Report: Police eye changes to rules for use of live fire against rioters in wartime

Matter said brought up during discussion on lessons learned from May 2021 riots, amid fears Arab protesters could block army convoys during a future military escalation

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Police are seen in Lod during ethnic rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Police are seen in Lod during ethnic rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Police and the National Security Ministry are seeking a change to rules of engagement to allow the use of live fire to disperse rioters during wartime, a Wednesday report said, particularly over concerns that Arab Israeli protesters could block roads used by army convoys in a future conflict.

According to Kan news, the matter has been discussed as authorities in recent months have reviewed lessons that can be learned from days of deadly inter-communal violence in cities with mixed Arab-Jewish populations in May 2021, which occurred concurrently with Israel’s 11-day war with Gaza at the time, known in Israel as Operation Guardian of the Walls.

Kan said the discussion was held between Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and then-director general of the ministry Shlomo Ben Eliyahu, who recently quit.

Police were said to fear that in a future war along the northern or southern border, Arab Israelis could block roads to prevent military convoys from reaching their destination.

The report said police want to revisit the conclusions made by the Or Commission, set up to investigate a round of inter-communal violence in October 2000, in which 13 were killed in clashes with police — 12 Arab Israelis and one Palestinian. An Israeli Jew was killed when his car was stoned by Arab rioters.

The panel found that police used excessive force during 2000’s deadly events, and determined that live fire was an inappropriate method of riot dispersal. Since then, police have only been allowed to use non-lethal means to disperse riots, and can only use live fire if they feel their life is in danger.

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, left, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a terror attack in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, outside of Jerusalem, August 1, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The police and ministry have yet to determine any changes to the rule, and who would have the authority to authorize the use of lethal force, the report said.

A steering committee formed to formulate recommendations for the establishment of a National Guard — a force proposed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to be deployed in times of ethnic unrest — has also drawn up recommendations for easing live fire rules in a state of emergency, Kan said.

In response to the report, police acknowledged that a discussion was held a few months ago on the Or Commission’s findings and on the use of live fire, but that live fire to disperse rioters was not in the force’s arsenal “at this stage.”

Ben Gvir, who has long campaigned for loosening live fire rules for soldiers and police, said in response to the report that he believes “it is very important to change the instructions so that our policemen and soldiers can fill their role without risking their lives.”

He told Kan radio on Wednesday that the initiative to change the instructions was out of concern for a future “Guardian of the Walls 2,” referencing the May 2021 events.

“I am not ashamed to say that I think we need to change live fire rules. I am not ashamed to act, to make it so that it will be easier for our police officers to shoot those who threaten them,” he said.

As an example, Ben Gvir said he wants to allow police to fire on rioters who throw Molotov cocktails and rocks.

Police last used live fire during intensely violent clashes between pro-regime and anti-regime Eritrean migrants during riots in Tel Aviv last month. The incident is under investigation.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: