The Israel Defense Forces has revised its rules of engagement in the West Bank to address violent acts by Israeli settlers, who will now be treated in the same fashion as Palestinians who endanger soldiers, residents or property.
Against a backdrop of attacks by some far-right Jewish activists on Palestinians, army installations and vehicles, and even soldiers, new orders have instructed that soldiers eliminate the distinction between Palestinian and Israeli attackers in enforcing the law, the Ynet news site reported Monday.
According to a senior IDF officer quoted in the report, soldiers who refuse orders to confront and detain settlers may face prosecution.
“We explain to the soldiers that there is no difference between a lawless Palestinian and a Jew; there is no special procedure for arresting Palestinian suspects [over Jewish ones],” the officer explained.
“A Jew who breaks the law is an enemy. A soldier who stands by only harms the IDF,” he said.
According to the directive, soldiers must take action if Jewish activists cross one of four “red lines”: causing damage to Arab property or committing violence against Palestinians, throwing stones at security forces, verbally abusing soldiers or police, or causing damage to IDF property.
Soldiers noted, however, that although the directive is occasionally mentioned in briefings, it is not heavily enforced, because soldiers who find themselves separating Palestinians from settlers during a riot, as well as those who find themselves targeted by settlers’ violence, are often too “confused” to react.
“It’s difficult for us to imagine that we have to deal with a stone-throwing settler the same way we deal with a stone-throwing Palestinian. After all, we can’t [comprehend] forcing [a settler] to the ground, cuffing him, or shooting into the air when he approaches. The maximum we would do is yell at him to stop and then call the police,” an IDF officer from the Nahal brigade, who served in the West Bank, was quoted as saying.
Another soldier noted that many settlers serve in combat units posted to the West Bank and thus could find themselves face-to-face with family and friends from home.
“There are always religious soldiers, some of whom live in settlements, and they do not feel comfortable in these situations going against their relatives or friends. So you look to the commander, and by the time he finally responds, the event is over,” the soldier said.
The IDF indicated, however, that it has and will continue to court-martial soldiers who stand by or refuse orders to restrain and detain Israelis committing violence in the West Bank.
In an incident during last summer’s Gaza war, soldiers posted in Hebron were court-martialed for failing to prevent a Jewish girl from throwing rocks at Palestinians. The army did not say what punishment they received.
Last year, a brief media storm erupted after IDF vehicles and property were vandalized in the flashpoint settlement of Yitzhar, whereupon Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon posted a military presence to the settlement’s yeshiva.