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Israeli army knew it was unnecessarily killing Gaza protesters in real time

The Israeli army admits that it secretly changed its policy once it realized that shooting unarmed protesters in the leg was lethal. Rights group says the revelation is an admission that Israel was killing protesters without any justification.

 Palestinians evacuate a protester during a Great Return March protest near the Gaza fence, east of Gaza City, November 2, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Palestinians evacuate a protester during a Great Return March protest near the Gaza fence, east of Gaza City, November 2, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

The Israeli military reportedly changed open-fire regulations for its snipers deployed along the Israel-Gaza fence after it became clear that they were unnecessarily killing unarmed Palestinian protesters, something human rights groups and others had been warning all along.

Israeli snipers and sharpshooters killed 206 Palestinian demonstrators and wounded thousands of others — including children, medics, and journalists — during the Great March of Return in Gaza. The ongoing weekly protests, which began in March of 2018, called for an end to Israel’s siege on Gaza and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Israeli journalist Carmela Menashe, the military reporter for Israel’s public radio station, tweeted earlier this week that the IDF made the change when it understood that “firing at the lower half of the body above the knee led to death in many cases, despite this not being the objective.” According to Menashe, the soldiers were instructed to “shoot below the knee, and later, at their ankles.”

A senior officer in the IDF’s counterterrorism school told Israeli news site Ynet that the snipers’ objective was “not to kill but to wound, so one of the lessons [learned] was what they were shooting at… At first we told them to shoot at the leg, we saw that this could kill, so we told them to shoot under the knee. Later we made the order more precise to shoot at the ankle.”

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A statement published by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem on Wednesday accused Israeli officials of openly admitting that they knew their soldiers were killing people that, “even in the eyes of the state, had no reason to be gunned down.”

“No one bothered to change the orders, and the army continued to operate in a manner of trial and error, as if these were not real people who might be killed or wounded… People whose lives and the lives of their families have been destroyed forever,” said B’Tselem.

The Israeli military has long argued that the protests at the fence should be seen in the context of a long-running armed conflict with Hamas, and thus open-fire regulations are subject to the rules of armed conflict, which provide greater leeway for the use of lethal force.

Israeli soldiers shoot tear gas is shot at Palestinian protesters on the border with the Gaza Strip, as Palestinians demonstrate to mark Naksa Day, June 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers shoot tear gas is shot at Palestinian protesters on the border with the Gaza Strip, as Palestinians demonstrate to mark Naksa Day, June 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Human rights groups and many others rejected that logic, arguing that treating civilian protests as armed conflict is illegal. At the height of the protests, as the casualties mounted, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court published a warning that “violence against civilians — in a situation such as one prevailing in Gaza” could constitute war crimes. Anyone who orders, encourages or carries out that violence, she said, “is liable to prosecution before the Court.”

Despite the international criticism and calls for an independent investigation into the killing of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza, Israeli authorities doubled down on orders to open fire on unarmed protesters.

Last May, Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected two petitions from Israeli human rights groups demanding an end to the killing of unarmed civilians at the fence. The Israeli army, in that case, argued that live fire could be used in response to “violent disturbances that pose real and imminent danger to IDF forces or to Israeli civilians,” and that the rules of engagement allow for “accurate shooting at the legs of a key agitator or instigator in order to remove the danger of a violent riot.”

The state also added that “there is a systematic process of drawing operational lessons and implementing them,” that the army had sharpened its open-fire procedures in order to “further reduce the casualties to the extent possible,” and that cases in which Palestinians were killed were referred to the General Staff for further investigation.

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    1. Bernie

      This article puts an unnecessarily negative spin on the changes made by the IDF. The headline gives the FALSE impression the the IDF went about deliberately killing the Gaza protesters.”Israeli army knew it was unnecessarily killing Gaza protesters in real time”

      Instead, the truth seems to be that, as as the IDF came to realize the unintended causes resulting from soldiers shooting protesters in the legs, they began to progressively “refine” the rules of engagement. Soldiers were instructed to aim lower on the legs, and even at the at the ankle.

      Does your editorial policy COMPEL you to always portray Israel in a bad light? Can you not aim for a bit more objectivity? more balance?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Aside from the fact that the army had no business firing lethal bullets as protest control, whatsoever, aside from that, read the observations of B’Tselem. The IDF made its changes at a relaxed, experimental, coldly “scientific,” unhurried pace. After it saw the results of its experiments, it “later” made a series of coldly gradated changes in anatomy targeted, as if these were not human beings they were shooting at. As if it was an experiment in a laboratory.
        Meanwhile, “No one bothered to change the orders, and the army continued to operate in a manner of trial and error, as if these were not real people who might be killed or wounded… People whose lives and the lives of their families have been destroyed forever.”
        No one bothered to change the orders with any alacrity. It is unimaginable that the IDF would have lacked alacrity had they been shooting at Jewish protesters, but that observation in itself has an absurd ring, because the IDF would, god forbid, never ever shoot at Jewish protesters, not at their bodies, their legs, their ankles, the tips of their toes, or the hair on their chinny chin chin.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Let me put this more simply: The IDF snipers, comfy behind berms with high powered weapons and telescopic sights, taking their time, started at the body, days later moved to the legs, later still to the ankles, in a slow, cold process of experimental elimination. That they did not start at the ankles, moving up, but started at the body, moving down, is a fact that speaks loudly all by itself. And even in the end, these laboratory scientists of maiming and killing human beings thought that shooting someone’s foot off and maiming her or him for life was just a fine thing to do to someone holding a sign protesting the occupation or serving as a medic–especially if that someone was “a leader or organizer” of the protest.

          Israel does not tolerate any protest, violent or non-violent, and it moves especially quickly against non-violent protest, extinguishing it or converting it to violence on purpose, then blames the other side when the protests turn violent, the aim all along so that it can let its army loose.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Carlo

      And what was the attitude of the Israeli ‘Peace Now’ movement to the gunning down of civilian demonstrators? Peace Now simply endorsed the position of the military that the protestors were manipulated by Hamas and therefore constituted legitimate targets.

      In other words Peace Now accepts the death penalty as an acceptable response to the expression of a political opinion!

      The word ‘Peace’ in their title has come to mean the peace of the graveyard.

      Reply to Comment
    3. itshak Gordine

      Hamas today banned its protest participants at the Israeli border from wielding swastikas. Well, well, I thought it was peaceful protest marches devoid of racism. The Hamas terrorists probably understood that this made a very bad impression. Maybe it made the Israeli leftists feel uncomfortable ..

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        You can’t have it both ways, Halevy. Hamas leadership has clearly stated the struggle is against the occupation not Jews. And disavowed rogue member statements to the contrary. And put a stop to the swastikas by the rabble. When was the last time Netanhayu and Shaked et al. put a stop to the blatantly extremist, hate-filled, racist statements of the settler rabble, the rabbis, and the leaders such as Smotrich, Marzel, Ben Ari, Lior, Ben Gvir, and Gopstein? In fact, Netanyahu invited Otzma Yehudit into the tent and struck a cozy pact with it.
        You have no leg to stand on.

        Reply to Comment