IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi asked senior Central Command officers to take action to reduce the number of shootings of Palestinians by soldiers in the West Bank, which has risen considerably over the past three months and particularly over the last three weeks. In his meeting Sunday with the Central Command brass he asked that more senior officers be assigned to some military operations to assure that higher-ranking personnel are present to make more of the decisions.
Meanwhile, politicians and security officials criticized the conduct of Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Yadai and other senior staff, which they said could touch off escalation in the West Bank and hurt efforts the government is making to help the Palestinian Authority recover economically and politically.
LISTEN: Israeli settlers call the shots as Palestinian fatalities mount
Over the past three months more than 40 Palestinians have been shot to death in clashes with soldiers, some of them non-combatants killed by mistake. This number includes 27 Palestinians killed during Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza in May.
The series of events began in May, when a group of settlers was authorized to establish the outpost of Evyatar a few hours after the murder of Yehuda Guetta at Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank. The police and the army were at odds over the question of which of them had authorized the establishment of the outpost, and did not evacuate it. Since then the area of the outpost has become a focus of protest in which many Palestinians were killed.
Last month the commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade, Col. Bezalel Schneid, authorized a group of settlers from the Nahala movement, which was behind the founding of Evyatar, to stay overnight at an abandoned base in the Jordan Valley, although he knew of their intention to establish an outpost there. At the same time, the struggle of the residents of East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood against their eviction also led to escalation.
On Friday a 38-year-old father of five from the village of Beita, Emad Dweikat, was shot in the chest by soldiers and killed. Since May, four other Palestinians have been killed in protests at Beita, which is near Evyatar. Since the Gaza operation began in May, soldiers in the West Bank began increasing the use of supposedly less lethal Ruger semi-automatic rifles.
Over the past three weeks a number of Palestinians have been killed in a manner that raises doubts about the soldiers’ adherence to the rules of engagement. Mohammed al-Alami, 12, was killed when struck by 13 bullets fired at the vehicle in which he was sitting with his family near the entrance to the town of Beit Ummar. north of Hebron. One of the bullets struck the boy in the chest. After his funeral, clashes broke out during which IDF soldiers shot and killed Shawkat Awwad, 20.
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In July, 17-year-old Mohammed Munir Tamimi was shot and killed by IDF fire in the village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah. A few days later, soldiers shot to death a 41-year-old Beita resident, Shadi Shurafi, a plumber. He was shot near a water pipe while holding a wrench.
Central Command chief Yadai has also been disparaged by security officials over his behavior toward extremist elements among the settlers. Yadai’s meeting with known activists among the hilltop youth from the outpost of Maoz Esther in February, and with the fiancée of settler teen Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed during a police chase, are recalled as aberrant, wrong-headed actions.
Security officials also criticized Yadai’s visits during that same time to the outposts of Malakhei Hashalom and Kumi Uri. The latter had been evacuated a number of times in recent years; some of its residents are hilltop youth who had more than once assaulted IDF soldiers and officers.
Sources said that in his meeting with the senior officers, Kochavi also noted a number of cases where settlers in civilian clothes were seen shooting at Palestinians with army-issue weapons, in some instances using the weapon of a solider near the site. In June a settler was photographed using an IDF weapon to shoot at Palestinians in the southern Hebron Hills.
The shooter, who emerged from a military jeep in which soldiers were sitting, was photographed firing at Palestinians from the village of a-Tuwani near the outpost of Havat Maon, while other settlers at the site threw stones and damaged trees belonging to the Palestinians.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office was stated that the settler “had taken the soldier’s weapon and fired in the air” and that “procedures were refreshed.” However, the theft of the weapon was not reported at the time, and at no point did the soldiers leave the vehicle to take back the weapon that had been stolen from them, as orders require. After firing, the settler was seen returning the weapon to the soldiers sitting in the jeep and leaving the site. The IDF has yet to provide information about this and other cases in which settlers or masked men are seen alongside soldiers in uniform shooting at Palestinians.