a harrowing clip that would mark some of Katz’s final moments.The results of an internal Israeli military probe were published on April 5, acknowledging the IDF not only “failed to protect civilians” at the kibbutz, but had inadvertently contributed to the carnage.

“It appears that during the battles and the airstrikes, one of the combat helicopters that took part in the fighting fired at a vehicle that had terrorists in it, and, in retrospect, according to the evidence, it turned out that there were also hostages in it,” the investigation found. “As a result of the shooting, most of the terrorists manning the vehicles were killed, and apparently the late Efrat Katz.”

However, the probe concluded that because the hostages “could not be distinguished” from Palestinian fighters during the IDF counterattack, the helicopter crew was not at fault for Katz’s death. For the airmen, “the shooting was defined as shooting at a vehicle with terrorists,” the report continued.

According to Al Jazeera, Katz’s daughter and two grandchildren survived the attack, and were later freed following a prisoner exchange agreed with Hamas in November. The Palestinian armed group kidnapped more than 200 people on October 7 – among them Israeli soldiers and civilians in addition to foreign nationals – with around half of them released as part of last year’s deal.

Collateral Damage

Katz’s untimely death is merely one among many reported ‘friendly fire’ casualties inflicted by Israeli forces on and since October 7.

While the IDF has acknowledged 41 deaths among its own troops resulting from “operational accidents” throughout the war, it offers no official figures for hostages killed under similar circumstances.

In one rare exception, the military publicized the shooting of three Israeli hostages during an IDF ground raid in Gaza City last December – with one of the men killed as he waved a white flag and pleaded for help in Hebrew. None of the troops involved faced repercussions after the incident, which was deemed a simple mistake amid the fog of war.

To date, Tel Aviv has confirmed that 33 of the remaining 136 captives in Gaza have been killed, though officials have declined to specify their cause of death. The spokesperson for Hamas’s armed al-Qassam wing, Abu Obeida, placed that figure much higher, claiming at least 70 hostages had been killed as a result of Israeli operations as of March 1.

Survivors of Hamas’ October onslaught have also described brazen friendly-fire attacks by Israeli tank crews, with Kibbutz Be’eri resident Yasmin Porat telling local media that some hostages were “undoubtedly” shot by their own people.

“They eliminated everyone, including the hostages,” Porat said in an interview with Israeli broadcaster Kan, adding that “After insane crossfire, two tank shells were shot into the house… at that moment everyone was killed.”

An October 20 report in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz also detailed the lethal response at Be’eri, citing a member of the community’s security team, Tovel Escapa, who recounted indiscriminate firing on homes.

“Only after the commanders in the field made difficult decisions – including shelling houses on their occupants in order to eliminate the terrorists along with the hostages – did the IDF complete the takeover of the kibbutz,” the paper reported. “The price was terrible: at least 112 Be’eri people were killed.” The outlet did not clarify whether those deaths were inflicted by Israeli forces alone.

Underscoring the confusion during Israel’s response on October 7, other local media reports noted that IDF helicopters likely fired on civilians at the infamous Nova music festival – where more than 350 people lost their lives, most at the hands of Hamas. Israeli pilots later described “tremendous difficulty” in distinguishing fighters from noncombatants amid the chaos, while some gunship operators reportedly launched barrages against unidentified targets “without authorization from superiors.”

“[One] soldier told me, ‘Fire over there. The terrorists are there.’ I asked him, ‘Are there any civilians there?’ His response was, ‘I don’t know, just fire,’” one serviceman told Israel’s Channel 12, referring to an operation near the Holit kibbutz.

Hannibal Returns?

Officially, as of 2016 Israel’s military says it no longer employs the controversial ‘Hannibal Directive’ – a policy instructing soldiers to sacrifice their own comrades to prevent capture by enemy forces. However, some IDF troops have indicated the measure may still be in place to this day.

Asked about the policy by name during a recent media interview, IDF field commander Bar Zonshein said he ordered a strike on his own men after they had been captured by Hamas fighters on October 7 – even describing a formal procedure to invoke the supposedly-defunct directive.

Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper similarly reported that troops had been ordered to strike invading Hamas militants “at all costs” – even if that meant endangering hostages – while Israeli Col. Nof Erez described the October 7 response as a “mass Hannibal” operation.

Inspired by the capture of IDF troops during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon in the 1980s, the policy was seemingly designed to avoid complex and embarrassing prisoner swap deals with the likes of Hezbollah and Hamas, which frequently entail Israeli concessions. The protocol has been deployed repeatedly in subsequent conflicts, with the IDF adopting a highly permissive stance toward civilian casualties while carrying out the directive.

Though Palestinian noncombatants have borne the brunt of that policy since its inception decades ago, a number of Israeli observers have questioned whether Hannibal was invoked against their fellow citizens on October 7.

“We must determine exactly what happened that day. Was there a decision to eliminate the terrorists even if there was a significant risk that the hostages would also be killed? Was the Hannibal Directive applied to civilians?” asked Haaretz reporter Noa Limone.

Omri Shafroni, a resident of Be’eri and a relative of one of the victims killed in Hamas’ attack, has demanded an official investigation into Israel’s response, noting the circumstances of many civilian deaths remain unexplained.

“I do not rule out the possibility that [my relative] and others were killed by IDF fire. It could be that they died from the terrorists’ fire, or it could be that they died from the IDF’s fire, because there was a very heavy firefight,” he said last November, voicing frustration over the lack of any probe.

“It is very strange to me that until now we have not conducted an operational investigation into an event in which 13 hostages were apparently murdered and no negotiations were carried out,” Shafroni added.

Will Porter is assistant news editor at the Libertarian Institute and a regular contributor at Find more of his work at Consortium News and ZeroHedge.