IDF sources defend restraint against rock throwers

Sources say document instructs soldiers not to open fire against rock throwers unless they identify immediate danger.

IDF Soldiers disperse Palestinian rioters in Hebron 390 (photo credit: Reuters)
IDF Soldiers disperse Palestinian rioters in Hebron 390
(photo credit: Reuters)
IDF sources defended the conduct of infantry soldiers caught up in rioting and rock throwing in the West Bank last week in Hebron and Kadum.
In Hebron, soldiers employed riot dispersal means against a rock-throwing mob of 250 Palestinians before leaving the area, while in Kadum, soldiers retreated from a crowd throwing a hail of rocks.
Responding to criticisms that the rules of engagement for soldiers are unclear, and that soldiers are frightened to take assertive action for fear of ending up in court, the sources dismissed the charges, saying that a detailed document instructing soldiers on how to respond to violent disturbances had been issued to field commanders in March.
“The document tells them not to open fire against rock throwers on the one hand. On the other, if they see a massive attack forming, or a large [concrete] block about to be thrown on top of a soldier, they can take action to stop this. They need to identify an immediate danger before opening fire to prevent it,” one source said.
“The soldiers in Hebron and Kadum didn’t feel this danger. We expect soldiers to use their judgement... and where an incident can be dealt with without Palestinian casualties, we expect this to be the case, as a policy,” he added.
“They soldiers chose not to fire because they felt they didn’t need to. In Hebron, a very small number of soldiers managed to contain the incident, and prevent 250 rioters from hurling rocks at the city’s Jewish neighborhood. Twenty Palestinians were hurt by riot dispersal means,” the source stated.
Firing on legs of rock throwers was also disproportionate, the source asserted, saying that “we don’t know where the bullet can end up. It could cause casualties, and we could find ourselves facing days of rioting.”
An IDF investigation into both incidents is ongoing.
The March document on the rules of engagement was issued after an earlier document on the same subject, issued by the IDF General Staff, had confused soldiers with vague instructions and obscure legal terms.
“We replaced it with a more simple, clearer document, which contain examples covering a range of situations,” the source said.
“Our duty is to act proportionately. Live fire is the last means. We do not want to fire randomly at a crowd or strike noncombatants.
And if we hit a combatant, we are obligated to provide medical assistance,” he added.
“We obligate our soldiers to think. If he feels his life is in danger, the rules allow him to open fire, but he must go through a thinking process first.”
The IDF is currently investigating a greater number of suspected cases involving live fire where it should not have occurred, then suspected cases where soldiers failed to open fire when they should have.
The rules of engagement describe situations that represent clear and immediate threats to life, such as a man running at a soldier with a knife, or a suspect aiming a firearm at troops, or the hurling of a big rock at a soldier’s head from close range.
Close-range Molotov cocktails also fall under this category.
The document differentiates between immediate dangers, and situations that could produce immediate dangers.
The IDF prefers that field commanders issue orders during incidents, but allows the individual soldier to make snap decisions when his life is threatened in quickly developing situations, such as an impending Molotov cocktail attack.
The source denied that fear of prosecution was paralyzing soldiers and preventing them from responding correctly.
“We have a policy of containing disturbances with restraint. It comes from an understanding that casualties will escalate the situation. This has proven itself as the correct policy,” the source said.