Amnesty: Stabbings are not “combat"
On September 28, 2016, Amnesty International published a memorandum on “Lethal Force and Accountability for Unlawful Killings by Israeli Forces in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” As with other Amnesty publications on Israel, the NGO applies distorted or invented legal standards and engages in sloppy research to erase the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict and to advance its narrative of sole Palestinian victimization. In particular, Amnesty creates a legal double standard, imposing the most restrictive rules on Israel, while at the same time applying the most lenient standards on Palestinians to absolve them of responsibility for terrorism and other acts of violence.
The memo rehashes 20 incidents that Amnesty believes there is “credible evidence of unlawful killings and extrajudicial executions” and complains that the army has not provided Amnesty with “full details” into investigations into these and other cases.
Towards the end of its memo, when discussing army investigative policies, Amnesty absurdly claims that “an individual attack with a knife or a car should not be treated as combat taking place as part of an armed conflict” (emphasis added). Amnesty makes such a claim because it wants to impose a “law enforcement paradigm,” which has different rules regarding the use of lethal force than the laws of armed conflict, in the West Bank.
Under the laws of armed conflict, combatants and civilians who directly participate in hostilities can be targeted with lethal force. In a law enforcement paradigm, however,
the use of force must be the last resort and can be undertaken only in order to pursue a legitimate aim, such as self-defence, effecting a lawful arrest, preventing the escape of a person lawfully detained, or quelling a riot. In brief, force must be absolutely necessary in order to maintain public security, law and order. (ICRC, “The Use of Force in Armed Conflicts,” pg. 8)
For Amnesty, if a law enforcement paradigm is in play, this allegedly restricts how a soldier can respond to a knife or car-ramming attack. In contrast, if a stabbing is defined as “combat,” then the attacker can be killed without hesitation.
Based on its selected paradigm, Amnesty concludes, “In many of the incidents where lethal force has been used in response to alleged, attempted, or actual attacks, Amnesty International has found credible evidence of unlawful killings and extrajudicial executions.”
However, even under Amnesty’s “law enforcement” model, almost every incident discussed is a lawful use of force. The available evidence – including videos showing chaotic, violent, highly unpredictable, dynamic events, where split second decisions are required to protect the lives of civilians and law enforcement personnel – refute Amnesty’s claims of “unlawful killings.”
In addition, under this paradigm, Amnesty ought to also condemn the illegal attacks against Israeli soldiers, who are operating in a law enforcement role. Yet, Amnesty is careful to state that, “we have been vocal and active in condemning attacks by Palestinian armed groups and individuals against Israeli civilians” (emphasis added).
Amnesty’s memo also reflects its sloppy research. Amnesty claims Israel has failed to meet international standards for investigating lethal force used against Palestinians committing stabbing and car-ramming attacks. According to Amnesty, the MAG “had defined combat situations as those where fire is exchanged” (emphasis added); but, this “combat exemption to automatically opening investigations is apparently being applied more broadly.”1 In other words, Amnesty is bizarrely claiming that the MAG only considers “combat situations” to be those involving firearms, as opposed to other weapons, like knives, or makeshift tools like cars.
And this is a fundamental misreading of the MAG’s policy2. The MAG excludes “cases where it is clear that the operation during which a Palestinian resident is killed had a clear combative nature (such as cases where fire was exchanged and a non combatant is injured), and where the results of the incident do not clearly point to a suspected commission of a crime” (emphasis in original). The mention of exchange of fire is but one example and does not preclude other forms of attack.
As Amnesty distortions and inventions of legal concepts and misrepresentations of source material makes clear, it is not the IDF that is acting with “near impunity,” but Amnesty.
- The context for Amnesty’s claim has to do with the policy instituted in 2011 by the Israeli Military Advocate General, “whereby every death of a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank that does not take place during combat is automatically investigated by the military police.”)
- It is telling that Amnesty cites to relevant quotes in a B’Tselem publication, but not to the original English-language text, which is readily found via the footnotes in B’Tselem’s report.