In the course of the Intifada, the Israeli security authorities deny responsibility for the many civilian deaths caused by their actions, claiming that only necessary force is used.
The Open-Fire Regulations state that soldiers are only allowed to shoot if they are in life-threatening situation. However, the term "life-threatening situation" is extremely broad. Is a child throwing stones at soldiers from 100 meters away to be considered a threat to their lives?
In this context, a new regulation issued by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is especially significant. This regulation allows the firing of live bullets at the legs of stone-throwers that threaten soldiers' lives. But is the soldiers are truly in a life-threatening situation, why shoot at their legs? Clearly, soldiers facing real danger can shoot anywhere on the body in order to save themselves. Furthermore, since a regulation already existed allowing the use of lethal force in life-threatening situations, it is difficult to understand what the new regulation adds. The only logical explanation is that the intent is to expand the license given to soldiers such that they can use live ammunition even when their lives are not endangered.
Although the IDF has had to cope with similar demonstrations for many years, it has failed to purchase and develop non-lethal crowd-control techniques. This is one of the principal factors in the high number of Palestinian killed and wounded. IDF soldiers in the occupied territories are primarily equipped with live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets, though in some instances they also have tear gas and shock grenades. Security forces are allowed to fire "rubber" bullets when human life is not in jeopardy, and the IDF considers them a legitimate means to disperse non-life-threatening demonstrations. Although bullets of this kind have killed scores of Palestinians and wounded many others, the army continues to consider them non-lethal.
A wide variety of non-lethal crowd-control tools are used throughout the world. Tear gas and "rubber bullets cannot be the only means to disperse demonstrations. Brigadier General (ret.) Dov Tamari, who teaches the advanced systems course in the IDF, criticized both the IDF and the police for "not really taking the trouble to develop effective non-lethal weapons…."
Israel also argues that Palestinian gunmen congregate among demonstrators and fire from within the crowd. Thus, it maintains, soldiers must use live ammunition and cannot rely on alternative means. This argument may be correct regarding some of the demonstrations. However, according to the army's own figures, the vast majority of clashes in the occupied territories did not involve any armed Palestinians. Furthermore, it is important to note that Israel has not instituted a new policy for dispersing demonstration, but is implementing a policy that has been in force for many years. Therefore, Israel's argument is baseless because security forces also used lethal means in the past.
The lack of accountability of Israeli security forces is another feature of this Intifada. The Israeli military has ceased to investigate cases where Israeli security forces kill Palestinians. Israel argues that it is involved in an "armed conflict," and while civilians may be killed, such incidents do not warrant investigation. The Office of the Military Advocate General said that it would only investigate serious violations of the regulations. The state's argument is untenable. First, war also has rules, and, regardless of the classification of the conflict, the killing of civilians violates these rules. Thus it is improper to make a sweeping decision not to investigate civilian deaths. Second, during the current Intifada, the Military Investigations Unit (MIA) only investigated in rare instances, primarily where the case was reported in the media or documented on film. This fact indicates the extraneous considerations entailed in initiating an MIA review. In making this decision, the Office of the Judge Advocate grants immunity from prosecution to security forces that violated human rights. Such immunity contravenes international law.
Soldiers facing stone-throwers do not function as an army. They are performing policing actions, comparable to any other police force in Israel or abroad. They are not involved in a battle in which they must vanquish the enemy. Therefore, soldiers must undergo training as police officers, must be equipped as police officers, and must function as police officers.
The methods that the IDF uses to cope with non-violent demonstrations were well described by Dr. Stephen Miles, former senior officer in the British Police Force, who visited the occupied territories with representatives of Amnesty International. Regarding the army's methods in dispersing demonstrations, Dr. Miles stated that, "These are good tactics if one wants to wipe out an enemy, they are not policing." A force trained in law enforcement, instructed in and prepared for dispersing demonstrations, equipped with many and varied means and is properly protected, should not have to use lethal force to disperse stone-throwers.
Elsewhere in the world, police cope with mass, violent demonstrations without shooting and killing demonstrators… Even if Israel does not have a policy to intentionally injure Palestinians, after so many Palestinians have been killed in demonstration in the same way and Israel failed to change its policy on dispersing demonstrations, the lack of intent does not diminish the blame and responsibility it bears.
In mid-November, Hafiza Zaban went with her family to their olive groves. The residents of Burin Village, near Nablus, have for some time suffered the abuse of settlers from the nearby Yitzhar settlement, but they continue to work their land, which provides an important source of income, particularly given the current economic hardship in the occupied territories. This 82-year-old woman described what happened on that day in November:
We picked olives from seven to noon, when around 30 settlers arrived, all of them young men, aged 20 to 30. They attacked us from all sides and began to throw stones at us and beat us with sticks and stones. We screamed and shouted. The males fled, as did some of the young women and children. I am an elderly woman and could not flee.
Suddenly, one of the settlers, a healthy, fat young man, came at me with a pole. He was wearing a skullcap and had a long beard. He hit me in the head with the metal bar, striking me on the right side of my head, near my eye. Blood began to gush from my head. I fell and passed out.
This incident is only one of the many cases in which setters have attacked Palestinians during the current Intifada. Over the past few months, several leaders of the settlers have warned that settlers are liable "to take the law into their hands" and use force if the IDF does not act as the settlers think it should. These warnings have been indeed realized: in recent months, settlers have shot at Palestinians, stoned their cars, damaged property, uprooted trees, burned a mosque, harmed Palestinian medical teams, attacked journalists, prevented farmers from going to their fields, and blocked Palestinian cars from travelling on roads. Although some of the shooting was in self-defense, the vast majority of violence was premeditated.
Settler violence against Palestinians is not a new phenomenon: settlers have committed such acts since the beginning of the first Intifada, and even before. However, in recent months, the scope and severity of the violence have increased.
This violence occurs against the background of leniency and prolonged impotence of the Israeli law-enforcement authorities, including the army, the police, and the jsystem. Israel, as the occupying power, has the duty to ensure the security and wellbeing of Palestinians under its control. The authorities ignored many illegal acts committed by the settlers in the current Intifada, despite their open and almost official nature. For example, settlers organize roadblocks, blocking roads to Palestinian traffic in broad daylight, after having announced their intentions in the media. Israeli authorities have not made any meaningful efforts to stop these vigilante roadblocks. In some areas in the West Bank, settlers even conducted independent armed patrols. Those involved are not part of any official framework and are not subordinate to the IDF or the Israel Police Force. The IDF made it clear that it opposes this activity, but apparently does nothing to end it.
Israeli law-enforcement failures regarding the settlers are conspicuous:
• In many instances, soldiers and police officers stand idly by during settler attacks, doing nothing to stop them and protect the Palestinian victims. In numerous cases in which Palestinians under attack requested assistance from nearby soldiers, the soldiers refused to assist of responded with contempt.
• The authorities do not seriously investigate cases of settler violence against Palestinians, and close many investigations without any conclusions. Contrary to law, the police do not investigate cases in which Palestinians do not file a complaint. For example, in the current Intifada, the killing of two Palestinians by settlers - which was even reported in the media - was not even investigated by the police. In the report that Israel filed with the Mitchell Committee, it undertook to thoroughly investigate every case in which it is contended that settlers attacked Palestinians. It is already possible to state that Israel is not meeting this commitment.
• Over the years, law enforcement in the occupied territories has received stinging criticism from official bodies, including the Attorney General, the Supreme Court, and the Shamgar Commission, which was established in 1994 following the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs [the Ibrahimi Mosque]. The Commission sharply criticized the law-enforcement authorities handling the offenses against Palestinians, and concluded that, despite repeated warnings, meaningful measures had not been taken to improve it.
Israel punishes Palestinians who kill Israelis to the full extent of the law, and in some cases, punishes their families as well. In sharp contrast, most Israelis who kill Palestinians receive a light punishment or no punishment at all.
Over the years, Israel has failed to enforce the law on settlers. This failure exists despite repeated warnings, among them from official bodies. It therefore must be concluded that the authorities' inaction stem from policy. Even if the Israeli authorities do not directly encourage violent acts against Palestinian civilians, their neglect leads to the same result. This policy violates the fundamental principle of equality before the law and challenges the foundation of the rule of law in Israel.