B'Tselem urges soldiers to refuse to shoot protestors in Gaza

By agency reporter
April 6, 2018

B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, has launched a campaign entitled “Sorry Commander, I cannot shoot”. The campaign will include newspaper advertisements clarifying to soldiers that they must refuse to open fire on unarmed demonstrators. The organisation is taking this unusual step following last Friday’s events (30 March 2018), when soldiers used live fire against unarmed demonstrators. Of at least 17 Palestinians killed that day, 12 were killed at the protests. Hundreds more were injured by live gunfire.

B'Tselem says the military is preparing for demonstrations expected again  on 6 April 2018, but instead of attempting to reduce the number of those killed or injured, official sources have announced in advance that soldiers will use live fire against demonstrators even if they are hundreds of metres from the fence. B'Tselem warned of the expected outcome of this policy and is again clarifying that shooting unarmed demonstrators is illegal, and that orders to shoot in this manner are manifestly illegal.

B'Tselem says the responsibility for issuing these unlawful orders and for their lethal consequences rests with the policy makers and – above all – with Israel’s prime minister, defence minister, and the chief of staff. They are also the ones who bear the obligation to change these regulations immediately, before planned protests, in order to forestall any further casualties. That said, it is also a criminal offence to obey patently illegal orders. Therefore, as long as soldiers in the field continue to receive orders to use live fire against unarmed civilians, they are duty-bound to refuse to comply.

B'Tselem wishes to emphasise that the illegality of such orders “is not a question of form, nor is it imperceptible, or partially imperceptible.” On the contrary, it is a case of “unmistakable illegality patently evident in the order itself, it is a command that bears a clearly criminal nature or that the actions it orders are of a clearly criminal nature. It is an illegality that pains the eye and outrages the heart, if the eye be not blind and the heart be not callous or corrupt.”

B'Tselem says contrary to the impression given by senior military officers and government ministers, the military is not permitted to act as it sees fit, nor can Israel determine on its own what is permissible and what is not when dealing with demonstrators. Like all other countries, Israel’s actions are subject to the provisions of international law and the restrictions they impose on the use of weapons, and specifically the use of live fire. The provisions limit its use to instances involving tangible and immediate mortal danger, and only in the absence of any other alternative. Israel cannot simply decide that it is not bound by these rules.

B'Tselem says the use of live ammunition is blatantly unlawful in the case of soldiers firing from a great distance at demonstrators located on the other side of the fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip. In addition, it is impermissible to order soldiers to fire live ammunition at individuals for approaching the fence, damaging it, or attempting to cross it. Obviously, the military is allowed to prevent such actions, and even to detain individuals attempting to carry them out, but firing live ammunition solely on these grounds is absolutely prohibited.

* The name B’Tselem, bestowed upon the organisation by former Member of Knesset Yossi Sarid, literally means "in the image of" in Hebrew. It is taken from Genesis 1:27: "And God created humans in his image. In the image of God did He create him" and is also used as a synonym for human dignity. The name expresses the Jewish and universal moral edict to respect and protect the human rights of all people.

* B'Tselem: The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories https://www.btselem.org/

[Ekk/6]

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