IDF to Halt Training in Populated West Bank Villages

Reserves paratrooper battalions 'captured' Arab villages without military justification for training purposes.

The Israel Defense Forces will no longer conduct reserves training exercises which involve the "capture" of populated villages in the West Bank, the military Advocate General Brigadier General Avihai Mandelblit announced this week.

Mandelblit informed the human rights organization Yesh Din of the army's decision pending the completion of an investigation into the practice.

Yesh Din approached the advocate general in March, after several complaints were filed by reserves soldiers serving in paratrooper battalions. The battalions were trained in the capture of villages in the West Bank as well as battle in residential areas. These exercises were carried out without any military justification.

The 'dry-run' exercises were carried out without live fire, but nonetheless sparked panic among the residents of the villages.

Mandelblit responded to Yesh Din's attorney Michael Sfard, announcing that the IDF would reexamine their policy on these types of training exercises. Mandelblit said the investigation would include the scope of the exercises as well as their immediate effect on the population of the Arab villages in question. The advocate general promised that until the completion of the probe, these trainings would be halted.

Sfard also requested that a criminal investigation be launched against those responsible for the existence of such training, claiming that the exercises unnecessarily endangered lives. The advocate general rejected this request, saying that no crime had been committed.

In March, reserves soldiers reported that the residents of the villages in which the exercises had been held were quiet and not at all dangerous. They said the local residents were frightened by the expanded military presence and that IDF officers were not happy with the situation.

These exercises were carried out in December of last year, February and March in villages west of Nablus. They were hailed as a graduation exercise for paratroopers as they prepare for security service in the West Bank.