A soldier from the Israel Defence Forces has detailed his experience of being tasked with protecting the border at Gaza and has provided vital insight into the challenges faced by the Israeli military as they attempt to push back thousands of Palestinian protesters. In a candid and gritty account, the soldier highlights the almost impossible challenge of balancing military force and measured restraint.
“This is not advocacy, but an attempt to inform, based on my personal experience as an IDF soldier during the time of the Intifada,” the soldier wrote on Twitter. “Intifada” is an Arabic word that has a literal translation of “shaking off.” The term has been used to refer to the violent struggle between Palestinians and Israeli’s, often across border lines. The first and second Intifada took place between 1987-1993 and 2000-2004 respectively.
The unnamed soldier breaks down his experience of fighting in the IDF into several helpful subcategories in order to answer the many questions that are posed about the current conflict on the Gaza border. Reports indicate that some 62 Palestinians have been killed over the past few days in clashes between Israeli forces and protesters at the border fence. However, the IDF has now claimed that 50 of these were members of Hamas – a Palestine-based Islamic terror group.
You can read the first section “Armed Soldiers vs Unarmed Protesters” below:
A man who fought for the IDF during the Intifada gives a highly informative account of the events in Gaza. pic.twitter.com/MfFxDKRPpG
— Tweezerman (@Tweezerman7) May 15, 2018
The soldier continues to describe the horrific injury that can be caused by the makeshift weapons that are often utilized by Palestinian protesters. “I have never been attacked by firebombs,” he said. “But soldiers from other units were – some were left with no faces, or with faces you would not wish to see.”
The soldier then goes on to address the issue of “shooting into the crowd.” Many have criticized the IDF for firing indiscriminately into crowds of protesters, causing widespread injury and death.
“When I hear people accusing IDF soldiers of ‘shooting into the crowd,’ I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry,” he stated. The soldier explained how all military personnel recieve training in using “non-lethal means (tear gas, rubber bullets)” and that they rehearse the rules of engagement. “These were also drummed into us as part of the briefing that preceded every mission or guarding shift,” he added.
So when is the IDF permitted to open fire, under the current rules of engagement?
“You are only allowed to open fire if you or another person is in clear and immediate danger – which was always interpreted as: if you are being shot at, or about to be shot at,” the soldier wrote. “And what if someone runs towards you with an axe? Then there is a sequence of actions you must do – as long as the danger is not “clear and immediate.”
As the soldier explains, there are clear steps that IDF soldiers must follow regarding the engagement of a violent protester.
Upon being confronted with a protester charging the border fence, the soldier shouts “Stop,” then “Stop, or I’ll shoot,” then they shoot in the air as a warning sign — if none of this deters the aggressor, then they shoot them in the legs, then finally shoot at the upper body.
“You have to stop the sequence at any point if the attacker stops in his tracks,” the soldier added.
— Tweezerman (@Tweezerman7) May 15, 2018
The soldier goes on to explain why there were so many fatalities at the border during the protests over the past few days. One key reason, he said, is if armed protesters manage to breach the border.
“The pattern of “protests” has often been the following: a “vanguard” of 3-20 men attempting to approach the border fence, either stealthily or running to it, often using smoke to cover their approach; and 2-300 yards behind them, a group of thousands of people waiting,” the soldier explained.
He continued, explaining that if these thousands were allowed to breach the border fencing, “a real bloodbath will ensue” because the IDF soldiers would then be in “clear and immediate danger, forced to – this time in reality – shoot into the crowd.”
So, the soldiers are ordered to shoot members of this leading “vanguard” group, in order to effectively prevent a massacre.
But why do they have to be shot dead? Can’t they just be incapacitated without using lethal force?
“The answer is – they are, whenever possible,” the soldier explained. “All those who have actually shot a rifle will know that it is not so easy to hit a target in the leg or arm – particularly when smoke is used for cover and when people crouch or bend to minimize exposure.”
“Also, contrary to popular belief, a rifle bullet in the leg often does not incapacitate a determined and excited man (at least not immediately).”
The soldier then addressed the “permitted targets” factor – whereby the IDF target known members of Hamas, who are likely to be armed and dangerous. “Anyone bearing arms and approaching the fence is considered a combatant,” the soldier wrote. “Snipers will shoot him at the smallest suspicion he intends to use the weapon.”
Other known terrorists, he said, are often identified using “cameras and face-recognition software,” noting that, in these cases, “a decision may be made to take them out.”
The soldier does, however, admit that “collateral damage” is possible due to the vast number of protesters and the velocity of the bullets that are being fired from IDF weapons. The army cannot use a lower caliber of weapon, however, as this would cause them to lose accuracy, and subsequently make it even more dangerous for protesters. “As anyone who understands ballistics will confirm, a lower velocity translates also in a lower accuracy, because the slower the bullet, the higher its propensity to deviate from the straight line. It’s a sort of catch-22,” the soldier added
The IDF soldier admitted that “acts of indiscipline” are always possible in the IDF, just as they are in other armies. However, he noted that these would be “extremely unlikely” to occur due to the number of commanders present on the border.
You can read the full thread here.