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From the field

21 May 2009: B'Tselem and ACRI demand investigation of officers who testified to a policy of routine use of violence against Palestinian civilians

Following an item published on 15 May on the NRG website, B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel have called on the chief of staff and the judge advocate general to order a Military Police investigation. The item, “A Blow is Sometimes an Integral Part of the Mission,” by Roi Sharon, presented segments of the testimonies of Col. Itai Virob, commander of Kfir Brigade, and of Lt. Col. Shimon Harush, commander of Shimshon Battalion, before a military court, which painted a harsh picture of deliberate use of violence against Palestinians.

The testimonies clearly indicate that orders the two commanders issued included permission for extensive use of violence and injurious, even lethal means, against Palestinians, and harassment. The two explained that sweeping permission was given to forces under their command to use direct physical violence “to extract information,” and as part of what is referred to as “interrogation.”

In part of his testimony, Col. Virob stated that:

The mission is to try to upset the equilibrium of the neighborhood, village, or particular location, to get information […] or to cause a hostile entity inside the village to make mistakes as a result or in reaction to actions of our forces, and thus disrupt his activity and expose it. The acts of disruption can be done at a number of levels. The first is entering the village. Jeeps speed to the entrance of the village. Sometimes, just entering the village disrupts the perpetrator. The second way is to use pressure, throwing stun grenades, breaking into a number of houses or institutions in the village, arresting residents, seizing areas on rooftops, and the like […]

We will detain, interrogate and use suitable pressure on every person to get to the one terrorist. Of all the means of pressure that we use, the vast majority are against persons who are not involved. This is true of the checkpoints, of combing whole neighborhoods, and also of questioning passersby […] Standing them against the wall, pushing, a blow that doesn't cause injury. These are things that certainly are commonly used in an attempt to accomplish the mission. Discretion is dictated by the suspicion that terrorist actions or a disturbance of the peace is taking place […]/>/>

Searching for an address can lead to use of pressure on an innocent bystander, search for weapons, a suspicion of threat to a force on a traffic artery. There is a difference between going to a village where there isn't a threat and you don't suspect anything, and going on a mission given you, where aggressiveness toward every one of the residents in the village is common.”

Lt. Col. Shimon Harush also testified to the permission to use force:

When these people are interrogated, they might be put up against the wall, and cuffs or flannel [cloth blindfold] might be put on them, and it might be - I rely on the commanders' judgment - that somebody gave a slap or blow to try to extract information […]/>

There are no exercises, nothing written. You enter, speak with residents, and if you feel a shirt being grabbed, shouting, and there is something suspicious - sometimes, when you live the field, this is the feeling - they feel that this is a guy they can get information from, and sometimes, to achieve this, they use force.”

These orders, which indicate routine use of violence and potentially injury-causing, including lethal, means against civilians, and harassing them, are patently illegal.

Complaints regarding military conduct of this kind have been filed in the past, but are usually denied by the military establishment. In light of the grave suspicions arising from the details published in the item, B'Tselem and ACRI call on the chief of staff and the judge advocate general to order an immediate Military Police investigation against Col. Virob and Lt. Col. Shimon Harush, and to direct the investigators to investigate whether other commanders gave similar orders. In addition, the organizations demand that the chief of staff publish clear directives to all soldiers to ensure that military forces in the West Bank cease these practices.