Israeli Human Rights Group B'Tselem Urges Soldiers to Refuse Orders Demanding They Fire on Unarmed Palestinian Protesters

Print More

In the wake of last Friday’s violent response to protests along the Gaza border, in which at least 17 Palestinians were killed by IDF snipers and hundreds more wounded, Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem is urging soldiers to refuse “illegal orders” to fire upon unarmed protesters.
The campaign, which is called, “Sorry commander, I cannot shoot,” comes at a critical time. More protests are scheduled for this coming Friday, and many more will occur leading up to May 15, which is the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment, referred to as the Nakba (catastrophe) by Palestinians. May 15 is also the date the Trump administration hopes to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move which promises to further intensify already growing tensions and frustrations.
B’Tselem’s campaign also comes on the heels of Israeli officials publicly reaffirming the military’s firing policies, further warning that any Palestinians who come within 100 meters of the Gaza fence will be risking their lives, even if they are unarmed.
A part of B’Tselem’s statement on its campaign, which will appear in newspapers across Israel, reads:

An order that permits live gunfire at unarmed civilians is blatantly unlawful. As Justice Benjamin Halevy ruled in the Kafr Qasem case back in the 1950s, the illegality of such orders “is not a question of form, nor is it imperceptible, or partially imperceptible.” On the contrary, it is a case of “unmistakable illegality patently evident in the order itself, it is a command that bears a clearly criminal nature or that the actions it orders are of a clearly criminal nature. It is an illegality that pains the eye and outrages the heart, if the eye be not blind and the heart be not callous or corrupt.”
The responsibility for issuing these unlawful orders and for their lethal consequences rests with the policy makers and – above all – with Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, and the chief of staff. They are also the ones who bear the obligation to change these regulations immediately, before this Friday’s planned protests, in order to forestall any further casualties.
That said, it is also a criminal offense to obey patently illegal orders. Therefore, as long as soldiers in the field continue to receive orders to use live fire against unarmed civilians, they are duty-bound to refuse to comply.

The courage of B’Tselem’s campaign should not be understated, for it comes at a time in which Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and many Israeli politicians, are waging an open war against left-leaning Israeli NGOs. Just this week, Netanyahu spread conspiracy theories about how the New Israel Fund undermined Israeli diplomacy, and human rights organizations have consistently been branded as treasonous, not to mention had their funding streams targeted, by right-wing politicians.
Regardless of whether or not the ad campaign will influence any soldiers, it promises to force Israelis to talk about what happened in Gaza, and how soldiers should engage with unarmed protesters in the future.
That future begins this Friday.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published by Oneworld Publications (London).
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.