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B'Tselem to Israeli soldiers: Refuse orders to shoot Gaza protesters

Israeli soldiers have a legal obligation to refuse manifestly illegal orders. In a new campaign, the Israeli human rights group says shooting unarmed civilian protesters is just that — unmistakably and patently illegal.

Palestinians demonstrate near Khan Yunis by the border fence between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip, March 9, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Palestinians demonstrate near Khan Yunis by the border fence between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip, March 9, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem will launch a campaign on Thursday urging Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to open fire on unarmed demonstrators. The campaign, titled “Sorry Commander, I cannot shoot,” comes on the heels of last Friday’s events on the Gaza border, in which Israeli snipers shot dead at least 17 Palestinians and wounded hundreds during The Great Return March.

The campaign, which will appear in newspaper ads, comes at a critical moment for the Great March of Return. On the first day of the march, which marked the beginning of 45 days of protests and events to mark Land Day and 70 years since the Nakba, Israeli troops Palestinians killed 17 and wounded 1,400 Palestinian demonstrators.

The demonstrations are set to continue this coming Friday, and Israeli military officials have announced in advance that, like last Friday, soldiers will again use live fire against demonstrators — even if they are hundreds of feet away from the fence. Such orders should be considered illegal, and thus soldiers should absolutely refuse them, said B’Tselem.

In the Israeli legal system, there exists an obligation for soldiers to refuse to carry out manifestly illegal orders. Orders to open fire on unarmed civilians, B’Tselem added, are a case of “unmistakable illegality patently evident in the order itself, it is a command that bears a clearly criminal nature or that the actions it orders are of a clearly criminal nature.”

Like all other countries, B’Tselem said, Israel’s actions are subject to international law and restrictions on the use of weapons, specifically the use of live fire. International law limits the use of live fire to instances involving tangible and immediate mortal danger, and only in the absence of any other alternative. Israel, then, cannot simply decide that it is not bound by these rules, it asserted.

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