REVEALED: Israel's illegal rules of engagement in Gaza lets snipers shoot 'key instigators' even when they move away from protest

Adalah demands Israel prohibit use of live ammunition against protesters; military retroactively invented 'key instigator' category to justify shootings of people who posed no immediate danger.

A document released by the Israeli military describes how snipers may open fire on Gaza protesters it calls "key instigators" or "key rioters" – even when they move away from the crowd or are resting. Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel is demanding that Israeli troops immediately stop shooting live ammunition at unarmed protesters along the Gaza boundary fence.


Adalah sent a letter on 16 June 2019 to Israeli Military Advocate General Sharon Afek and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit calling on them to immediately order a ban on the use of live ammunition and sniper fire as a means of dispersing demonstrations in Gaza. Israeli snipers, the military document released in February revealed, may open fire with live ammunition on "key instigators" or "key rioters" even when they are at no longer participating in the protest or are resting.


The details in this document were never presented during hearings before Israeli Supreme Court justices.


In May 2018, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected two petitions filed by human rights groups – including Adalah – and fully adopted the Israeli military’s position, giving a green light to its continued use of snipers and live fire against Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip.


In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the military is entitled to use live ammunition only when there is "immediate and imminent danger to Israeli forces or civilians" and that such shooting may only be employed "as a last resort in a proportionate and minimal manner". However, the Supreme Court also gave a green light to the use of lethal fire in accordance with the above terms against those defined as "key instigators" – despite the fact that this category is neither anchored in international law nor was it defined by Israeli authorities before the Supreme Court justices.


Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara, who authored the letter to Israeli authorities, commented:


"The Israeli military – which has up until now kept secret its vague definition of the invented category of 'key instigator' – now openly reveals that this category was created retroactively in order to justify the shootings of people who posed no real and immediate danger to Israeli soldiers or civilians. The military's document attempts to explain away the indiscriminate shooting of unarmed demonstrators which results from a total disregard for human life. This evidence was never brought before the Supreme Court by Israeli authorities".


In the document it published after the Supreme Court's May 2018 ruling, the military defined "key instigators" and "key rioters" and included some details relating to its rules of engagement governing the use of live ammunition. The document also makes it clear that "key instigators" and "key rioters" may:


  • "direct or order activities within the mob, such as coordinating the tactical placement and setting on fire of tires";
  • "[coordinate] people to contribute towards pulling back parts of the security infrastructure and so on", for example, this video of a man seen moving through the crowd while purportedly talking into a communications radio;
  • "incite the mob, influence their behavior or provide the conditions for which mass breach or infiltration may occur".


The document also clarifies "key instigators" are active for extended periods of time and snipers must choose the timing for shooting at them, so snipers can act "as a person temporarily moves away from the crowd or rests before continuing with his activity."


The United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (COI), which issued its full report in March 2019, found that "the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators was unlawful", as the protestors did not pose any threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers or civilians or participate directly in hostilities.


Adalah demands the Israeli State Attorney's Office and military advocate general respond within 30 days to its demand to cancel the rules of engagement targeting "key instigators" and refrain from continuing to use lethal gunfire against demonstrators in Gaza.


According to data collected by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, since 30 March 2018, Israeli military forces have killed 310 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Of the total fatalities, 207 were killed during protests, including 44 children, two women, four paramedics, two journalists, and nine persons with disabilities. Another 16,831 persons have been wounded, including 3,905 children, 753 women, 198 paramedics, and 170 journalists. Of the wounded, 8,490 were wounded by live fire, including 1,692 children and 164 women.


CLICK HERE to read the letter [Hebrew]

CLICK HERE to read the Israeli military's Q&A document [English]


(Photo: Israeli military handout)