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June 21, 2018 6:59 am

Clarifying the IDF’s Record During the Gaza Riots

avatar by Yohanan Plesner

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A Palestinian rioter on the Israel-Gaza border, May 14, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

The past few months have posed unprecedented challenges for Israel and the IDF in its ongoing struggle with Hamas. In the face of Hamas provocations, it has been difficult for Israel as a democracy to strike the right balance between defending Israel’s sovereignty and security on the one hand, and minimizing harm to civilians caught up in the violence on the other. Amid all of this, Israel must also preserve its legitimacy in the court of international opinion under unrelenting scrutiny from the press.

In his May 17 piece in The Algemeiner on whether international law permits the use of lethal force against civilians, Yonatan Green invoked a legal opinion published by Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) scholars on the subject. The author claims that the IDI opinion lent support to B’Tselem’s call for IDF soldiers to disobey orders during the recent events on the Israel-Gaza border.

This claim is utterly false. The IDI has never called on IDF soldiers to disobey orders.

The legal opinion released by the leadership of IDI’s Amnon Lipkin-Shahak Program on National Security and Democracy on March 30 came before the events in question and was written in response to a statement by Israel’s Minister of Defense, according to which any civilian approaching the border was risking his life.

This implied policy, had it been translated into operational firing guidelines, could have resulted in the deaths of hundreds or thousands of Palestinians and created a major crisis of legitimacy for Israel, whose international position is precarious enough as a result of the propaganda of the BDS movement. The goal of the National Security and Democracy Program at IDI is to promote policies that maximize Israel’s ability to defend itself against terrorism while preserving its international legitimacy and the rule of law.

In line with this mission, the March 30 legal opinion was in fact designed to protect Israel from falling into the trap set by Hamas, because the only outcome Hamas might have preferred to a bloodbath that painted Israel as a bloodthirsty Goliath facing the Palestinian David would have been a successful cross-border incursion that resulted in a massive loss of life among Israeli civilians.

It’s worth noting that the IDI’s team of legal experts, including the former head of the IDF’s international law department, was also invited to review the army’s actual rules of engagement and found them proportional, reasonable, and appropriate to the circumstances.

Hamas’ latest use of Gazan civilians in a violent attempt to overrun Israel’s border and sow death and destruction among Israeli citizens is unlawful and immoral. While I am saddened by the loss of life resulting from this cynical ploy, I take heart from the fact that Hamas’ purpose was defeated and, by Hamas leader Salah Al-Bardawil’s own admission, 50 of the 62 people killed in the recent wave of violence were members of Hamas operating under the cover of ostensible “civilian” protests.

I also took heart in the finding of Doctors Without Borders, according to which 91% of those they treated for injuries in the events were shot in the legs. This is strong evidence that the IDF did in fact exercise humanity, professionalism, and discrimination in its efforts to block Hamas from overrunning the border, and did its utmost to refrain from using lethal firepower unless absolutely necessary.

Israel’s supporters, who have the nation’s best interests at heart, should resist the urge to engage in partisan smear campaigns that attempt to tarnish the reputations of patriots who are on the frontlines of the struggle for Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic state. We have enough enemies on our borders.

Yohanan Plesner is the President of the Israel Democracy Institute.

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