IDF Refines Orders: Soldiers Not to Fire at Fleeing Palestinian Attackers

The directive is not new, but rather a refinement of an existing order to only shoot in the air if an attacker has begun to flee and poses no threat to lives.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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IDF soldiers apprehending a Palestinian boy.
IDF soldiers apprehending a Palestinian boy.Credit: Tal Cohen
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Israel Defense Force soldiers serving in the West Bank have been issued instructions recently not to shoot at Palestinian suspects if they do not pose an immediate threat to life. The directive, circulated after a wave of attacks that followed the firebombing that killed two members of the Dawabsheh family in Duma at the end of July, supplements existing open-fire orders.

The order, from the head of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, reiterates existing directives regarding opening fire when confronting a suspect, a procedure that includes firing in the air if the suspect flees.

Sources in the army’s West Bank division explained that commanders were directed to refine open-fire orders in the wake of the tense period that followed the Duma firebombing and the violence that followed. This included an incident in which three soldiers were run over by a vehicle near the West Bank village of Sinjil and this week’s stabbing of an Israeli man at a gas station in the West Bank on Route 443 in which the security forces killed the assailant.

In addition, two weeks ago, after the firebombing in Duma, IDF soldiers shot and killed Leith Khalidi, a 15-year-old boy from Bir Zeit near Ramallah, after he and his companions threw firebombs at a guard post in the area. Khalidi’s father claims that the teen did not endanger the soldiers at the guard post and was shot in the back.

An IDF officer noted that the open-fire directive did not represent a change in policy and was issued to clarify what was required of soldiers in particular circumstances. So, for example, the officer said if an attacker throws a firebomb and then flees, he should not be shot to kill as long as he no longer poses a threat to security forces. Instead, shots should be fired in the air.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visited the Hebron area and toured the Tomb of the Patriarchs there. The defense minister said the recent West Bank attacks were “a wave in response to the Duma attack.”

“There is incitement in the Palestinian media, and people take a car and run [victims] over because it is available [to them]. They take a knife and go and try to kill a Jew at a gas station on Route 443.”

These are readily available opportunities for an attacker, Ya’alon said. “If organizations, particularly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, had the capability of carrying out terrorist attacks, they would carry out attacks. For the time being, we have been spared this – the organizations’ attacks – but it could happen, so we need to be alert at all times.”

The IDF spokesman added: “By the nature of things, the IDF does not disclose details regarding open-fire orders. Nevertheless, in light of a situation assessment, a [directive] was issued refining how forces should confront threats that do not pose a concrete and immediate threat danger to life.”

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