Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lethal Ambiguity

The Israeli occupation army has long been known to have a book of unwritten rules as concerns its open-fire regulations and a "Code of Silence" among its soldiers, in order to be able to exhonerate them from the killing of innocent and unarmed civilians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the most glaring example being that of Iman al-Hims, and just last week, Amer Basyouni of the al-Ain refugee camp.

In a new video,the Israeli human rights groups B'Tselem provides testimonies of soldiers speaking about their Open-Fire Regulations. The testimonies show that soldiers receive intentitonaly ambiguous orders about when and how they are to use their weapons, giving the soldiers flexiblity, a high civlian death toll, and immunity from responsiblity. It is a policy Btselem calls "lethal ambiguity".

In one segment, a soldier speaks about the army’s policy in Hebron: "The Palestinians would open fire… In response, the army would take a controlling position and set up machineguns. Our job as machine-gunners was to respond… Machineguns are not precise weapons. You fire the first volley, see what it hits, and based on that adjust the aim… There were cases in which the army opened machinegun-fire and hit the roof of a hospital with a grenade…

"All these orders are grounded on a simple assumption: it is unacceptable that Palestinians will fire and we, the army, remain silent… [The soldiers] would take revenge. Go to Abu Sneneih or Harat a-Sheikh and shoot from real close… and when that didn’t help, fire at property as a deterrent."

Btselem says that while in the past, Open-Fire Regulations only covered law enforcement, with the outbreak of the second Intifada, the Israeli government instituted significant changes in the regulations and made them more "ambiguous":

"The army no longer gave soldiers a printed copy of the regulations, and they greatly expanded the kinds of situations in which soldiers were allowed to use their weapons. Israeli security forces have killed at least 1,806 Palestinians who were not taking part in the hostilities at the time they were killed. The vagueness of the orders given to soldiers on when to open fire is one of the principal causes for the high number of casualties. [T]he general practice is of not investigating cases of the killing of civilians who were not taking part in the hostilities. This situation transmits a grave message to the soldiers of contempt for the most basic human right, the right to life."

According to an Israeli army reservist I spoke with, even if soldiers are punished for torture or murder, it is symbolic at best: "“If there is a trial, [it] will be only the [solider] and the battalion commander…its what they call ‘discipline’…the soldier hears out [the commander] and says to him ‘ok sure’ then spends 7 days in prison and no one except the unit will know about it, including the press.”

21-year-old Tom Hurndall spent 9 months in a coma before dying from gunshot wounds to his head. He was shot by an Israeli sniper when he tried to bring Palestinian children to safety.

B’Tselem says such “offensive sentences”, together with the Israeli Judge Advocate’s Office’s new policy of limiting the number of criminal investigations during this Intifada, contribute to a sense of immunity and transmit a message to officers and soldiers that “even if you violate the regulations and harm innocent persons, it is extremely unlikely that you will be punished.”

The policy of amiguity applies equally to Gaza's border "killing zone"-where 9 unarmed Palestinians, including five children, and and one eight-month old child, have been killed since the Disengagement:

9-year-old Aya al-Astal was killed by Israeli snipers stationed on Gaza's borders on her way back home to her village of Qarrara in south-east Gaza. No investigation was every made into her death.

"According to B'Tselem's recent research, the army made no attempt to warn the Palestinians to move further away from the fence, or to give them a chance to surrender.

There has been talk in the media of killing zones. The claim is that there are areas in which the soldiers are ordered to open fire at any person who enters, regardless of the circumstances. IDF officials have denied that any such order has been given. However, the nine cases in which Palestinians have been killed raise the suspicion that broad stretches of land near the Gaza perimeter fence have indeed been classified as "killing zones."

Here is the testimony one one of the victim's (16-year-old Sayyed Abu Libdah) cousins, who was killed while in his family's orchard, 600 metres away from the border.


Blogger Abu Sinan said...

Hundreds of dead children......hundreds of dead civilians. How many brought to book? Of those, how many not just slapped on the hand? Insanity.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Abu Shaar said...

That photo still brings me close to tears. The incredible anguish, the pain, the blood.

Standing there a month or so after Tom was shot, taking photos of the bullet holes in the wall.
My Palestinian friend saying, "Don't point at the tower, man."

7:56 PM  
Anonymous Tareq said...

There can be no moral justification for providing effective impunity for criminal acts. And there can be no moral justification for the continued killing of innocent Palestinian men, women, and children.

When will an Israeli government decide to end its destructive occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land, plus their brutal policies directed against the welfare of the Palestinian people?

How for so many years can they behave with such absence of compassion for fellow human beings?

8:52 PM  
Blogger Amelopsis said...

Laila Thank you for continuing to share your perspective with us despite the tiring and maddening nature of your life, and the lives of every Palestinian.

The mainstream news still does not offer us the information that it should and your blogging is very valued.


8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it that when the Israeli Army maims, kills, bulldoze houses, and detain without trial it is reffered to as "Security"? And why is it that when Palestinians resit an illegal and immoral occupation its called "Terrorism"? Thank you Leila for your continued quest to speak truth to power.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Keir said...

Laila, I am glad to see you have the continued strength to bring your perspective to us.

For me, this amiguity problem is fundamentally related to incidents around the world, e.g. the case of the London police defending their murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. The indefensible is the norm, it seems, when it comes to state terror.

1:02 AM  
Blogger Umm Isa said...

Allahu barik fiki Laila. I am very greatful to be able to read your blog. What you do is so important now when the press rarely reports the real truth. Prayers and thoughts goes out to you, your family and all the people of Palestine.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Far too many young faces in these pictures. The Israeli soldier on the left in the top photo looks barely old enough to drive a car. The children and young adults in the lower photos also too young for horror. God help this situation.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very Very Sad, when will it end???

4:04 AM  
Anonymous JewishGirl said...

For the Palestinian readers or Laila, I have a question. In many of these blog entries, there is discussion in the comments sections about the killings of Palestinian children by the IDF. Can you tell me what defines a child in terms of age? I'm thinking of all the Palestinian teenage boys (some as young as 12 or 13) who have guns and throw firebombs and stuff -- if they are shot at and killed, are you stil counting them as children in the death count?

Also, is it really true that if Israeli forces left the disputed territories, the Palestinians would leave Israelis alone and stop terrorizing them? I would just like to hear your opinion on this, because most of us don't believe it and we read some pretty scary things coming from your leaders (both old and new) about plans to destroy Israel.

Thanks for considering my questions.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I've never read any news stories about shootouts between IDF soldiers and 12 and 13 year olds. Where were these stories published?

1:12 PM  
Blogger Abu Shaar said...

"disputed territories"?

When the IDF invades at will (as they did in Jericho last night)
is there a doubt they are still under occupation?

9:24 PM  

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