TEL AVIV (Jan. 26)
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin defended on Tuesday his policy of beating Palestinian demonstrators in the administered territories, but promised full investigations into reported excesses by soldiers.
“There shouldn’t be blows for the sake of blows,” Rabin stressed at briefing for military correspondents.
But Premier Yitzhak Shamir, addressing a Herut Party meeting Monday night, took a much tougher line, declaring “Our task now is to. . . put the fear of death into the Arabs of the territories.” He seemed to favor the use of lethal force as a deterrent.
Rabin has been the prime target of criticism since he announced a week ago that the Israel Defense Force has been ordered to pursue and vigorously beat rioters and stone-throwers. Meanwhile, the use of live ammunition has been severely restricted.
Rabin disclosed that the policy was introduced as early as Jan. 4 or 5, but that he refrained from announcing it until reporters specifically asked about it last week. He said he disclosed it because the public still believed that Arabs were being killed by live bullets.
The use of clubs has helped instill Palestinian fear of the IDF, which has thus regained its deterrent power in the territories, Rabin said.
Clarifying the policy, he said it calls for “force, including beatings, only while violent action is going on.” These measures are used in “hot pursuit,” but should stop once the perpetrator has been subdued, he said.
Force should not be used when entering homes to make arrests unless the soldiers meet with resistance, Rabin said, adding that soldiers also must not use force to make striking Arab merchants reopen their shops.
He referred to media accounts of detainees and innocent people being beaten as “exceptions.” He admitted that some soldiers were too zealous when given license to beat Arabs, but said others suffered deep “distress.”
But Rabin said he was concerned by the “exceptions” and has ordered Gen. Amram Mitzna, commander of the troops in the West Bank, to investigate media accounts such as that in the Jerusalem Post Monday of “pools of blood” seen in a vacant lot in Ramallah where soldiers reportedly had bludgeoned Palestinians.
Nevertheless, Rabin rejected the widespread criticism of his policy abroad. he said that the world first insisted that Israel must use non-lethal means to disperse rioters and is now protesting those very methods.
“They will always complain unless Israel speaks to the demonstrators nicely, over a cup of coffee perhaps,” Rabin observed.