Skip to main content
From the field

Newsletter - 22 Mar. 2018



Today we published ads in Israeli media captioned “Sorry sir, I cannot shoot”, calling Israeli soldiers to refuse patently unlawful orders, to open fire on unarmed demonstrators in Gaza (See below). This highly unusual action by B'Tselem sparked a debate in Israel, broadly covered by media outlets across Israel and the oPt.

Law and morals do not always coincide. There are, however, some clear cases, those that pierce the eye and enrage the heart, “if the eye is not blind and the heart is not hardened or corrupt”, to quote Justice Binyamin Halevi’s words in his 1958 Kafr Kassem massacre verdict. In such cases the law and good conscience point to the same moral principle – a principle that is also the law in the State of Israel: patently unlawful orders must not be obeyed. The orders to shoot unarmed protestors inside the Gaza Strip who do not pose a threat to life are just that: patently unlawful orders.

Obviously, responsibility lies primarily with the policymakers: the prime minister, the minister of defense and the chief of staff. It is their responsibility not to give soldiers unlawful orders. However, last Friday’s events in Gaza, with the widely reported shocking death toll and injuries, cannot be dealt with without internalizing what unfolded: Israeli soldiers using live fire, from within Israel, for hours, against unarmed Palestinian protestors who were inside the besieged Gaza Strip – all this in non-life-threatening circumstances. It isn’t just outrageous. It’s illegal.

Last Friday’s events must not be repeated tomorrow. B’Tselem repeatedly warned, both before and after last Friday. We have demanded, and we continue to demand, an immediate change in the orders. However, two days ago, this past Tuesday, the minister of defense declared: “We have defined the rules of the game clearly, and we do not intend to change them. Anyone trying to approach the fence is putting their lives at risk”. In other words, the illegal orders remain. This is unacceptable. Palestinians living in Gaza have the right not only to protest, but firstly, they have the right to life.

B’Tselem calls on the Israeli government to come back to its senses: Soldiers must not be ordered to use lethal force other than in life-threatening situations. As a rule, demonstrations inside the Gaza Strip, approaching the fence or even sabotaging it, do not constitute such situations. Approaching the Gaza perimeter fence is not an offense punishable by death or serious injury, to be executed immediately via shooting from a distance.

But when the government betrays its soldiers’ trust and arms them with unlawful orders, we are here to remind not only of the rules of morality but also of legal requirements:

A patently unlawful order must not be obeyed. The ads we took out today in Israeli newspapers and on social media platforms call on soldiers to refuse to shoot Palestinian protestors on the Gaza borders, because using lethal fire against civilians who are not putting people’s lives at risk is patently unlawful. A black flag of illegality flies over these orders, and they must not be followed.


Hagai El-Ad
Executive Director

Translation of the ad published today in Israeli newspapers:
Sorry Sir,
I cannot shoot.

Soldier, the command to use lethal force against civilians who do not pose mortal danger is patently illegal. Using lethal force is only allowed when an actual, immediate threat to human life exists, and when there is no other option.

The responsibility for issuing these unlawful orders rests first and foremost with the policy makers, including the prime minister, defense minister, and the chief of staff. Yet obeying to patently illegal orders is a criminal offense and you are duty-bound to refuse to comply to them.
In the media:
  • "Friday was a bloody day, but Israel has already long since become an expert at whitewashing such bloody days and weeks. Do not anticipate any investigation, and even if eventually one is conducted, certainly do not expect accountability. “Investigations” are merely a routine stage in the organized whitewash. But even so, how fortunate that they are to blame for it all—they who kill themselves by themselves. After all, if—heaven forbid—it was our fault, what could we do with our shame?" - Op-Ed by Hagai El-Ad on Ynet

  • “These are the predictable outcomes of a manifestly illegal command: Israeli soldiers shooting live ammunition at unarmed Palestinian protesters. What is predictable, too, is that no one — from the snipers on the ground to top officials whose policies have turned Gaza into a giant prison — is likely to be ever held accountable.” - Amit Gilutz, B'Tselem's spokesperson on The Washington Post
    B'Tselem to Israeli soldiers: Refuse orders to shoot Gaza protesters - +972 Magazine