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Will the Israeli army ever stop killing Palestinians?

Relatives of Palestinian Hashem al-Shorafa, who was killed during an israeli raid on North Gaza City, mourn during his funeral on 20 May 2021 in Gaza City, Gaza. [Fatima Shbair/Getty Images]
Relatives of Palestinian Hashem al-Shorafa, who was killed during an israeli raid on North Gaza City, mourn during his funeral on 20 May 2021 in Gaza City, Gaza. [Fatima Shbair/Getty Images]

With an increasing number of Palestinians being killed by the Israeli army in the occupied West Bank, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, warned soldiers recently against misjudgements when they use lethal force during clashes with Palestinians or when raiding their homes, farms and villages. Kochavi issued the warning during a meeting with the commanders of the IDF Central Command and, according to Haaretz, he directly and clearly ordered soldiers to reduce the number of Palestinians being killed during operations.

To achieve this, he told more senior officers to be involved in lower-level operations to ensure that his order is carried out and that fatal consequences only result from decisions taken by senior ranks. He also stressed that the officers who do not follow the rules will be punished.

The context of this is that, over the past three months, Israeli occupation soldiers have killed more than 40 Palestinians. In some cases, illegal settlers took guns from soldiers and opened fire at the Palestinians. In other cases, the settlers attacked the Palestinians before seeking the protection of the soldiers, who then also attacked the Palestinians.

"We will back you up when you act according to orders, but we will not accept exceptions," Kochavi said. "We will back you up when you use your judgement, even if there are mistakes, but we will not accept recklessness."

This all looks very positive, but who decides what the orders are? Are they written clearly and in keeping with human rights and moral standards? If there are such orders and operational rules, as the Israeli army claims, what are the criteria for deciding whether or not a Palestinian deserves to be killed?

READ: The PA only cares about Israel

Watertight orders and guidance are far from the reality. Even Kochavi himself pointed out to his officers, "You operate in a crowded and rough environment, and many times it is not clear who is an enemy and who is innocent."

That was the Get out of Jail Free card. On the one hand he ordered soldiers to pay attention and not to kill so many Palestinians, while on the other he said that mistakes are acceptable. How many times have we heard army investigators dismiss the killing of Palestinians as "a mistake"? Too many.

Support for soldiers to use lethal forces against the Palestinians has been given by the new Head of the IDF Central Command, Major General Yehuda Fuchs. Anyone who threatens Israel, he said, will be met by "trained lethal forces without hesitation."

In Haaretz, Israeli journalist Yaniv Kubovich highlighted one of the reasons why Israeli officials are not happy about the killing of Palestinians at the moment. It is neither ethics nor moral considerations which are the issue, but Israel's interest in strengthening the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank amidst massive public anger against it. "Politicians and security officials criticised the conduct of Central Command chief Major General Tomer Yadai and other senior staff, which they said could touch off escalation in the West Bank and hurt efforts the government is making to help the Palestinian Authority recover economically and politically," wrote Kubovich. In short, Israel fears the PA being replaced by a truly Palestinian national entity that isn't prepared to collaborate with the occupation authorities.

- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

No human rights in Gaza – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The journalist gave an example about the unjustified Israeli killing of Palestinians. Mohammed Al-Alami, 11, was killed when thirteen bullets were fired at the vehicle in which he was sitting with his family just outside Beit Ummar, north of Hebron. One of the bullets hit the boy in the chest.

Israeli human rights group B'Tselem investigated the killing. It reported that Muayad Al-Alami, a 37-year-old resident of Beit Ummar, drove to the entrance to the village with three of his sons: Mohammed, Anan, 9, and Ahmad, 5. "The father noticed soldiers by the military post and reversed the car. After driving about 30 metres, he turned around, and then the soldiers opened fire," said B'Tselem. "The choice to open fire at the car, in the heart of a populated residential area, was unjustified, as none of the passengers posed a risk to the soldiers or to any other person." The organisation said that the explanation offered by the Israeli army, "that the soldiers fired at the car after suspecting the passengers" did not match what happened at all.

B'Tselem, described this incident as a "heinous killing of an 11-year-old boy" that "demonstrates how low the value of Palestinians' lives is in the eyes of the soldiers, their commanders and the policymakers."

This is the reality about official Israeli institutions. The lives of the Palestinians deserve no respect and no protection.

In another example, after the killing of Mohammad Al-Tamimi in Hebron, the Israeli army said it would investigate the incident. "During the riots, a Palestinian suspect threw stones in a manner that fatally threatened one of the soldiers," claimed the IDF. "The soldier initiated an arrest procedure that included gunfire towards the suspect." That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. For "arrest procedure" read "shoot to kill policy".

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According to B'Tselem, official statements and announcements by the military police are merely ways of "silencing criticism, and this kind of investigation is the first step towards whitewashing the incident."

What this means in practice is that any claim that the Israel occupation authorities are in any way keen to reduce the number of Palestinians being killed by IDF troops is nonsensical. It's an effort to cover up the reality that Palestinian lives have no value as far as Israel is concerned.

No Israeli soldier or official has ever received an appropriate prison sentence for the killing of a Palestinian. That will never happen as long as there is Israel's occupation of Palestine is in place. Occupation forces do not operate according to morality and human rights; they are there to suppress the local population, and if that means killing them, well, it's in the job specs.

An editorial in Haaretz was quite open about this: "[That] Israel Defence Forces soldiers tend to be trigger-happy is an established fact." The only way to protect Palestinians, therefore, is to end Israel's military occupation, and keep the IDF out of Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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