TEL AVIV (Feb. 24)
The Israel Defense Force has instructed its field commanders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that force may not be used to punish the Palestinians there.
Force is permissible only to break up rioting crowds or in pursuit of suspects resisting arrest, and only at the specific time and in the place where disturbances occur, according to orders dispatched Tuesday by Chief of Staff Gen. Dan Shomron.
The orders explicitly define the IDF mission in the administered territories and make clear that no deviations will be tolerated.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International, the privately sponsored international human rights agency, has called on the Israeli government to establish a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate “the 62 killings in the territories,” the policy of beatings and other alleged excesses by Israeli security forces to suppress the Arab unrest.
Clayton Yeo, a Canadian who heads Amnesty International’s research department, told Israel Radio Wednesday that in some cases, the alleged behavior of IDF troops “amounts to murder.”
Yeo is leading a four-person team visiting Israel and the territories. He said “Amnesty International is very concerned by the extent and seriousness of beatings which have been taking place in the context of the security forces dealing with the disturbances, the beatings which appear, in many cases, to have been either punitive or deterrent.”
He said his organization also is “concerned about the use of lethal force because, as is well known, 62 people, at our latest count, have been killed by firearms by the security forces during these events.”
The human rights official added, however, that “There is no doubt about it that the Israelis–at different levels, both government and military–have taken positive steps, and we welcome this. Our concern is that the events have been such that there has to be a fundamental question–what happened and why did it happen?”
The chief of staff’s instructions on these matters were not related to the charges by Amnesty International or other foreign agencies.
They were issued by order of the Defense Ministry, which found as a result of its own investigations and the reports of IDF psychologists sent into the trouble spots that many junior officers and their superiors in the field were misinterpreting orders with respect to use of force, particularly beatings of Palestinians.
The IDF conceded that some soldiers acted with excessive zeal on the mistaken notion that they were free to apply physical force at their own discretion.
Shomron’s orders stated: “The IDF is faced with a task of unprecedented complexity and sensitivity–to impose law and order and prevent manifestations of violence from attaining their objectives.
“The fulfillment of this task requires the use of force. IDF soldiers must act aggressively and decisively, but with self-restraint and sensitivity in accordance with the high behavioral norms demanded of the IDF’s soldiers and commanders.
“I would like to clarify and emphasize that force is to be used only for the purpose of fulfilling our task according to law and orders of the army, from which there should be no deviation. Under no circumstances should force be used as punishment.”
Shomron specified that “The use of force is permitted during a violent incident in order to break up a riot, to overcome resistance to legal arrest, and during pursuit after rioters or suspects–all within the confines of the time and place where the incident occurs.”
He stated explicitly that “Force is not to be used once the objective has been obtained–for example, after a riot has been dispersed or after a person is in the hands of our forces and is not resisting.”
He added that “In every instance, the use of force must be reasonable, and one should refrain as much as possible from hitting anyone on the head or on other sensitive parts of the body. No steps should be taken to humiliate or abuse the local population, nor should property be intentionally damaged.”
VITAL, ‘DISTASTEFUL TASK’
Shomron, interviewed on an army radio phone-in program Tuesday, agreed that maintaining law and order in the territories was a “distasteful task.”
But he added that soldiers should not feel any moral confusion about their mission, which he called a “national objective of the highest order.”
The chief of staff warned that IDF unilateral withdrawal from the territories, as some propose, would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Shomron also explained the IDF’s attitude toward the news media. He contended that the media caused a “lot of damage” but that “the media is part of life, a part of us, and we have to live with it.”
He opposed closing the territories to press and television coverage because that would mean closing out Israeli society. “In my opinion, it would be a retreat backwards of years,” Shomron said.
Yeo of Amnesty International said on his Israel Radio interview that “We have no doubt that by generally accepted standards sometimes soldiers have found themselves in the immediate context where some force was necessary.”
He said “the step toward firing a combat rifle against people who are not themselves armed with firearms is a very big step to take.”