A recent report by the human rights organization Yesh Din claims that the Israel Defense Forces does not do enough to protect Palestinians in the West Bank. The study focused on the practice of what it terms “standing idly by,” of Israeli soldiers not moving to protect civilians from violence by Jewish settlers.
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Over a period of 18 months Yesh Din, together with Breaking the Silence, another rights group, collected statements from soldiers as well as 65 questionnaires about the practice, and also analyzed relevant protocols and instructions that were distributed to soldiers.
According to the report, the picture that emerges from these materials is of a tone set by commanding officers that “denies the army’s obligation,” including under international law, “to carry out the routine and daily policing and law enforcement activities that are among the main duties of an army that has held occupied territory for nearly five decades.”
The researchers found that the IDF conducts limited training in handling violence by Israeli citizens, passing responsibility for this to the Israel Police. Their report quotes a captain in the Kfir Brigade as saying: "During basic training, a soldier is taught to fight, to attack The only time he is taught to deal with the civilian population is in the last week of training. How much time does he spend on it ultimately? Five or six days?
"That’s a problem since he ends up doing tasks the police should be doing. Preventing a demonstration isn’t a military mission, no matter how you view it,” the captain said.
While the officer stressed that training emphasizes that the protocols of warfare, for opening fire or for arresting suspects, are identical for Jews and Arabs, a Nahal Brigade soldier who was asked in January 2014 what he would do if he saw a knife-wielding settler running toward a Palestinian said he didn’t know the protocol for such a situation. “I certainly wouldn’t shoot” the settler, he said.
The officer said an entire chapter of the 70-page regulations is devoted to circumstances designated as “a red line” that, if crossed by settlers, should lead to a response: causing bodily harm to Palestinians or damaging their property, hurling stones at Israeli security forces, verbal or physical violence directed at them, damaging IDF or police property.
The report notes that “standing by” is not a violation of military law and no soldier has ever been prosecuted for this or for related inappropriate behavior. Of 30 complaints filed by Yesh Din, 17 were investigated but no one was prosecuted. Yesh Din wants the practice defined as criminal behavior.
In a response, the IDF said that after examining the report, it appears to be “tendentious” and its analysis of the facts “biased.”
“The report ignores numerous and significant steps that the IDF has taken in this regard over the years. The authors provided selected facts, while ignoring official statements by the army taking responsibility for law and order in the West Bank, the statement said. “The IDF has updated procedures and regulations, established teams including military and civilian representatives who strive to synchronize the activities of all relevant bodies, along with measures against ideological offenders.”