Are Israeli soldiers shooting to maim?
Israeli leaders like to boast they have “the most moral army in the world”, a claim made by everyone from Ehud Barak to Binyamin Netanyahu. Over the last decade, however, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have been the subject of stinging criticism and well-documented allegations of war crimes, particularly with respect to offensives in the Gaza Strip.
Large-scale assaults on the Gaza Strip have played a significant role in damaging Israel’s reputation in the West and, for many, have made the Israeli military synonymous with brutality, violations of international humanitarian law and impunity.
There is, however, a grim routine reality, as equally damning of the conduct of Israel’s armed forces but which does not generate the same headlines: the use of force against unarmed Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.
Israeli journalist Amira Hass wrote a report in Haaretz on how the Israeli army is “intensifying its use of live fire in confrontations with unarmed stone-throwers and that the wounds inflicted are deliberately more severe”. According to Hass, Israeli forces have maimed more than 100 Palestinians across the West Bank over the last year, including many children.
Hass described how Palestinians she spoke to had seen “the sniper who shot them take aim, with an officer beside him”. Residents of Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem tell of how a Shin Bet officer known as “Captain Nidal” has been warning Palestinian youth: “We’ll make you all disabled.”
According to UN data, during August 9th-15th Israeli occupation forces injured 92 Palestinians — one-third of them with live ammunition or rubber-coated metal bullets. The following week, a day-long raid of Al-Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron saw Israeli forces kill one unarmed Palestinian civilian and injure a further 32 — all with live fire.
As of August 22nd, Israeli forces this year have killed 79 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and injured another 2,783. Given that over the last two years, the number of Palestinians hit by live fire as a proportion of total injuries has been 12-19%, we can reasonably assume that to date, in 2016, 350-500 Palestinians have been shot by live ammunition.
It is important to note that this level of violence being meted out by an occupying force is not purely a product of the intensification in clashes seen since last October. In January 2015, Israeli non-governmental organisation B’Tselem charged Israeli soldiers with deliberately provoking confrontations with Palestinian civilians so as to be able to open fire on them.
B’Tselem cited remarks at a December 2014 meeting with Jewish settlers by Israeli Brigadier-General Tamir Yadai, who said that the army was taking a “tougher approach” with Palestinians in the area. Where soldiers once used tear gas or rubber-coated metal bullets, he said proudly, Israeli forces now fire “live bullets”.
In early 2014 — even before the uptick in confrontations that accompanied Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank and Operation Protective Edge in Gaza — Amnesty International issued a report accusing the Israeli military of “a callous disregard for human life” in the West Bank. The evidence included “wilful killings” that constitute “war crimes”.
There is no need to wait for the deliberations of the International Criminal Court; the true story of the “most moral army in the world” is told by the bereaved parents, the Palestinian youths on crutches in West Bank refugee camps and the documented, systematic impunity enjoyed by a military whose day-to-day mission is not “defence” but enforcing a decades-old colonial occupation.