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Ben Gvir: Security forces should be able to shoot anyone holding stones or firebombs

Far-right lawmaker, set to become minister in charge of police, says open-fire regulations should be relaxed, but indicates this should only apply to those who ‘hate Israel’

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, November 10, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, November 10, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir said Sunday that security forces’ open-fire regulations should be relaxed to permit them to shoot anyone holding stones or Molotov cocktails, representing a potential threat.

Current rules are more stringent, requiring the threat to be immediate and serious.

“Whoever holds a Molotov cocktail needs to be shot,” the Otzma Yehudit chief told Army Radio. “What does ‘hold’ mean? A stone is murderous. A Molotov cocktail is meant to murder.

“I’m not saying they should be shot in the head, but at least shoot them in the leg,” he added, confirming that he plans to advance the policy point in the next government.

But Ben Gvir also said such rules should only apply to those who “hate Israel,” indicating he did not want to loosen regulations in the case of settler extremists who clash with police.

The policies should hinge on “whether [the threat is] nationalistic,” he said, and “is based on hatred of Israel or [a desire to] harm the State of Israel or not.”

Ben Gvir is to be given the newly created position of national security minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospective government — an expanded public security minister role — putting him in charge of police.

Under current policy, the Israel Defense Forces’ rules of engagement apply to the West Bank and are set by military leadership, who last year changed them to allow troops to shoot at suspects who have hurled Molotov cocktails or rocks, even after the deadly object is no longer in their hands. Before the change in policy, soldiers had been ordered to refrain from using deadly force once a suspect no longer possessed the threatening object.

The Israel Police follow separate directives.

It is unclear whether Ben Gvir can implement the policies he is pushing, but both he and the five other parties expected to form Israel’s next government all support sweeping judicial reform and policy changes that will increase political control over different public authorities.

Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir tries to kick Palestinian activists in Sheikh Jarrah on February 27, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)

 

He further claimed that settlers don’t throw firebombs at soldiers. Settlers have targeted both Israeli security forces and Palestinians with firebombs in the past.

“I don’t know hilltop youth who throw Molotov cocktails at soldiers,” he said.

Hilltop youth are a loosely knit group of hardline teenagers and young adults who establish illegal outposts in the West Bank, and have been known to engage in violence against Palestinians and Israeli soldiers.

“I know hilltop youth who pamper and love soldiers,” Ben Gvir added, and there were only “a handful” who “curse” or “push” soldiers when illegal West Bank outposts are evacuated.

Two Palestinian cars allegedly firebombed by hilltop youth staying at an IDF-built “quarantine outpost” nearby in Metzoke Dragot on April 14. 2020. (Carmel Dangor/Twitter)

In September, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that only the chief of the Israel Defense Forces can determine the rules of engagement.

“The chief of staff, and he alone, determines and will continue to determine the open-fire policies, in accordance with operational need and the values ​​of the IDF, including the purity of arms,” Gantz said.

“The commanders and soldiers strictly implement the rules. There was and will be no political involvement in the matter,” said the outgoing defense minister.

Ben Gvir has made support for soldiers and security officials a cornerstone of his political platforms, often going beyond military brass’s own assessments of what is appropriate.

On Sunday, he reiterated his position that the IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi was wrong to condemn soldiers who struck and taunted left-wing activists — whom Ben Gvir called “anarchists” — in Hebron. The military suspended two soldiers for their conduct.

Flames are seen on an Israeli army vehicle after it was hit with a firebomb during clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank village of Beit Sira, west of Ramallah, on March 8, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

“If an anarchist attacks a soldier, they need to be arrested,” Ben Gvir said of the incident, adding that the behavior of the activists as well as the soldiers fully investigated.

On Saturday, Kohavi released a statement calling verbal and physical violence by Israeli soldiers against civilians “contrary to the values ​​of the Israeli military.”

“He didn’t look into it, he rushed to condemn,” Ben Gvir said of Kohavi.

The current police minister, Omer Barlev, has said the appointment of his expected far-right successor “is a danger to the internal security of the State of Israel and a danger to democracy.”

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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