IDF troops in the West Bank should not open fire at Palestinian protesters, even when they are pelted with rocks, a senior army officer said Tuesday, in what was the first comment by the army on two incidents in which soldiers assailed by stone-throwers retreated hastily rather than engage with the protesters.
Holding fire when faced with stone-throwers was the right policy and soldiers who retreated acted correctly, the officer, from the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division, said in a press briefing, stressing that the troops could have opened fire if they felt their lives were in danger.
Retreating rather than engaging with live ammunition, the officer said, could prevent isolated incidents from sparking larger-scale confrontations. He added that over the past few months there have been several instances where soldiers fired at Molotov cocktail-wielding rioters who endangered their lives.
In two separate incidents reported this week, one in the West Bank town of Kfar Qadum and the other in Hebron – where Palestinian police were involved – IDF troops were filmed retreating in the face of heavy stone-throwing from rioters. In response, some soldiers said that the presence of media “tied their hands” and prevented them from defending themselves.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was among those who stated that in future confrontations of a similar nature, the IDF should employ lethal force.
On Tuesday, the IDF officer asserted that both cases were “isolated,” and that soldiers stationed in the West Bank did not regularly stage hasty retreats in the face of stone-throwing protesters. The doctrine of containment and restraint, he said, “has proven itself so far,” because the army understands that injuries to protesters will only beget more violence and terror attacks.
“It’s our obligation to act with proportionality, and to fire our weapons only as a last resort,” the officer said. “We don’t want to hit innocent people.”
He noted that the army was mulling the deployment of additional nonlethal weapons, including electric tasers and bullets that are less harmful than the rubber-coated rounds currently in use.
If a soldier can contain a riot “without killing Palestinians,” the officer said, “he shouldn’t shoot.”