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Israeli commander tells soldiers to reduce use of force against Palestinian protesters

March 27, 2017 3:02 P.M. (Updated: March 27, 2017 8:08 P.M.)
Israeli soldiers aim towards Palestinian youths during clashes in the West Bank town of Hebron on Oct. 4, 2015. (AFP/Hazem Bader, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- An Israeli army commander unveiled a new directive for Israeli forces Monday, issued in an effort to decrease unwanted “reactions” from Palestinians by reducing Israel's use of weapons to suppress protests in the occupied West Bank, particularly those organized next to Israel’s illegal separation wall.

The announcement came as Israeli forces have come under repeated criticism for excessive use of force, as well as lethal methods of crowd control that often result in the injury or death of protesters, amid a backdrop of what critics have called a culture of impunity for Israeli soldiers.

In a written statement obtained by Ma’an, Israeli army commander Roi Sheetrit, responsible for the West Bank’s northern districts, touted the army’s success in refraining from shooting any protesters in the village of Nilin -- where Palestinians stage weekly protests against the separation wall and Israeli settlement expansion -- since the directive was issued in February.

Not mentioned in the statement was the Israeli army’s violent suppression of a weekly march in the village of Kafr Qaddum this month -- also under the commander’s purview in the northern West Bank -- during which two Palestinians, including a journalist attempting to cover the protest, were shot and injured.

The incident was described by a local activist as an “unprecedented” display of violence in the village, where locals began staging protests every Friday in 2011.

Sheetrit also said that attacks allegedly carried out by Palestinians -- shooting attacks in particular -- have significantly decreased since the beginning of 2017, claiming the trend was due to “Israeli policies,” and also noted that all Palestinians who have been accused of involvement in shooting attacks have been apprehended.

The Israeli army made a similar claim in April 2016, saying that a decrease in small-scale acts of violence by Palestinians since a wave of unrest began the previous fall was a result of severe security measures imposed by the Israeli army, which have meanwhile been denounced as “collective punishment” measures by rights groups.

However, shortly after the claim was made, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found in a poll that support for stabbing attacks had seen a decline -- "due, it seems, to a rising perception in its inefficacy."

Sheetrit also addressed in his statement that the Israeli army was conducting measures stymying the inflow of undocumented Palestinian workers into Israel “to prevent any possible attacks,” which echoed an assertion made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last March that “a large proportion of (Palestinian) attackers were present in Israel illegally or infiltrated into Israel illegally” -- a claim that was also found to be largely unfounded.

The Israeli army commander’s statement also said that over the course of 2016, 445 weapons were seized and 43 manufacturing workshops were shut down in northern West Bank districts.

In the same time period, Sheetrit claimed that 26 vehicles used to transfer undocumented workers from the northern occupied West Bank district of Qalqiliya to Israel were seized, while the Israeli army opened 446 investigations into “illegal” entry into Israel -- in which 138 people were interrogated and 72 were detained.

The statement also said that the Israeli army has seized eight vehicles since the beginning of 2017 which were allegedly used in “attacks” against Israeli forces in Nilin.

Last November, Sheetrit told The Jerusalem Post that the Israeli army was developing new “moral guidelines” for Israeli forces on how to properly conduct raids and treat Palestinian detainees in the occupied West Bank, with the report quoting a senior Israeli army officer as saying: “These are the things that soldiers don’t learn during their training.”
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