B'Tselem today urged IDF Chief-of-Staff Dan Halutz and Judge Advocate General Avihai Mandelblit to make public immediately the open-fire regulations that have been given to soldiers in the Occupied Territories. The request follows publication of an IDF report that verifies human rights organizations' repeated claims that the regulations are unclear and can be understood in different ways.
B'Tselem contends that the secrecy enables the senior IDF staff to avoid responsibility for the killing of innocent persons, and to divert the criticism to the soldiers in the field. Since the beginning of the intifada, the IDF has related to the open-fire regulations applying in the Occupied Territories as "confidential information," which are provided to soldiers verbally, and not in writing, as was previously the case.
The IDF's internal report, which was published on the Ynet Website, states: "There are units in which the Open-Fire Regulations have been condensed and summarized into a number of sentences, such that 'the soldiers fail to understand the regulation's nuances.'" The report also reveals that there are battalion commanders who added their own regulations: "In places in which the unit added 'a verbal instruction" to the regulations, it was found that the soldiers become confused from the large amount of information." These findings are consistent with the claims that B'Tselem and other human rights organizations have raised for a number of years.
Secrecy of the Open-Fire Regulations encourages a quick trigger finger. The soldiers are given the regulations in oral briefings, which easily result in distortions, misunderstandings, and hidden messages. The policy has led to the killing of civilians in unprecedented proportion. According to B'Tselem's figures, from September 2000 to the end of March 2006, IDF soldiers have killed at least 1,816 Palestinians, 593 of whom were minors, who were not participating in the fighting.
B'Tselem's new research illustrates why the regulations must be published immediately. Investigation of the circumstances in which nine unarmed Palestinians were killed near the Gaza perimeter fence raise a suspicion that Israel classified the land next to the fence "killing zones," that is, areas in which the soldiers are ordered to open fire at any person who enters the area, regardless of the reason of entry. IDF officials, among them Judge Advocate General, Brigadier General Avihai Mandelblit, vigorously denied the existence of any such regulation. However, the nine cases, which occurred following the disengagement from Gaza, strengthen the suspicion. Publication of the regulations will eliminate the ambiguity and enable judicial and public review of this important issue.