With Hebron shooter Sgt. Elor Azaria’s verdict set for Wednesday, Human Rights Watch on Monday said the case was just one manifestation of senior Israeli officials backing an illegal unqualified shootto- kill policy against Palestinian violence.
The NGO said that since October 2015 it had documented that “some senior Israeli officials have been encouraging... soldiers and police to kill Palestinians they suspect of attacking Israelis even when they are no longer a threat,” while “other Israeli officials have failed to repudiate the calls for excessive use of force.”
Connecting HRW’s analysis to the Azaria incident last March 24, in which the soldier is accused of manslaughter for appearing to execute a Palestinian attacker after he was “neutralized,” Sari Bashi, Israel advocacy director at HRW, said, “It’s not just about potentially rogue soldiers, but also about senior Israeli officials who publicly tell security forces to unlawfully shoot to kill.”
She added, “Whatever the results of trials of individual soldiers, the Israeli government should issue clear directives to use force only in accordance with international law,” she added.
HRW noted 150 instances since October 2015 of security personnel fatally shooting Palestinian adults and children suspected of trying to stab, run over, or shoot Israelis.
"Palestinians killed 33 Israelis during that time," according to the NGO.
“International human rights law limits the intentional lethal use of firearms – shooting to kill – to circumstances in which it is strictly necessary to protect life, and in which no other, less extreme, option is viable,” said HRW.
HRW detailed that after an October 10, 2015, stabbing attack, police fatally shot the 16-year-old Palestinian suspect. According to the NGO, Jerusalem Police head Asst.-Ch.
Moshe Edri immediately told reporters that those who carry out attacks should be killed: “The police are doing their job and arriving quickly. Within less than a minute and a half, the attacker had already been killed. Everyone who stabs Jews or harms innocent people should be killed.”
HRW said regardless of whether shooting that Palestinian was justified, Edri’s final statement “appears to be a call to kill all persons who use violence, even after they no longer pose a threat.”
In October 2015, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a radio interview that he agreed with a statement by a lawmaker from an opposition party that “if a terrorist has a knife or screwdriver in his hand, you should shoot to kill him without thinking twice.”
Erdan said, “Definitely... As soon as a police officer feels danger to himself or any other citizen, he needs to shoot according to the regulations... We don’t want to endanger any citizen or police officer... every attacker... should know that he will likely not survive the attack.”
In contrast, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot on February 17, 2016 said that “the IDF cannot speak in slogans such as, ‘If someone comes to kill you, arise to kill him first.’ A soldier can only unlock the safety catch if there is a threat to him or his fellow soldiers... I don’t want a soldier to empty a magazine on a girl holding scissors.”
In the wake of the publication of a video of the Azaria incident, Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and Eisenkot affirmed the need to obey the military’s rules of engagement, which limit the use of force.
However, HRW noted that current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, while still in opposition, disagreed with those affirmations.
The NGO called on the government to make the rules of engagement more restricted regarding the use of force, “in accordance with international standards.”
The police denied HRW’s allegations, saying that they act in accordance with the law “to prevent or remove danger” in life threatening situations. They added that they only use force according to “clear and proportional” standards regarding which all police are trained.
A number of public officials declined to respond to HRW.
However, NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg responded to HRW’s analysis, stating, “The fact that an IDF soldier is currently on trial for allegedly shooting a Palestinian terrorist who had already been neutralized gives the lie to this latest HRW campaign. Indeed, the trial of Elor Azaria has not been stopped despite public criticism and claims that the trial undermines IDF morale.”
Steinberg continued, “HRW continues to demonize Israelis and to single out Israel for attack by cherry picking a few outdated and emotional statements made in the turmoil of Palestinian murder and incitement. In contrast to the distorted headline, buried in the middle of the text is the fact that senior officials, including the Defense Minister, the IDF Chief of Staff, and Prime Minister Netanyahu all condemned illegal uses of force.”
He concluded, “Recently, the terrorist who carried out the horrendous Berlin truck attack was killed by Italian police. But HRW has not launched a campaign in that case, highlighting the immoral double standards.”