Israeli Military Rules Did Not Require Sapper’s Approval to Start Treating Wounded Assailant

IDF protocol was in place before fatal shooting in Hebron; possibility that the Palestinian who stabbed the soldier also carried explosives was cited as an excuse for not rendering first aid.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Scene from a video released on March 24, 2016 by B'Tselem showing IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria  aiming his weapon before shooting in the head and killing a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron.
Scene from a video released on March 24, 2016 by B'Tselem showing IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria aiming his weapon before shooting in the head and killing a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron.Credit: AFP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, chief of the Central Command of the Israel Defense Forces, recently issued new operational protocols specifying how to treat Palestinian assailants or would-be assailants who are injured by security forces. These directives were issued prior to the March 24 incident in Hebron, in which a soldier shot and killed a Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground. The incident sparked a public uproar, and the soldier faces prosecution in connection to the killing.

The guidelines say that since it is unlikely for someone who sets out to commit a stabbing to also wear a “suicide belt” filled with explosives, there is no need for the troops to wait for a sapper to arrive and confirm the absence of explosives before rendering medical care. The commander on the scene can do the inspection, after which the wounded Palestinian may start to receive medical treatment.

An investigation by the commander of the Kfir Brigade, Col. Guy Hazut, who came to Hebron immediately after the incident, found that the forces there did follow this directive. Two Palestinians stabbed a soldier and a platoon leader. The soldier suffered mild to moderate injuries, and he and the officer shot and wounded the two Palestinians. A few minutes later, an emergency squad from a nearby company outpost also arrived on the scene, in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood. The commander of the force, also a platoon leader, followed the Central Command directives. He turned over the wounded Palestinians to ascertain that they were not wearing explosive belts. The two knives used by the pair were also found nearby. The check of the first assailant, who apparently died right away, is also seen in the video clip of the event filmed by settlers from Hebron. The check of the second assailant, who was shot in the head a few minutes later by the soldier who is now under arrest, is not seen in any videos — neither the ones shot by the settlers nor the one shot by the Palestinian volunteer for the B’Tselem human rights organization.

The medical treatment should have begun after the checks by the commander. But neither the platoon leader nor the company commander saw to that, and were reprimanded by Numa for that. The videos also do not show the medics from Judea & Samaria Hatzalah rushing to attend to the Palestinians, at least one of whom was still moving his hand, and appeared to still be alive, until he was shot by the soldier. Two people from the organization, the medic and the person filming the incident, are also heard on one of the videos warning the soldiers that the second terrorist may be booby-trapped.

The IDF suspects that the civilian medics’ warnings to the soldiers is meant to serve as an excuse to delay treatment. This has been a recurring phenomenon during the terror attacks of recent months, and the IDF has addressed the issue with Magen David Adom, as Hatzalah operates with its approval. This week the army sounded very skeptical of an investigative report issued by Magen David Adom that said the Hatzalah people acted properly in not treating the wounded Palestinians because they had to wait for a sapper to inspect them first.

The defense establishment rejected the criticism from Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), Knesset member Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu) and other MKs who complained that the defense minister and IDF Chief of Staff were too hasty to react in the press about the incident, before a careful investigation could take place. According to the army’s findings, the incident began at 8:15 A.M. About 15 minutes later, shortly after the shooting, the company commander transported the soldier who fired the shot, an army medic, back to the company outpost and reported the incident to the battalion commander and to the Kfir Brigade commander. Hazut arrived in Hebron soon afterward and completed an initial operational investigation, with the participation of the officers and soldiers who were involved in the incident, around 12:30 P.M.

Hazut reported his findings by phone to Numa and also called the IDF Military Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek, to ask about a Military Police investigation. Afek instructed the brigade commander to immediately summon the MP investigators. At the same time, Numa relayed a report to Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who within an hour was discussing the matter with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The minister and chief of staff received the report through the operational channel before the B’Tselem video clip was publicized by the Reuters news agency. The two were concerned about the potential implications of the incident, on two levels — how it might affect the conduct of IDF troops if it was not made clear that the soldier’s conduct violated the army’s rules of engagement, and the chance that it could re-escalate the atmosphere among the Palestinians in the territories, where the violence had tapered off somewhat in the previous weeks.

Therefore, the two men decided to quickly issue statements of disapproval regarding the event, stating that the IDF does not permit its soldiers to shoot wounded terrorists who have already been “neutralized,” and that what happened in this incident went against the IDF’s values. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was informed about the incident by Ya’alon, also issued a similar statement. Ya’alon and Eisenkot do not believe that their statements amount to interference with the MP investigation or the legal proceeding, but rather were a normative statement based upon the findings of the operational investigation completed in the field.

The next morning, Numa conducted another investigation, focused on aspects related to the units’ conduct in the incident (such as the matter of delayed medical treatment) and not on the conduct of the soldier who did the shooting.

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