IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi announced Wednesday that the army will come down harshly on combat soldiers who not follow regulations in the field, in response to the many killings of Palestinians by IDF fire in the West Bank.
“We will back you up when you act according to orders, but we will not accept exceptions,” he said at the change of command ceremony for the head of the Central Command. “We will back you up when you use your judgment, even if there are mistakes, but we will not accept recklessness.”
Speaking to the soldiers, Kochavi said: “You operate in a crowded and rough environment, and many times it is not clear who is an enemy and who is innocent. This is a deceptive and violent environment that is constantly sown with dilemmas. Our role is to deal with these dilemmas and to combine carrying out the mission and defending our forces with not harming the innocent.”
Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the new head of the Central Command, said at the ceremony that anyone who threatens Israel will be met with "trained lethal forces without hesitation."
On Monday, 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.
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.
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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.
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.