The video footage released recently in which Israeli troops are seen fleeing a crowd of stone-throwing Palestinians is continuing to cause a stir.
Israel Defense Forces officials said Monday that an inquiry of the incident was being held, headed by the commander of the Shomron Division. An IDF official also pointed out that there have been no changes to the rules of engagement in recent years, but confirmed that this was one of the issues slated to be examined in the inquiry.
The current open-fire rules stipulate that a soldier can only open fire with live ammunition if he feels his life, or the lives of his compatriots or the people he is protecting, are in mortal danger. Soldiers complain that open-fire regulations have become increasingly bureaucratic as commanders do not feel confident in the discretion of their soldiers, or are unclear of what their legal limits are in confrontations in Judea and Samaria. Some soldiers then feel "paralyzed" between being severely reprimanded by their superiors and being physically harmed by Palestinians.
"It could be that this video really does look bad, and that's why they are holding the inquiry," admitted one IDF official, who also pointed out that the video only shows one part of the events that occurred.
Soldiers serving in Judea and Samaria claimed that the army is "tying their hands" by issuing constrictive rules of engagement, and that "we must be given tools with which to respond to those who act out violently."
According to other soldiers, "We fall back because we aren't authorized to use the crowd-dispersal tools at our disposal, to avoid igniting the entire area and because there are cameras around."
Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai sent a letter to Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser requesting that the Security Cabinet discuss the matter. Yishai wrote, "The conclusion of these events without casualties is a miracle, but we must not count on this in the future."
Yishai added, "In my opinion, IDF troops must make maximal use of their weapons if they feel their lives are in danger, and they must know they will receive the utmost support and understanding from all the relevant bodies if that is what they have to do."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded to the attack on the IDF soldiers, telling Israel Radio, "There is no way that Palestinian policemen can punch and slap soldiers and live to tell about it." Lieberman said that the IDF's current conduct is not keeping the peace but just incites violence. "When a soldier is surrounded by a raging mob and swinging Palestinian policemen, it's a provocation. The government and military brass need to back the troops."
Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz also commented on the video footage, saying, "The sight of IDF soldiers running away from stone throwers is detrimental to the IDF, its combat troops and to deterrence. We cannot accept images of fleeing soldiers."