Israeli Supreme Court rejects challenge to open-fire rules

Israeli Supreme Court rejects challenge to open-fire rules
The Israeli court rejected rights groups' demand to rule the military's heavy-handed open fire policy unlawful, despite over 120 Palestinians shot dead at the border.
3 min read
25 May, 2018
Israeli soldiers have shot dead over 60 protesters since the Great Return Marches began [Getty]

Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a legal challenge to military rules on engagement amid weeks of violent protests that have seen over a hundred Palestinians shot dead on the border with Gaza.

Six human rights groups had asked the court to declare as unlawful any regulations that allow soldiers to open fire at unarmed civilians.

However, the court unanimously ruled against the claim, siding with the Israeli military.

It argued that the protests were taking place in the context of a long-running armed conflict with the Islamist movement Hamas - which is in power in Gaza - and so weapons-use regulations are subject to the same rules governing armed conflict.

This provides greater leeway for the use of lethal force than those governing law enforcement practices.

Israel has used this argument previously to responded to similar legal challenges, saying that human rights "do not apply" to the Great Return March protests.

Yesh Din, one of the rights groups that brought the challenge, slammed the court's decision.

The judges relied "on the media rhetoric and the legal evasions of the military, thus missing the opportunity to prevent further killings and injuries on a shaky legal and moral basis", one of the group's officers said on Twitter.

Tania Harry, the director of the Gisha Legal Centre - who also put forward the legal challenge - said on Twitter: "Disappointed but not surprised to see the court again sanction Israel's grave violations of human rights and intl law in Gaza."

"The courts have long backed the state's actions and bought the falsehood that it no longer bears responsibility for Gaza residents," she added.

Israeli fire has killed more than 100 Palestinians in weeks of violent protests along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Nearly 60 of those were killed 14 May, the deadliest protest day that also saw hundreds of Palestinians wounded.

Critics have pointed out the fact that many of those shot were in no way attempting to breach the border, and were in fact peaceful protesters, innocent bystanders, and journalists.

They add that the Palestinians targeted for throwing stones and molotov cocktails at the border fence pose no harm to soldiers armed with rifles and high-tech surveillance equipement stationed 100 metres away from the border.

This fact contests the Israeli military's insistence that rules of engagement for a equal-footed armed conflict apply to the protests.

Currently, any Palestinian coming withing 300 metres of the border fence, including farmers, are liable to be shot by the Israelis.

Organisers said the protests were meant in part to break a decade-old Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the Gaza Strip. But Israel - which has faced blistering international criticism over its response - accuses Hamas of using the weekly border protests as cover to stage attacks.

So far no Israelis have been killed and only a small handful have been mildly injured.

On Twitter, far-right Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed the court's ruling and criticised the rights groups for challenging the military.

Agencies contributed to this report.