What Instructions Are Israeli Soldiers Given for Opening Fire in a Palestinian Village?

Amira Hass
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IDF forces near the Israeli settlement of Ariel, West Bank, in 2019.
IDF forces near the Israeli settlement of Ariel, West Bank, in 2019.
Amira Hass

This is a footnote about fear, a comment on the facts described below: On July 9, Ibrahim Abu Yaqoub, 34, was killed by an Israel Defense Forces bullet. The bullet was fired at his back, entered between his shoulders and exited via his neck. It was at about 10 P.M. He and his friend were on their evening walk in their village of Kifl Hares northeast of Salfit. Soldiers in the military outpost situated at the southern entrance of the village were firing at precisely that moment. Abu Yaqoub and his friend were about 300 meters from the outpost.

Village residents already gave their testimony to the B’Tselem field investigator, Salma a-Deb’i, and didn’t want to be questioned again by Haaretz, to show and to describe what happened. Their evasions and explanations led us to understand that they are afraid that the soldiers at the outpost will take revenge on them, that the Israeli authorities will cancel their work permits, that there will be additional tension that will even further disrupt their lives that are disrupted in any case, in the shadow of the constant expansion of the settlements of the Ariel bloc.

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They probably also said to themselves that they’re tired of telling and testifying, in any case it doesn’t cause the soldiers to behave differently. Still, based on their detailed testimonies, I sent my query to the IDF spokesperson, as follows:

“On July 10, you published the following report: ‘Last night, IDF fighters thwarted an attempt by a squad of terrorists to throw Molotov cocktails at an IDF guard post near Ariel. In the course of operational activity, the fighters identified two masked terrorists as they were tossing a burning Molotov cocktail at the outpost, and responded with weapons fire.

‘One of the terrorists was wounded and the other fled. An IDF force administered first aid at the scene to the terrorist who was wounded, and later he was transferred for further treatment by the Red Crescent. After the incident a complaint was received about a Palestinian in the adjacent village who was shot dead. The incident is under investigation.’

“I would like your response to the following questions: How far from the military outpost were those suspected of throwing a Molotov cocktail? How many Molotov cocktails were thrown? The report is unclear: The first sentence says there was an attempt to throw [Molotov cocktails] and it was thwarted. (How do you thwart an attempt?) The second sentence says that two terrorists threw a Molotov cocktail. How can two people throw a single Molotov cocktail? Were the soldiers inside or outside the outpost? Were their lives in danger? If one of those suspected of throwing the Molotov cocktail – a ‘terrorist’ as you put it – was caught (after all, an IDF force administered first aid), how is it that he was released for further treatment by the Red Crescent, and not arrested?

“On what basis did you call those suspected of throwing the Molotov cocktails a terrorist squad? What turns them into a squad? Were there arrests of those suspected of membership in that squad? Is the investigation over? Did you publish a report to the media about the conclusion and the findings of the investigation? If so – what were they? If not – why not?

“The man who was shot in the back and killed – Ibrahim Abu Yaqoub – was 300 meters from the military outpost. According to your investigation, were there others in the village shooting at the same time, in other words, was Ibrahim Abu Yaqoub not wounded by IDF fire? According to the investigation, was he shot and killed by the shooting of IDF soldiers? If so, was the shooting carried out according to instructions? If it was – what are the instructions that permit firing at someone who is not suspected of throwing a Molotov cocktail?

“Did you examine how many bullets the IDF soldiers fired that night? If so, how many? According to the residents’ testimony, the soldiers also fired at two cars in the village – one that was moving and one that was parked, and very fortunately there were no casualties. Do you know about that shooting – and do you acknowledge that it was the soldiers who fired? If so – was this shooting carried out according to instructions? Were the passengers of the car also suspected of throwing a Molotov cocktail?

“Friends of the bleeding Abu Yaqoub rushed him in a private car towards the exit from the village – where soldiers were surrounding the wounded boy. The soldiers fired into the air and didn’t allow the car to pass. That’s why it was forced to travel by a different, longer route to the hospital in Salfit. Perhaps the loss of those precious moments prevented him from being saved. Why did the soldiers prevent the passage of the car with the seriously wounded man? Were they operating according to instructions or according to their own judgment?

Mourners pray before the body of Palestinian man Ibrahim Abu Yaqoub during his funeral in Kifl Hares in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, July 10, 2020.

“Are the instructions to behave in a place where there is a civilian community as though it were a war, in which every wounded person is considered an enemy and therefore it is forbidden to transfer them for treatment by the shortest route? Did the soldiers who fired that night continue to be posted to the same outpost in Kifl Hares and are they still posted there? Why didn’t you mention the name of the village Kifl Hares in your press release?”

The IDF spokesperson replied: “Regarding the abovementioned incident, an investigation by the Military Police Investigations Unit was opened. At its conclusion the findings will be sent for an examination by the Military Prosecution. Naturally we are unable to discuss the details of an ongoing investigation.”

Abu Yaqoub worked in a supermarket and hoped to get married soon. “He was a simple person whom everyone liked,” said the friend he was walking with, and who watched with horror the blood dripping from his neck.

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