Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Cheshvan 5761 - November 22, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The IDF's View of the Non-Peace: No Excessive Force

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, 2000.

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 event.

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 Palestinians.

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.


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