Israeli security forces must not be “trigger-happy” in combating a wave of Palestinian violence in which many young assailants have died carrying out attacks, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Thursday, backing a statement made a day earlier by his army chief against the use of excessive firepower.
In remarks to students at the Tel Hai college on Thursday, Ya’alon said Israel could not compromise its core values, even in the face of the unrest that erupted five months ago.
“We must act calmly, judiciously and with discretion in order to prevent hurting innocent people and to avoid creating a situation in which our outrage causes us to lose our humanity, and ultimately, lose sight of justice,” he said.
“We must not allow our senses to be dulled and must not become trigger-happy simply because our blood is boiling,” Ya’alon added. “We need to know how to win and still remain human.”
A day earlier, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told students at a Bat Yam high school that the army’s rules of engagement were adequate to deal with terrorist threats, and said security forces must shoot to kill perpetrators of attacks only if the circumstances are life-threatening.
His comments were interpreted as a veiled criticism of police reaction to attacks.
“When there’s a 13-year-old girl holding scissors or a knife and there is some distance between her and the soldiers, I don’t want to see a soldier open fire and empty his magazine at a girl like that, even if she is committing a very serious act,” Eisenkot said. “Rather, he should use the force necessary to fulfill the objective.”
Eisenkot was apparently referring to an attack carried out by14- and 16-year-old Palestinian teens armed with scissors who stabbed and lightly wounded an elderly man in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market in November.
Police opened fire, killing the 16-year-old and critically wounding the 14-year-old.
Channel 10 TV said Eisenkot’s remarks angered “senior Jerusalem police officers,” who took them as a personal attack on the policeman who fired the fatal shots in the market incident.
The officer was later investigated by the Justice Ministry’s police investigations department on suspicion he used excessive force by continuing to shoot the girl when she no longer constituted a threat.
Former director of the Shin Bet security service Yuval Diskin and opposition lawmakers Tzipi Livni and Elazar Stern came out in support of Eisenkot’s remarks.
In a Wednesday Facebook post, Diskin called Eisenkot’s directive “incredibly sane” and said that security forces “who cannot disassemble scissors or disarm a knife in the hands of a 13-year-old should not be serving as a combat soldier.”
“When the chief of staff explains the rules of engagement in regard to the values of the IDF, the Israeli public should know now more than ever that the fate of our children rests in the hands of a commander worthy of the task,” said Livni, chairwoman of the Zionist Union faction.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan responded to the back-and-forth, saying there was no daylight between his stance and Eisenkot’s.
“It’s too bad they are showing the public this in a misleading way. Police are thwarting attacks and doing this in life-threatning situations without any hesitation,” he said.
In a wave of terrorism since the beginning of October, Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks have taken the lives of at least 25 Israelis, plus an American, Eritrean and Palestinian bystander.
At the same time, 172 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces, the overwhelming majority while carrying out attacks but others during clashes and demonstrations.
A number of attackers in recent months have been young teenagers. A tally released by the Shin Bet earlier this week showed that nearly half of Palestinian attackers were below the age of 20. Some have been as young as 13.
In December, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom enraged Israeli officials when she called on Jerusalem to halt what she called “extrajudicial executions” in response to Palestinian attacks. She followed up her comment with a demand for “thorough” investigations into the killing of Palestinians by the Israeli security forces.
AFP contributed to this report.