New IDF Open-fire Rules Hide an Inconvenient Truth

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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A member of the Israeli forces aims with a gun during a protest near the settlement of Beit El, last week.
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Agencies such as the IDF Spokesman’s Office have an old trick in the world of spin: “Bury the real story under another one.” You give a correspondent exposure to some story in which you incidentally “bury” the real story, the one you don’t want to draw attention to. This is exactly what the reports on the new IDF rules of engagement sounded like.

Kan 11 TV news reported (or, rather, revealed) on Sunday that the “IDF rules of engagement had dramatically changed,” with the most dramatic change being “permission to shoot people caught stealing war material and ammunition at army bases or in fire zones.” First of all, even someone with embarrassingly little military training like me knows that in practice, it was always permitted to open fire at anyone invading a military base, whether for theft or any other purpose, since no one can sort things out during the incident itself. Already back in 2017, it was reported that the army allows soldiers on its bases to shoot people suspected of stealing.

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The real change, as reported by Haaretz correspondent Yaniv Kubovich on November 15, is that soldiers can use live fire against suspected thieves, after following procedures for arresting a suspect, even in open training areas, in areas in which there is “a military presence,” and against suspected smugglers on the borders with Jordan and Egypt. These regulations, explained the IDF, were approved by the attorney general, partly in the campaign against the smuggling of weapons to criminals in Arab communities.

In other words, since the IDF is unsuccessful in protecting its weapons, which are leaking in enormous quantities to criminal elements, and under the shadow of aggressive campaigns by right-wing non-profit organizations decrying a “lack of governance,” it was decided to condemn to death anyone suspected of being a thief, even in open areas. After all, this is the meaning of live fire at suspects: If they don’t respond to calls to stop and identify themselves, one simply opens fire.

In practice, no soldier waits with composure while going through all the formal stages of arresting a suspect, including muttering in Arabic, shooting in the air, etc. In Israel’s reality, the procedures for arresting a suspect means opening fire at a suspect. In practice, the IDF and the attorney general have given a green light to the possibility of executing a thief without trial, or in the case of a mistaken identity in a training area, where innocent people often walk around. This is a direct continuation of the embarrassing sentence given to Aryeh Schiff, convicted of shooting a man trying to steal his car, or a sequel to the Dromi Law, which allows homeowners to shoot burglars.

This dangerous decision was welcomed with a magnificent populist gesture by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who tweeted: “I congratulate the IDF for changing its rules of engagement. IDF soldiers must have the option of defending themselves and us. We are continuing to fight crime and restore the sense of security.” He was joined – and this says it all – by right-wing organizations Regavim and Im Tirtzu.

At the margin of that report on Kan 11 hid the story within a story: the real one that Bennett and the IDF tried hard to hide. “The rules of engagement will also be changed in Judea and Samaria,” added the correspondent, supposedly as an afterthought. Why, one may wonder. “Due to gray areas in the rules of engagement, the army has decided to rewrite the rules so that they are clearer. The background to this is the behavior of soldiers during public disturbances instigated by Palestinians, which have led to the injury of innocent people,” said the spokesman.

Let’s translate this into understandable language: While on the one hand Bennett and right-wing groups are celebrating the easing of restrictions on opening fire, allowing for the execution of car thieves, on the other hand the army is tightening its restrictions in the West Bank due to the harm inflicted on innocent people. This is a perfect example of cause and effect: In a place where restrictions are eased, innocent people, namely innocent Palestinians, get shot. The celebrated freedom to shoot car thieves will end up yielding the same results.

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