'IDF soldiers in recent West Bank clashes were allowed to fire, but chose not to'
Responding to two videos showing IDF soldiers in the West Bank last week, an IDF officer says the decision not to shoot, despite orders that they can fire if their lives are in danger, was partly out of concern over escalation.
Israel Defense Force soldiers involved in recent incidents in the West Bank chose not to open fire, according to an officer in the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division. The officer made the remarks in response to two videos showing recent confrontations between IDF soldiers with local demonstrators in the West Bank, in which the soldiers appeared to be at a disadvantage compared to the Palestinian crowds.
In one case, Nahal Brigade soldiers were confronted by Palestinian policemen in the West Bank city of Hebron. After pushing and shoving each other, dozens of Palestinians began to gather at the site. The video shows a group of six soldiers attempting to leave the area taking refuge in a local butcher shop. The IDF says that the small group caught up in the demonstration managed to deal “quite well” with the incident, and that they carried out their "mission of preventing stone-throwing in the Jewish Quarter [of Hebron] without casualties to our forces,” the same officer said.Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, the officer was asked to explain the recent events, which raised questions about current orders dictating when IDF soldiers are permitted to open fire. In most cases, he said, the forces held their fire because a wounded or dead demonstrator might trigger a significant escalation in the West Bank, where tensions are already on the rise.
A second video shows Engineering Corps soldiers on a mission last Friday in Kaddum, a village in the Nablus area. Three soldiers were hurt in the incident – two from stones thrown at them, while the third was burned by a gas canister that did not explode.
The soldiers did not follow IDF Central Command firing orders applicable at the time: When confronted by Palestinians, the small group retreated even though they had crowd dispersal equipment with them, including an IDF 'Skunk' water cannon fires a foul-smelling liquid on demonstrators. The video shows soldiers using gas grenades only at a relatively later stage of the incident. “They had the equipment,” the officer said. “In principle, we understand that if you react 'strongly' and the soldiers are sufficiently professional, they don't get into situations that are nearly life-threatening.”
The army says that its investigation of the Kaddum incident has not yet been completed.
Demonstrations and confrontations in the West Bank increased during last month's Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza. Channel 10 reported on Monday that the commander of a reserve company whose troops opened live fire on demonstrators in Nebi Selah in the West Bank during the campaign had been removed from his post. Rushdi al-Tamimi, 31, wounded in the incident, died later.
After the conclusion of Pillar of Defense, the army began to review existing firing orders in the Central Command. The orders were the subject of a meeting last week of West Bank regional defense brigade commanders and will be the subject of another meeting of battalion commanders due next week.
According to firing orders formulated last March, IDF soldiers must exercise judgment before using weapons. A soldier in “actual” and “immediate” life-threatening danger, according to IDF terminology, should open fire. But if he has time, the soldier should employ other means (usually a gas or percussion grenades) and only afterwards use the procedure for arresting suspects and orders to stop - a warning that if the suspect does not stop the soldier will shoot, firing as a last resort). Only afterwards, should the soldiers shoot to kill.
The firing orders also say that “as a general rule, live fire is not used against stone-throwers.” But, according to the Judea-Samaria Division officer, “when there is a danger that the stone-throwing is massive and endangers the welfare or the body of the soldier or another person, the arrest-of-suspect procedure is permissible.”
The officer said that his division investigates more cases of unauthorized use of live fire than of failure to open fire. “We expect soldiers to use judgment and to understand the significance of aggressive action, to act with moderation, self-control and containment – and to make the correct decision.” He explained, “As long as a soldier can deal with an incident without being killed or wounded, we expect him to do so as a matter of policy. On the other hand, a soldier whose life is endangered should use his weapon. That's the dilemma we face, now and always.”