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From the field

Incident in which soldiers set dogs on Palestinian youth was part of official policy

Footage of the incident, filmed by a soldier and posted on the internet on 2 March 2015

Today (2 March 2015), the Israeli media published a short video of two soldiers from the IDF dog unit, filmed by another soldier after they had set dogs on a Palestinian boy. The footage was first posted on former MK Michael Ben Ari’s Facebook page, but has since been removed from there. The military’s official response read: “Upon receipt of the footage, the Commander of the Airborne and Special Training Center ordered an immediate internal inquiry into the incident. Upon completion of this inquiry, conclusions will be drawn and the necessary steps will be taken to prevent such incidents from recurring.”

B’Tselem documented and publicized this incident about two months ago. The IDF’s official disapproval belies the fact that this arrest was part of an official IDF operation, presumably approved by the higher command. Based on B’Tselem’s experience, this footage is yet another example of the army’s standard practice when dogs are used in arrest operations: a dog handler takes the dog off the leash, the dog chases a group of civilians, clamps its teeth onto a person who did not manage to escape, and holds on until the handler arrives. In some cases documented by B’Tselem, the dog refused to release the person and the dog handler had to use a taser to release his grip. Also, two dog handlers from the Oketz unit who took part in this incident had helmet cameras on, and the footage captured on them was presumably available to their commanders during the routine debriefing held after such operations.

Previous responses received from the MAG Corps, regarding complaints that B’Tselem filed in some ten other cases in which dogs were set on civilians, indicate that internal inquiry into such incidents focuses only on how the dogs were used, and not on whether they should have been used at all. The responses centered on professional mistakes made in some of the cases, according to the MAG Corps, and not on the policy of allowing dog attacks against unarmed civilians. B’Tselem wrote to the Military Advocate General demanding an end to dog attacks on Palestinian civilians. The only response, received more than 18 months ago, was that the letter was received and is under review. The army had stated in the past, after similarly shocking footage of a dog unleashed on a demonstrator was published, that it would stop using dogs to disperse demonstrations.

B’Tselem once again calls on the military to stop the horrifying use of dogs for arresting unarmed Palestinian civilians. Setting dogs on civilians is an appalling act, both unlawful and immoral.

Details of the incident:

At approximately 2:00 P.M. on Tuesday, 23 Dec. 2014, a confrontation developed between several dozen Palestinians and soldiers in the Special Security Area (SSA) surrounding the settlement of Carmei Tzur, south of Beit Umar in the West Bank. The area is the site of frequent confrontations between soldiers and Palestinian residents of Beit Umar, whose land was appropriated for the settlement and the SSA.

During the confrontation, Palestinians threw stones at soldiers, who responded with use of crowd control weapons. About an hour after the incident began, at around 3 P.M., two soldiers arrived in the area with two dogs, who were captured on video by B’Tselem volunteer Muhammad ‘Awwad. In the video footage, soldiers and dogs are seen arriving on the scene. The assault itself was not captured, as the soldiers prevented B’Tselem’s volunteer from filming.

An eyewitness told B’Tselem that the soldiers unleashed the dogs on some youths and the one of the dogs caught and bit one of the boys who had confronted the soldiers, 16-year-old Hamzeh Abu Hashem. The soldiers then removed the dogs, handcuffed Abu Hashem, and took him to the settlement of Carmei Tzur. From there, he was taken by ambulance to an Israeli hospital. Abu Hashem’s family reported that he was arrested and taken from hospital to Ofer Prison. He was recently sentenced to a 6 month prison term. Two months earlier, on 20 Oct. 2014, B’Tselem documented a similar incident in which dogs were set on a young Palestinian man opposite the Carmei Tzur settlement’s SSA. The incident was not caught on video. The incident came after similar incidents in which dogs were used to attack Palestinian demonstrators or in arrests of Palestinian laborers who entered Israel to work without permits.