Jerusalem, November 15, 2000
1. There is no basis for comparison between the intifada of 1987-1992 and the current situation. During the 1987 intifada, the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip were under Israeli control. Today, 97 per cent of the Palestinian population is under Palestinian control. In addition, 40 per cent of the West Bank territory and 95 percent of the Gaza territory are under Palestinian control. Violent incidents occur when the Palestinians attack IDF outposts, outside their towns and villages. Palestinian claims that the IDF has entered Area A are patently false. Israel has not entered Area A of the West Bank, and has not entered the Palestinian towns and villages in Gaza. 2. A large percentage of the attacks on IDF forces involve live ammunition. Indeed, the very fact that Palestinian security forces sometimes participate in active hostilities against the IDF accentuates the gravity of the situation. 3. The rules of engagement for the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been modified in accordance with the change in the situation. Prior to the violent events, "police rules of engagement" were applied. Live fire could only be used in self-defense, and in all other cases "non-lethal" weapons were used. Furthermore, Israeli soldiers were actually told to wait until they were fired upon, before responding. While these rules of engagement still apply, the situation has now changed. The Palestinians are using violence and terrorism on a regular basis. They are using live ammunition at every opportunity. As a result, Israeli soldiers no longer are required to wait until they are actually shot at before they respond. In most countries, this is still considered self-defense. 4. Palestinian claims that Israel has been using a new type of tear gas are entirely false. Israel is using international standard CS tear gas, as used by police forces around the world. Rubber coated bullets are also used in violent situations. They are only dangerous when fired from close range, and have caused serious injury only in isolated cases. IDF soldiers are given thorough training in these weapons, and we are constantly monitoring their use so as to avoid casualties. This weapons system is not unique to Israel, and is used throughout the world. 5. The riot-control methods used by the IDF in the past are no longer effective in the present situation, since the Palestinian violence often involves the use of live ammunition. Existing riot-control equipment is effective only at a range of between 50 and 100 meters, which exposes our soldiers to great danger from live fire. Israel is doing its utmost to find alternative "non-lethal" weapons systems that are effective at a range of over 100 meters, and has sent experts all over the world to look into such systems – without success. We are working to develop new systems of this kind, however this will take some time. 6. The claim that the IDF is using excessive force is totally without foundation. There have been 1,351 armed attacks against Israeli targets, and 3,734 attacks without live weapons, constituting a total of almost 5,100 attacks instigated by the Palestinians (figures correct up until November 13). If we take the number of people who have been injured (3-4,000 according to most international organizations) we find that on average, less than one person is injured per incident. This is hardly an excessive use of force. The Palestinians are engaging in a campaign of violence and terrorism against Israel. Unfortunately, the Palestinians must understand that there is a price to pay for instigating this violence. Israel has no intention whatsoever of attacking innocent civilians, and will do its utmost to ensure that it hits only those who are firing at us, although we cannot promise that we will always succeed in this regard.
Palestinian claims that the IDF has entered Area A are patently false. Israel has not entered Area A of the West Bank, and has not entered the Palestinian towns and villages in Gaza.
2. A large percentage of the attacks on IDF forces involve live ammunition. Indeed, the very fact that Palestinian security forces sometimes participate in active hostilities against the IDF accentuates the gravity of the situation.
3. The rules of engagement for the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been modified in accordance with the change in the situation. Prior to the violent events, "police rules of engagement" were applied. Live fire could only be used in self-defense, and in all other cases "non-lethal" weapons were used. Furthermore, Israeli soldiers were actually told to wait until they were fired upon, before responding. While these rules of engagement still apply, the situation has now changed. The Palestinians are using violence and terrorism on a regular basis. They are using live ammunition at every opportunity. As a result, Israeli soldiers no longer are required to wait until they are actually shot at before they respond. In most countries, this is still considered self-defense.
4. Palestinian claims that Israel has been using a new type of tear gas are entirely false. Israel is using international standard CS tear gas, as used by police forces around the world.
Rubber coated bullets are also used in violent situations. They are only dangerous when fired from close range, and have caused serious injury only in isolated cases. IDF soldiers are given thorough training in these weapons, and we are constantly monitoring their use so as to avoid casualties. This weapons system is not unique to Israel, and is used throughout the world.
5. The riot-control methods used by the IDF in the past are no longer effective in the present situation, since the Palestinian violence often involves the use of live ammunition. Existing riot-control equipment is effective only at a range of between 50 and 100 meters, which exposes our soldiers to great danger from live fire.
Israel is doing its utmost to find alternative "non-lethal" weapons systems that are effective at a range of over 100 meters, and has sent experts all over the world to look into such systems – without success. We are working to develop new systems of this kind, however this will take some time.
6. The claim that the IDF is using excessive force is totally without foundation. There have been 1,351 armed attacks against Israeli targets, and 3,734 attacks without live weapons, constituting a total of almost 5,100 attacks instigated by the Palestinians (figures correct up until November 13). If we take the number of people who have been injured (3-4,000 according to most international organizations) we find that on average, less than one person is injured per incident. This is hardly an excessive use of force.
The Palestinians are engaging in a campaign of violence and terrorism against Israel. Unfortunately, the Palestinians must understand that there is a price to pay for instigating this violence. Israel has no intention whatsoever of attacking innocent civilians, and will do its utmost to ensure that it hits only those who are firing at us, although we cannot promise that we will always succeed in this regard.
My presentation will first of all focus on the legal aspects, but when I talk about the legal aspects I will be addressing issues like use of force, rules of engagement, methods, so it’ll be a bit wider than just the standard legal issues.
Secondly, I would like to start with a general statement relating to the current situation we are in. I have been in my current position for quite a few years, and I was in the same position during the intifada. Many people tend to compare between the current situation and the intifada of ’87-’92. I would like to explain to you in a few words the differences, from my perspective, in relation to the current situation and the intifada in 1987. During the 1987 intifada, one hundred percent of the West Bank and the Gaza strip were under Israeli control.
Point number one. One hundred percent of the Palestinians were under Israeli control. There was no Palestinian autonomy or authority, or any other agency, there was no Palestinian security force, and in effect, most of the world viewed Israel as occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We saw it differently, but that point aside, what we were facing in 1987 was what we refer to as a popular uprising against Israeli control. Israel in effect was carrying out a police function in the Palestinian towns, villages, etc., and most of the events of the intifada were cases in which there were disturbances against Israeli soldiers – Israeli soldiers tried to arrest or detain the Palestinians involved, and there were incidents related thereto. None of this is similar to what is happening right now. First of all, Israel does not control the Palestinian towns and villages right now. Population-wise, 97% of the Palestinian population is under Palestinian control. Territorially, the percentage is somewhat different – 40% of the West Bank but 95% of Gaza are under Palestinian control, and yet no significant Palestinian village or town is under Israeli control. So in effect, for the Palestinians to say today that Israel is controlling their towns and villages is factually incorrect.
Not only that, but today we have a Palestinian Authority, you can call it what you wish – an authority, an autonomy, the Palestinians say it’s a state waiting to emerge – no matter what you call it, they do have a hierarchy, they do have a bureaucracy, and they do have a security service. The Palestinian police, which as you know the official number can reach 30,000, the real number is very dependant on who you ask, but it’s a significant force. So what we have now is, a) we are no longer in the Palestinian-populated areas, b) we are no longer in daily control inside these areas, and c) the incidents taking place right now are not taking place within the towns and villages, they are incidents which take place when Palestinians move towards what we now call "flash points", and then we have an event.
Now, during the intifada, we had thousands of potential flash points. Every single location in which an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian were in the same place, potentially could be a place for a clash. Today, if you notice, we are no longer there, so where are these flash points?
A) The Israeli settlements.
B) Every place where there is an IDF location in a location which the Palestinians do not like or is close to a Palestinian settled area.
C) There has been in the last week another serious deterioration, different neighborhoods inside Israel, concerning which there is no political arguments – in other words, firing in neighborhoods of Jerusalem which are not under dispute in the negotiation process, then of course I don’t need to explain to you that this is another stage.
These differences between ’87 and today are some of the reasons why we no longer view the legal situation as being the same. From a legal perspective, international law, classical international law, actually only recognizes two situations: peace or war. But life isn’t as simple as that, and there are lots of terms running around the concerning the in-between. "Lower intensity conflict", "limited war", etc. Be the term what it may, the current situation, the fact that now a large percentage of the attacks involve live weapons, that we are facing a Palestinian authority, that we are facing a Palestinian security service which in part is taking active participation in hostilities, has brought us to the conclusion that we are no longer in the realm of peace. So where are we? While we are not at the end of the spectrum, which is war, because war is a conflict between two armies or two states, we are definitely in the area of armed conflict. Call it what you wish, some call it "un-conflict", some call it "active hostilities" – whatever the term you wish to use that’s fine with us, but please understand that for us, we have reached the decision, and I think I would be quoting the Attorney General, who I saw yesterday on television, saying that the current situation has more of a semblance of war than of peace.
As a result, we are also applying the principles applicable to warfare to the current situation, and no longer the principles applied in a time of peace. This is a general statement, and I’ll start by giving examples of how we are implementing it into different fields. Maybe I should start with one of the most contentious issues, rules of engagement.
You must understand first of all that rules of engagement are a worldwide phenomenon – we did not invent them – and there is a spectrum of rules of engagement which are relevant. On the one hand, at the extreme end, is what I’ll call "police rules of engagement". These are more or less standard worldwide. Let’s see what they are. First of all, you are allowed to use live fire in self-defense. This is standard for anything. In some countries, most countries actually, you are also allowed to use a weapon to carry out an arrest, but every country has different limitations of how exactly you can do this. In the United States it’s more or less standard, in Europe it depends which police, in France it goes this way, in England there are two different kinds of police, some who are armed, some who are not, I won’t go into the details. But generally speaking, that’s also allowed.
All other cases, you usually use what is called "less than lethal" or "non-lethal" weapons systems. As for riots and disturbances, again, at the police end of the spectrum, what you usually do is you use less than lethal equipment, which I’ll deal with in a minute, but please know that in some countries in the Western world even, live weapons can be used even in riot control in certain circumstances, and if you look at the manuals and look at other things of some countries you will see that there is no prohibition in some countries if situations become horrible against the use of live weapons. But that’s not the point; that’s one end of the spectrum.
The other end of the spectrum is warfare. Now, in warfare, you are allowed to fire at military targets. You don’t have to fire warning shots, you don’t have to aim at the feet, and if it’s a military target usually you don’t have give them advanced warning, and generally speaking there are limitations but they are rather few and far-between. There is a large area in between these two ends of the spectrum which every country has to adapt and use for its specific situation. I’ll give you an example: When the United Nations, or let’s say, NATO, or some other nation, wants to send a peacekeeping force to a certain location, they have to tailor rules of engagement for that force. These are not usually police-type rules of engagement. They always put in "use fire in self-defense" – that’s standard for everyone, but depending on the specific situation they may add other things. Defend such and such a location, be very careful of this and this organization, etc. etc. And in fact, rules of engagement go along this scale, and every country in every situation requires different rules of engagement.
Up to the current events, the rules of engagement of the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were police rules of engagement. Use of live weapons only in self-defense, or after a warning shot to carry out an arrest, which is not relevant right now because we are not involved in arresting people at this point in time – that’s historical from our perspective. In all other cases when you’re not in a life-threatening situation, you are allowed to use non-lethal weapons systems which I’ll deal with in a few minutes.
When this new situation came about, and we came to the legal decision that we have crossed the line between the area of peace and the area of let’s say active hostility, I came to the Israeli military and said, "We can, at this juncture, look again at our rules of engagement, and they can move down that scale a bit more." Because the facts have changed. There are people carrying live weapons on the other side who are firing at you. You don’t have to wait until you are shot at before you fire back. This doesn’t make sense – we are closer to war than we are now to peace. The funny thing was, when I came to the military and said this, the military said, "Well, thank you for this information, but we’d rather not." When we had a very lengthy discussion about this and I asked why not, I got two responses. One, there is no doubt that a significant change in the rules of engagement, meaning more liberal use of firepower, would result in a bigger body count. That is viewed by us as a Palestinian agenda item, because as far as we see it, there is a definite interest on the Palestinian side to get large numbers of casualties, on both sides, so they can get more international involvement etc., and we didn’t want to play into their hands. Secondly, there is no doubt that such a change of rules of engagement could further escalate the situation. Again, that’s not in our interest.
So the military actually responded to me by saying, "Thank you very much, we understand the legal situation, but we’d rather stick to the current procedure." And yet, we have made at least two, I won’t call them amendments, but we made two modifications to adapt to the new circumstance. First of all, you have of course heard of the specific incident when we used attack helicopters to attack specific locations. Now, obviously that’s not part of a peace-time operation. I mean, when you’re in normal peace-time policing activities, you don’t fire missiles from attack helicopters. But please note that even when we did utilize these war-time measures, we did them as follows. A) We gave advance notice of the sites we were going to attack, and several hours advance notice; B) we even fired some warning shots before shooting; and C) when we did attack, we hit the specific locations we said we were going to attack, so that actually no-one was killed. Now, this is not standard war-time practice. I am also the lawyer for the Israeli negotiating team with the Palestinians. When I was at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, I met with Saeb Erekat and he asked me about these attacks, and said, "Why did you hit the winter clothing storage room for the Palestinian police, for example near Jericho," and I said, "Frankly because we didn’t want to kill the Palestinian policemen in Jericho, so we hit the clothes store instead." But we could have – we just didn’t want to. But definitely this is an example of the way that we have changed our rules of engagement in a specific instance as a result of the new situation, although we haven’t actually utilized the warfare capabilities in this respect.
The second change now is that the word "life-threatening" situation is interpreted a bit more widely that it used to be. For example, now you don’t necessarily have to wait until you get shot at, if you see someone aiming a machine-gun at you and he’s aiming at you right now, you don’t have to wait until he shoots at you before you fire back. Generally speaking in most countries, that would be self-defense anyway; for us, until this current situation, the soldiers were actually told to wait until they were shot at. So now we told them, well, if you are going to be shot at, you can actually preempt it if you’re going to see it right now. But generally speaking, we still maintain the same rules of engagement we had during in the intifada, in spite of the fact that the legal situation has in our eyes changed drastically.
Non-lethal weapons systems. A lot has been said in the media in the international organizations, about the fact that we haven’t been using enough non-lethal weapons systems. So I think it’s about time that we address this issue and figure out what the facts are. First of all, what do we use?
The Palestinians have been claiming that we’re using all sorts of strange stuff. They claim that we invented a new type of tear gas – I’m sorry, we don’t have a new type of tear gas. We are using international standard CS tear gas, which is used by police forces and military organizations all over the world. Its efficiency, by the way, is limited. Open space, wind dispersal, short ranges – it can work, but people actually get used to tear gas, and they put things on their faces, use onions to try and cloak the smell. There are different methods where you can reduce effectiveness.
And we use the famous rubber-coated bullets. We have had a lot of complaints about the danger inherent in the rubber-coated bullet. May I say a few points. A) Yes, it can be dangerous. If I get too close a range, it can be dangerous. If it hits you in a sensitive part of the body, it can be dangerous. If you fire it according to our standard rules of engagement for that weapon system, which I won’t go into detail about, it should not be dangerous. But yes, it is intended to hurt; we are not firing it for fun. We intend to hit the people we’re aiming at, and we want these people to go back home limping, or even go to a hospital and get some treatment, so that they don’t attack us again.
We are aware of the fact that the rubber-coated bullet has in some instances caused severe injury, but statistically as far as we are aware they are very small. If it’s fired at too close a range, yes, it can be dangerous, which is why we told our soldiers how to fire it and we train them in that. I’m not saying that in every single instance we are OK, because I don’t know, but I can tell you what the training is, what the orders are, and what the results of all the checks that we have done – and it’s not only our system. This weapon system is not unique to Israel, it’s been used in other parts of the world.
I have heard a lot of statements and I’ve been talking to the media a lot and to international organizations about the question of the numbers of people being hurt. First all, from a personal perspective, there is no argument that no-one wants people to get hurt. Although, again, from a personal perspective, if someone attacks us I have very little sympathy if he gets hurt in the process. The numbers which are being thrown all over the place are strange. There is a significant tendency on the Palestinian side to start playing with the numbers. You’ve probably noticed that the numbers keep changing every day and have a tendency to jump from day to day. At the beginning of this week I heard Arafat saying in an Arab statement that there have already been 9,000 Palestinians injured in the events, although human rights organizations the week before published 3,000. The following day in another statement in the same country, he already said 10,000. This is just an example of the mathematics being used. I don’t know the number, so I won’t invent one for you. I just don’t know. All I know is that I’ve read the reports from all the different international organizations, not ours, and I can tell you that 3-4,000 people injured seems to be the vicinity of the number that most international organizations are talking about.
Number of deaths. I’ve heard, again, some Palestinian leaders are talking about hundreds of Palestinian dead. We can’t know the exact numbers, but as far as we can ascertain, the correct number of people killed is approximately in the 100-150-170 range. Now, again, every person is an entire universe, I am not arguing with that. But when you take these statistics, and compare them to the statistics which are being used in the media, it’s a different ballgame.
I’d like to do something which I usually don’t do. I am a lawyer and a military officer, I don’t play around with numbers, but I want to use some numbers to explain to you what my feeling is.
The claim against the IDF is that we’re using excessive force. This is what a lot of people are saying. Let’s try and see if the numbers bear this out.
We have three kinds of events in which we are being attacked. The first event is a normal riot/disturbance/stone-throwing incident, standard type. An average site of such an incident is several dozen Palestinian youths throwing stones, etc., and causing a disturbance. On the other end of the spectrum we have the live fire attack, be it attack from machine guns, automatic rifles, blowing up a bomb, whatever. Again, it could be anywhere from one person to 10, 15, 20 people involved, either a one-minute incident or a two-hour incident. And we have the mixed incidents, where you have both stone-throwing and rifle fire in between. Let’s say that an average incident will involve several dozen people and will last half an hour, on average – it could be anywhere, just for the sake of this discussion. I have the statistics of how many attacks there have been in the last six weeks. There have been, up to the day before yesterday, 1,351 armed attacks against Israeli targets. There have been 3,734 attacks without live weapons. A total of just under 5,100 attacks instigated by the Palestinians.
Now, if this is the number, based on our military reports from all units, who report every incident, and if we take the number of people who have been injured, we find that on average less than one person is being injured per incident. Is that excessive use of force? I’ll give you a specific example – that famous IDF position in the Netzarim junction. On the day before we destroyed the twin towers where all the firing was coming from, it was subject to I think 8 hours of continuous fire and a Molotov cocktail attack. We checked the records of how many Palestinians were injured at the end of that day: 3 people injured, after 8 hours of combat. Now, I can tell you personally – I was in the IDF headquarters during one of those days when the commander of that position, who was a lieutenant-colonel, with 20 soldiers, rang us up and said they wanted a helicopter gunship to help him, because he was taking fire from the top floor of the building and he couldn’t return fire – there is no angle, you can’t fire back that way within the bunker. But because the approval process for the use of a helicopter gunship is long, he had to wait about 20 minutes to half an hour before he could get a response. And he wasn’t firing back at that time, and he was on the radio saying, OK, when do I get the approval?
Now, I’m not saying that we are not firing back – we are firing back. Our orders to our soldiers are that if someone is shooting at you, you identify the person shooting at you, and you shoot back and you do not aim to miss. And yes, we are hitting people. But frankly, 5,100 attacks, generally speaking, of them 3,100-and-something live fire attacks, is not an insignificant number. It’s a tremendous number. So while, again, I don’t want to enter into the numbers game, I must tell you that when I see these figures and I know what the rules of engagement are, I can’t accept the fact that the IDF is firing wildly, which seems to be some of the Palestinian claim.
Let me take another point in this respect. If we were firing as freely as everyone seems to think we are, why are there very few women being hit? Look at the Palestinian lists, try to find women in them. Now, on the Israeli side you’ll see women, because the women are being hit when they are travelling on roads, etc., but where are they on the Palestinian side? The interesting point is, when I asked this question, people said, "Well, they are not taking part in the disturbances, why should they be hit?" Yes, that’s the point. They are not taking part so they are not being hit, except maybe for a stray bullet which can always happen because we are in combat and we do have 18 year-old soldiers on our side who sometimes could aim better. I’m not arguing with that, this is warfare.
Now, another issue I’d like to address is the issue of investigation. During the intifada, every single case in which there was a Palestinian fatality was investigated. But being personally involved in this, I want to tell you what we were doing. First of all, how did we know that a person died? – because we were in control of the area and we controlled the hospitals, so when a body came to the hospital, there was a standing order that the doctors couldn’t finish taking care without calling an IDF officer, and we took down the details, we took the autopsy report, and then we instigated a general investigation. We could research the situation, we could take out the bullet, we could find out exactly if it’s ours, or if it’s someone else’s, angle of entry into the body, how many bullets were there, etc. etc., and then we could make a thorough investigation, and that was in relative peace-time.
Life has changed. We are now in active warfare. We have had, as I told you, over 5,000 incidents. Now, when you are in warfare, talk with anyone here who has been in the military – US military, British military – you do not investigate. Investigations become the exception and not the rule. You DO investigate war crimes, even in war – no-one gets exempt from those. If something crazy is done, of course you have to investigate, but generally speaking when you are in active hostilities you do not investigate. Not only that, but how can we investigate? We don’t have the bodies, we don’t have the data, we don’t know what’s happening – and believe me, I cannot trust the data I’m getting from the Palestinian side, because I’ve been seeing reports through human rights organizations, we’ve seen a weapons systems which does this and that, but we don’t have such a weapon system. "You are using new types of gas" – but we don’t have new types of gas. So, frankly speaking, even if we wanted to, there is no way we can research anything except on our side, and we don’t know what the results of our firing are.
Thirdly, I have a problem with the double standard, and unfortunately I think the media is playing a role in this. I’ve been asked for the past six weeks about IDF rules of engagement, IDF investigations, non-lethal weapons systems, etc. Is anyone asking these same questions of the Palestinian side? Is anyone asking the Palestinians, did you investigate the 1,300 armed attacks? Are you investigating the bomb which killed so and so people in a car attack yesterday? What are your rules of engagement? Are you trying to figure out if you’re firing OK? No-one is doing that. So, the truth be told, this is not a situation where we are on a level playing field anymore, which doesn’t seem to make sense to me.
The last point I wanted to make, before I open the floor for questions, is the question of the violence. Frankly, there are some questions that I think should be asked not only of Israel. We have continuously said that we would like the violence to stop. As I told you, I was a member of the delegation to Sharm el-Sheikh. We reached a deal in Sharm – end of violence, the international fact-finding whatever, etc. etc. There has been no end of violence, and if you notice all the 5,000+ plus incidents, none of them have been instigated by Israel. It’s not that Israeli soldiers are moving into Palestinian towns and starting events. Palestinians come to Israeli positions, start an incident, and then it escalates. So, why are they not calling for an end of violence? Is there a reason for this? I’m not going to go into the details, but I think the media had a role to get to the bottom of this picture, as well, and while I’ll do my best to answer questions about how we are acting, the truth of the matter is, we are only reacting. And frankly, if we take our reaction and compare the results, I can tell you that I am relatively sure that we are acting in a very limited way.
That’s my statement, and I’ll be happy to take questions if you have any.
Questions and Answers
Q: I’m wondering if you can tell us about an instances in which IDF soldiers have been investigated for not firing properly, perhaps causing fatalities where that was not warranted, and also I’m thinking about last week’s helicopter attack in Beit Sahur, in which two women were killed and seven were wounded – is that consistent with international law for a helicopter pilot to kill a Fatah activist leader when he knows in the process he’s going to harm civilians?
A: I’ll start with the first question. No, there have been no instances in which IDF soldiers have been investigated, as yet. As I told you, we are not carrying out investigations because we are in active warfare.
As for your second question, international law of targeting, now that’s your specific question. First of all, you can only fire at a legitimate military target. We have reached a decision, and I think it’s generally accepted, that that specific person was a legitimate military target. When you fire on a legitimate military target, there is another rule, which is the rule of proportionality, in which case you are supposed to take all measures to make sure you are minimizing the danger to what is called collateral damage, or to innocent people. Now that’s a decision which is made twice. Once when you choose a target in advance, secondly when you actually carry out the attack. All you can do is a) give the orders, b) train the pilot, and c) make sure that you are minimizing danger. I don’t know the exact details of what the pilot knew when he was pressing the button in that helicopter. I do know that he was trained enough to know he should minimize civilian casualties while he was attacking that target. I don’t know the exact details of why there were casualties in addition to that person, but in that respect international law does allow you to attack military targets, even if it may cause damage to civilians, but you’re supposed to take all possible steps to minimize it.
Q: What is the difference between targeting and assassinating, especially given the understanding of the international limitations and moral implications of assassination?
A: Well, first of all, assassination is not a legal term, at least not in international law – assassination is a word which I’ve heard used in a criminal context. In international law of warfare, people can be divided into two categories: combatants and non-combatants. You are allowed to target combatants, you are not allowed to target non-combatants. You cannot aim at them. So that’s the only relevant question. In the current situation, people who attack us have been identified by us as combatants. As a result we view them as legitimate targets. That’s what I mean by the word targeting. That specific individual falls under that category, therefore he was attacked and killed.
Q: There’s been a lot of discussion in the press regarding pressure by various groups to respond with harsher measures. Could you talk a little bit about how the IDF is planning to respond, and how a decision like that might come about? The second question is with regard to Area A – acting within Area A and the popularly described possibility of recapturing or re-conquering.
A: Well, it’s an easier response because most of this doesn’t come from us. First of all, IDF’s role in this current situation is to protect Israeli people and Israeli interests. That’s our function description. How we do that is case-dependent. We don’t act in the same method in every single area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We have to adapt our methods to the specific threats we are facing.
One of the problems we are facing is that threats keep changing. Even in the intifada, in ’87-’92, we went towards an escalation process. If you remember it started with stones, then it escalated to Molotov cocktails, and towards the end there was a bit of live fire, that was during ’91-’92 and it was intermittent and not that popular. In our current situation, we started out with massive riots interspersed with rifle fire, it moved towards terrorism, and now a majority of incidents are live fire attacks, plus terrorist attacks. It moved from military locations to the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and then it moved into Israel. So all of these different threats require the IDF to continue to adapt its response. Now, what hasn’t changed is the general response requirement, which is that we maintain a very low level of response – in other words, restraint.
An army is a very powerful weapon, but in many respects it’s like a camera. The closer in you get, the zoom, its effectiveness becomes a bit less efficient. The problem is, for example, that when you deal with terrorism, the army is a very powerful weapon, but terrorism is a very unique threat. So what happens is, we have to use our weapons systems and our capabilities to meet the threat we are facing; at the same time we have a requirement for restraint. These two are not easy to put together. For example, when there is fire from Beit Jala at the Gilo neighborhood, the IDF could respond with many different weapons systems. We have capabilities to make it absolutely clear that no-one must ever fire at us again, but we don’t want to use them. So we limit our responses to the minimum that we can actually use, that we think can effectively take care of the threat. There are a lot of pressures to intensify the response, but that is being dealt with by the political leadership. The army leadership and the political leadership have a constant dialogue, and the pros and cons of the different aspects of the issue are weighed, which are not limited just to the military ones which you of course understand, and they reach a decision on what type of stance is required.
As for Area A, I don’t think it goes further than this. The Palestinians have continuously claimed that the Israelis entered Area A. I remember hearing Muhammad Dahlan, who I know very well because I first of all met him in 1988 during the intifada when I was part of the committee which was reporting it, and then we met in the negotiations and we became colleagues – we’ve been sitting together for many years, and we’ve talked a lot about the intifada and our mutual experiences. I remember hearing him on, I think it was Kuwaiti television, when we attacked the boats in the Gaza harbor, and he said Israeli soldiers are inside Gaza. We are not. We are not in Area A in the West Bank, and we did not enter the Palestinian towns and villages in Gaza, but there have been a lot of false claims to the contrary by the Palestinians, and I think that’s an adequate response currently to the question.
Q: Let’s set the live fire attacks aside for a second and just deal with the stone throwers. A couple of weeks ago the IDF said that it was going to introduce new weapons, less non-lethal weapons, into the field – stink bombs, that kind of thing. Why aren’t some of these things being tried, deployed, why isn’t the IDF putting up a line of soldiers up with riot shields and riot helmets, as they do in the Czech Republic or Korea or Seattle?
A: Thank you for the question, because I missed that in my presentation. Non-lethal weapon systems. First of all, what we are using you know – CS and rubber bullets. We’ve been asked why we’re not using other weapons systems.
During the intifada, you may know we actually invented quite a bit of riot-control equipment. We invented a stone-throwing vehicle. We invented a helicopter-dropped net – I think it was a glue-covered net. A lot of different ideas. A lot of very intelligent people came up with a lot of nice methods to catch people who are throwing stones and carrying out disturbances. Now the problem in the current situation is that we are no longer facing the classic disturbance, because either we are facing a disturbance interspersed with live fire, or there is a constant danger, if you try to deal with it in the short ranges with just riot control, that you might actually be targeted with live fire, because they have that capability everywhere. As a result, what we have found out, is that the confrontation ranges that we are now talking about in which our riot control equipment is effective, are between 50 and 100 meters, and even less, frankly, because if you throw tear-gas grenades at 80 meters it doesn’t do much.
The problem is that at those ranges live-fire weapons are extremely dangerous, and I definitely would not be coming near a Palestinian group throwing stones with a shield, based on the good chance that one of those people will pick up his rifle and shoot me. So what we’ve actually done, we’ve actually started searching for non-lethal weapons systems, or they are now called less-than-lethal weapons systems, all over the world, and we sent groups of our experts to tour every single country in the world during the last weeks which has such capabilities – I think the number was the 26 different countries and military organizations – and there are no non-lethal weapons systems on this planet which are effective over 100 meters. None. We’ve checked every single one, we’ve tried every single one, we’ve tried to buy every single one. I won’t go into the details. We found one item which actually could work, but the problem is that that specific country wouldn’t sell it to us. I won’t go into the details, because I don’t want to ruin our relations with that country, but again, and that’s the only one we’ve found and we’ve searched for two months. We are now trying to develop new systems which will meet the new threat, which means they will be effective at longer ranges, which will actually mean that it will keep the people away and therefore also prevent them coming near us into effective ranges of live-fire weapons, but these are now in development and they’ll take some time.
So yes, we are looking into it, yes, we are aware of the fact that it would be to the benefit of everyone if we could minimize the number of casualties, but just one point here. You said put aside the live fire attacks – we can’t. Because almost every incident today includes live fire. Again, if you look at the statistics of the last week or two, most of the incidents are either fully live fire or both live fire and stone-throwing. So what you’re actually seeing is no longer that you can just use riot control equipment and you can get out of that alive.
Q: Take the Ayosh situation – the kids in front are throwing rocks. It’s not like they’re going to bend down and pick up rifles. You’ve got snipers behind them, and you’re taking out the people who raise the guns, who are in the background. Why can’t you continue to do that, and real with the kids with the rocks on the ground with the non-lethal methods.
A: First of all, that’s what we do, generally speaking. We try to differentiate. Let me put it the other way around. If we were not differentiating you would have seen many more people injured. Because if we were using the fact that some people were firing with rifles behind a line of children as an excuse to open fire, then we would have taken out all the children. But we’re not.
The problem is that most of the riot control equipment that people are suggesting to us, for example the water cannon, if you check the effective range, the effective range is so small. I’m not talking about the fact that you need a water source, which isn’t that easy, but let’s say you found a water source, and you brought the water cannon up, and let’s say you even armored the water cannon vehicle. Even if you manage to bring it up and it survives coming that close, you’re still in range of the people facing you from the second line with the live fire. We’re not supposed to die when we’re dispersing a riot. So that’s a problem we’re facing. Again, we are trying to develop new systems, because as I said before, we have no interest in casualties, children or otherwise. On the other hand, I must say it again: people who have come to attack us should not expect that we won’t respond.
Q: Just to fill in a gap here. Was there also no investigation of the helicopter pilot in that incident, the helicopter pilot who killed the Tanzim guy in Beit Sahur? Also, you said that 40% of the territory is under Palestinian control, but really half of that is Area B, and there you DO make arrests, so what’s your status there?
A: First of all, investigation. I’ll try and make the situation clear. When you say investigation, you mean the criminal type. In other words, like we did in the intifada: we had the investigative military police come out, take affidavits, take statements, instigate military court-marshal proceedings, etc. No, we have not done that in any case as of now.
If we’re talking about internal investigations, inquiries, within the IDF – part of what any army does is to try and figure out if it’s doing its job OK and try to fix it, and there have been cases in which the IDF has internally made different checks to see what’s going on. But these are internal, we do not make those public, they are not intended for any criminal proceedings, and in fact under our law they cannot even be used for criminal proceedings, except in very exceptional circumstances.
But that’s not the goal of them; the goal of them is to figure out if we’re working OK, and if we’re doing our job right and if we’re following our own orders. They are not for public consumption but for internal consumption. So that’s to make that point clear. As for the specific case of the pilot, as far as I know I don’t know of any investigation in that respect. I don’t think there is going to be one, because I don’t think he did anything wrong in that respect. He did hit his target, and again we are very sorry for any people who were killed as a result of it, and I do not know the exact circumstance. But I do not know of any intention to actually investigate that further.
As for Area B, first of all, yes, you are correct. Area B is, if I remember correctly, 18% of the West Bank, although in Gaza if you notice there is no Area B, all of the Palestinian territories in Gaza are equivalent to A. In Area B, under the agreements, we have a division of responsibility. Everything is Palestinian except for security. They have public order and civilian life, and we take care of security. What that means is that under the agreements, if there is a security event in Area B, that is our responsibility. That does not mean that it’s a simple thing to do. First, the Palestinian police are active in Area B. Before these incidents, we had a coordination mechanism, an effective coordination mechanism sometimes, with the Palestinian police. We informed them that we were going to carry out activities in a certain villages, we told them "stay away", so that we wouldn’t have a friendly fire incident. Now, we do not coordinate such activities with them, and therefore we always have the possibility that we’ll be entering a hostile territory and engaging a hostile force. Therefore, today IDF activities in Area B are not really an easy environment or an Israeli-controlled area.
A: I beg to differ for three reasons. A) in the intifada there were no live weapons used against us. That’s a huge difference for a soldier. I was there in the intifada. The most dangerous part was in the center of the market, let’s say, in Hebron, or in Nablus. The big danger there was to be hit by people throwing a washing machine from the top of a building or a huge rock on your head which would kill you, but that’s about it. They weren’t shooting at you. But now if we enter Area B and there are a group of 30-40 Palestinian policemen who want to shoot at us, they can take us out, and it’s extremely dangerous, so it’s an extremely sensitive situation right now.
Q: It seems like you could end up, from an American point of view, like the LA police department, where you’ve got these policies, but it’s clear to everybody that they’re never going to get in trouble for violating a policy, or violating an order. Isn’t there a danger of that?
A: I think the comparison is wrong. I think the comparison should be to the American attacking in Iraq. Because we are now in warfare. And maybe you should look at the videos again from Iraq and see for example the video of the targeting of the bridge when the private individual is coming with his car on the bridge and the bomb hit exactly when he was on the bridge. There’s exactly the same picture, by the way, in the Kosovo NATO campaign.
All of those were in accordance with international law of warfare. They may not look good, you may be killing innocent people, but that’s how wars take place. Now, we are now in active warfare. This is not a full war, but this is active hostilities. Unfortunately that means that the Palestinians must understand that having instigated this thing, people will pay a price. We don’t intend to kill innocent people, but we cannot promise that we’ll only manage to hit the people firing at us. We’ll do our best, but we can’t promise, and there’s where we currently are.
Let me put it another way. Do you think Israel had an interest in killing those two women? I don’t think you think so. We know what it does to us every time something like that happens and how it’s used against us. So we do our best to minimize. But frankly, when you start using weapon systems of that magnitude, there is a danger of people being hit.
|Outbreak of Violence in Jerusalem and the Territories – Sept/Oct 2000|