TEL AVIV (Feb. 22)
An official directive is expected to be issued by the Defense Ministry shortly, clarifying for soldiers of the Israel Defense Force how to differentiate between legal and illegal orders when subduing rioters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The directive will be the outcome of a letter sent by Attorney General Yosef Harish to Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin advising him that soldiers may not use force as a means of punishment or humiliation.
The letter, made public Monday, stresses that the use of force for such purposes is, in effect, a manifestly illegal order. Harish demanded that the defense minister issue appropriate instructions to all responsible in this regard.
Rabin, author of the IDF’s “iron fist” policy to put down disturbances in the administered territories, has been severely criticized for his instructions to the IDF last month to pursue and severely beat Palestinian demonstrators.
Although this policy apparently was intended to be employed only in instances of the most serious disorders, and to avoid as much as possible the use of lethal force, it has been strongly condemned abroad and by many Israelis.
Charges have mounted in recent weeks that many Israeli soldiers and border police administer beatings and break bones where such action is unwarranted by the circumstances.
Harish noted in his letter that he has received many complaints of abuse from residents of the territories. He said the official designation of abuses as “irregularities” has raised suspicion that the real situation has not been truly reflected.
The need to spell out to soldiers what is and what is not permitted is vital to lighten what is already a heavy moral burden for those serving in the administered territories, Harish wrote.
Israel Radio’s legal correspondent said Monday that a ruling by the attorney general following a Supreme Court ruling is binding on all Cabinet ministers, including the defense establishment.
Other legal sources said a soldier is legally obliged to disobey the orders of a superior if they are clearly illegal.
Meanwhile, there has been no immediate reaction from the IDF to a report by two of its field psychologists charging that soldiers used excessive force against Palestinians when it was not necessary to put down disturbances.
According to Israel Radio, psychologists Charley Greenbaum and Dan Bar-On recommended to Defense Minister Rabin that clear, unequivocal instructions be issued to IDF soldiers and the officers commanding them on how to deal with civil unrest. They reportedly found that junior officers overreacted to minor provocations.
Greenbaum and Bar-On reportedly found that soldiers break the arms and legs of Palestinians and damage their property while not in “hot pursuit” to stop rioting. They attributed this to the misinterpretation of standing orders by junior officers and more senior officers on the spot.
Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, the IDF chief of staff, was quoted as saying he was deeply shocked by the report.
The IDF sent teams of psychologists to trouble spots in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Rabin announced that beatings were permissible. The purpose was to gauge the impact of these orders on the average soldier.