The following are edited excerpts from a press briefing
by Colonel Daniel Reisner, head of the International Law
Branch of the IDF Legal Division, given November 15,
Many people tend to compare between the current situation
and the Intifada of `87-'92. I would like to explain to you
in a few words the differences, from my perspective.
During the 1987 Intifada, one hundred percent of the West
Bank and the Gaza strip were under Israeli control. None of
this is similar to what is happening right now. First of
all, Israel does not control the Palestinian towns and
villages right now. Population-wise, 97% of the Palestinian
population is under Palestinian control. Territorially, the
percentage is somewhat different: 40% of the West Bank and
95% of Gaza are under Palestinian control. So what we have
now is: a) we are no longer in the Palestinian-populated
areas; b) we are no longer in daily control inside these
areas; and c) the incidents taking place right now are not
taking place within the towns and villages, they are
incidents which take place when Palestinians move towards
what we now call "flash points", and then we have an
The Palestinians have continuously claimed that the Israelis
entered Area A. We are not in Area A in the West Bank, and
we did not enter the Palestinian towns and villages in Gaza.
There have been a lot of false claims to the contrary by the
From a legal perspective, classical international law only
recognizes two situations: peace or war. But life isn't as
simple as that. The current situation, the fact that now a
large percentage of the attacks involve live weapons, that
we are facing a Palestinian Authority, that we are facing a
Palestinian security service which in part is taking active
participation in hostilities, has brought us to the
conclusion that we are no longer in the realm of peace.
Rules of engagement are a worldwide phenomenon -- we did not
invent them -- and there is a spectrum of rules of
engagement which are relevant. On the one hand, at the
extreme end, is what I'll call "police rules of engagement."
These are more or less standard worldwide. [In these] you
are allowed to use live fire only in self-defense. In all
other cases, you usually use what is called "less than
lethal" or "non-lethal" weapons systems.
The other end of the spectrum is warfare. Now, in warfare,
you are allowed to fire at military targets. You don't have
to fire warning shots, you don't have to aim at the feet,
and if it's a military target usually you don't have to give
advance warning. Generally speaking there are limitations
but they are rather few and far-between.
Up to the current events, the rules of engagement of the
Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were
"police" rules of engagement. When this new situation came
about, and we came to the legal decision that we have
crossed the line between the area of peace and the area of
let's call it active hostility, I came to the Israeli
military and said, "We can, at this juncture, look again at
our rules of engagement, because the facts have changed.
There are people carrying live weapons on the other side who
are firing at you. You don't have to wait until you are shot
at before you fire back."
The funny thing was, when I came to the military and said
this, the military said, "Well, thank you for this
information, but we'd rather not."
We have made at least two modifications to adapt to the new
circumstances. First of all, we used attack helicopters to
attack specific locations. Now, obviously that's not part of
a peace- time operation. But please note that even when we
did utilize these war-time measures, we did them as follows:
a) we gave advance notice of the sites we were going to
attack, and several hours advance notice; b) we even fired
some warning shots before shooting; and c) when we did
attack, we hit the specific locations we said we were going
to attack, so that actually no- one was killed.
The second change now is that the word "life-threatening"
situation is interpreted a bit more widely than it used to
be. For example, now you don't necessarily have to wait
until you get shot at before you fire back. Generally
speaking in most countries, that would be self-defense
anyway; for us, until this current situation, the soldiers
were told to wait until they were actually shot at.
A lot has been said in the media about the fact that we
haven't been using enough non-lethal weapons systems. First
of all, what do we use? We are using international standard
CS tear gas, which is used by police forces and military
organizations all over the world. Its efficiency, by the
way, is limited.
And we use the famous rubber-coated bullets. We are aware of
the fact that the rubber-coated bullet has in some instances
caused severe injury, but statistically as far as we are
aware they are very small. If it's fired at too close a
range, yes, it can be dangerous, which is why we told our
soldiers how to fire it and we train them in that. I'm not
saying that in every single instance we are OK, but I can
tell you what the training is, what the orders are, and what
the results of all the checks that we have done. And it's
not only our system. This weapon system is not unique to
Israel, it's been used in other parts of the world.
During the intifada, we actually invented quite a bit of
riot- control equipment. Now the problem in the current
situation is that we are no longer facing the classic
disturbance, because either we are facing a disturbance
interspersed with live fire, or there is a constant danger,
if you try to deal with it in the short ranges with just
riot control, that you might actually be targeted with live
fire, because they have that capability everywhere. As a
result, what we have found out, is that the confrontation
ranges that we are now talking about in which our riot
control equipment is effective, are between 50 and 100
meters, and even less, frankly, because if you throw tear-
gas grenades at 80 meters it doesn't do much.
We've actually started searching for non-lethal weapons
systems, or as they are now called less-than-lethal weapons
systems, all over the world, and we sent groups of our
experts to tour every single country in the world during the
last weeks which has such capabilities -- I think the number
was the 26 different countries and military organizations --
and there are no non-lethal weapons systems on this planet
which are effective over 100 meters. None.
We are now trying to develop new systems which will meet the
new threat, which means they will be effective at longer
ranges, which will actually mean that it will keep the
people away and therefore also prevent them coming near us
into effective ranges of live-fire weapons, but these are
now in development and they'll take some time.
The claim against the IDF is that we're using excessive
force. Let's try and see if the numbers bear this out. We
have three kinds of events in which we are being attacked.
The first event is a normal riot/disturbance/stone-throwing
incident, standard type. On the other end of the spectrum we
have the live fire attack, be it attack from machine guns,
automatic rifles, blowing up a bomb, whatever. And we have
the mixed incidents, where you have both stone-throwing and
rifle fire in between.
Let's say that an average incident will involve several
dozen people and will last half an hour. I have the
statistics of how many attacks there have been in the last
six weeks. There have been, up to the day before yesterday,
1,351 armed attacks against Israeli targets. There have been
3,734 attacks without live weapons. A total of just under
5,100 attacks instigated by the Palestinians. Now, if this
is the number, based on our military reports from all units,
who report every incident, and if we take the number of
people who have been injured, we find that on average less
than one person is being injured per incident. Is that
excessive use of force?
Now, we are in active warfare. This is not a full war, but
this is active hostilities. Unfortunately that means that
the Palestinians must understand that having instigated this
thing, people will pay a price. We don't intend to kill
innocent people, but we cannot promise that we'll only
manage to hit the people firing at us. We'll do our best,
but we can't promise, and that's where we currently are.