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From the field

Take No Prisoners: The Fatal Shooting of Palestinians by Israeli Security Forces during “Arrest Operations”

May 2005, Summary

During the second intifada, Israel formally adopted a policy of assassinating Palestinians suspected of membership in armed organizations waging battle against it. In an attempt to counter the sharp criticism against this policy, Israel argued, among other things, that targeted assassinations were only carried out when it was unable to apprehend the persons targeted for assassination.

According to B'Tselem's figures, since the beginning of 2004, Israelis security forces have killed eighty-nine Palestinians during operations that the defense establishment refers to as arrest operations. At least seventeen of the persons killed were not wanted by Israel, but were civilians who were not suspected by Israel of having committed any offense. In addition, at least forty-three of those killed were unarmed, or were not attempting to use their arms against Israeli security forces at the time they were killed. None of these cases were investigated by the Military Police investigation unit.

Take No Prisoners presents four cases investigated by B'Tselem in which Palestinians were killed during these so-called arrest operations. Two of the cases relate to incidents in which IDF soldiers besieged a house in which Israel claimed that a wanted person was present, and then fired at another occupant of the house when he opened the door, without prior warning and without offering them a chance to surrender. In the other two cases, the security forces disarmed the wanted persons, but then shot and killed them. In all these cases, the security forces acted as if they were carrying out an assassination and not an arrest, in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law. Based on the report's findings, there is a grave suspicion that execution of Palestinians has become a norm among the security forces.

At the beginning of the second intifada, the IDF changed the open-fire regulations, in particular as regards operations to arrest wanted persons. Soldiers were instructed to open fire also in situations in which they were not in life-threatening situations. The orders on when to open fire were given verbally, and were often vague, enabling a broad interpretation and making a partial or misleading transmission of the orders possible. Since the beginning of the intifada, the judge advocate general's office has refrained from ordering Military Police investigations in cases in which Palestinians were shot and killed by soldiers, except in exceptional cases. This failure has created an atmosphere of impunity in which members of the security forces are not held accountable for their actions. These changes explain the creation of a practice of execution by security forces, even though no explicit order to kill wanted persons exists.

In conclusion, B'Tselem urges Israel to:

  • instruct its security forces to refrain from opening fire when their lives are not in danger;
  • provide all security forces with written open-fire regulations that state clearly and unequivocally the circumstances in which they are prohibited, or permitted, to use their firearms;
  • investigate thoroughly all cases in which Palestinian civilians not involved in hostilities were shot and injured by Israeli forces and, where appropriate, prosecute the persons responsible;
  • investigate thoroughly all cases in which Palestinian citizens who took part in hostilities were shot and injured, if there is reason to suspect that the shooting contravened international humanitarian law;
  • instruct the security forces that it is forbidden in any instance to demand that civilians cooperate with Israel security forces and perform military tasks, and thoroughly investigate all cases in which security forces used civilians in this way, and prosecute the persons responsible.