Editorial

With Immunity From the System, Israeli Forces Risk Adopting Ethos of a Gang

Army and police chiefs must prove they won't give in to lawlessness, following three incidents that showed questionable use of force against Palestinians easily goes unpunished

File photo: Israeli soldiers react amid burning tires and tear gas near the Hawara checkpoint, West Bank, December 14, 2018.
Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP

In recent days, three incidents have been reported in which border policemen and soldiers used force whose necessity was dubious, but nevertheless received immunity from the system.

The most serious was the refusal to investigate the death of a 19-year-old Palestinian from Hebron who was shot after going to Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate with the intention of stabbing border policemen. Not only did the Justice Ministry department that investigates police misconduct decline to investigate, but this decision was backed by the prosecution.

The Jerusalem police took testimony from the border policemen who shot the teen. One said he shot the terrorist in the head from a distance of seven meters after the terrorist had already fallen to the ground. The second said he fired another bullet because he saw the terrorist move his head. The third admitted that the policemen had “confirmed the kill.”

Despite this, the Justice Ministry department twice refused to investigate the incident, saying the shooting didn’t “exceed the bounds of reasonability” because the policemen felt that their own lives and those of people around them were in danger. But the testimony raises serious doubts about the degree of danger, along with questions about the dimensions of the “bounds of reasonability” enjoyed by the Border Police.

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The army has also begun probing the deaths of two 14-year-olds who were sitting on the roof of a building in the Gaza Strip when it was hit by a “roof-knocking” missile in July. The inquiry was opened due to an investigative report written by B’Tselem and the London-based research group Forensic Architecture.

“Roof knocking” refers to a policy of firing relatively small missiles to warn civilians of an impending larger strike. According to the report, the missile that killed the boys contained shrapnel meant to magnify the force of the strike. But in a video clip published by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, the first strike, which killed the teens, was erased and replaced by the third, which was fired from a different angle.

The IDF must probe whether the teens could be seen on the roof before the missile was fired, and should rethink the kinds of missiles it uses for “roof-knocking” strikes. If they are lethal, they are subject to all the restrictions imposed by law, first and foremost the distinction between soldiers and civilians.

The Justice Ministry department is also investigating another serious incident that occurred on Saturday. A 17-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem was shot to death near the West Bank settlement of Beit El when he tried to flee an IDF force that ordered him to halt. Contrary to the IDF’s initial claim, the army has now confirmed that he is not suspected of trying to commit an attack. Once again, the soldiers’ fingers proved too quick on the trigger when Palestinian lives were at stake.

The climate of incitement, nationalism and racism in Israel, which is fueled by the prime minister and his cabinet ministers, is fertile ground for lawlessness, given the inbuilt imbalance of power between an army and an occupied civilian population. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who has warned against the army adopting the ethos of a gang, must prove that his warning was more than empty words by accelerating the Military Police investigation. The same goes for the police commissioner and Justice Ministry, which is in charge of the department that investigates police misconduct.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.