Duck and cover: Israeli army drills in populated Palestinian areas are ‘legal’ – IDF

Duck and cover: Israeli army drills in populated Palestinian areas are ‘legal’ – IDF
IDF training exercises in villages and even in Palestinian civilians’ houses are “a breach of the basic principles of international and humanitarian laws,” an Israeli NGO claims. The IDF’s lawyers claim that the drills are perfectly legal, however.

Investigative reports by Israeli NGO Yesh Din have described scenes of military operations on civilian homes or in close proximity to a Palestinian cemetery that sound like they could be part of a Hollywood action movie. But the exercises are real, and are carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on a regular basis.

Last Thursday, Yesh Din released a video shot by its volunteers, showing Israel Defense Forces troops training in close proximity to a Palestinian cemetery.

“We were shocked to discover last week that training was taking place in a cemetery in Hebron, in blunt disregard of the sensitivities of local civilians,” Yesh Din attorney Emily Schaeffer said, Haaretz reported. “I find it hard to believe that the IDF would hold training of this type in a Jewish cemetery, or in any Jewish neighborhood in the West Bank or within Israel.”

Another story reported by Yesh Din shows Israeli troops storming the backyard of a Palestinian family home at Tel Rumeida in Hebron during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Some 15 soldiers break in while the Palestinian family is having their breakfast, scatter inside the house, and practice taking the building by assault using special equipment. This allegedly all took place while the family were inside the house.

Palestinian youths stand watching as Israeli soldiers take position in the divided West Bank city of Hebron (AFP Photo / Hazem Bader)

These may seem like the kinds of reports that the IDF would never possibly acknowledge or comment on. But after the Israeli NGO stepped in and launched a complaint claiming there had been a “series” of such training exercises in Palestinian villages, the Israeli army’s judicial body decided to investigate.

On Monday, an IDF spokesman said that, after looking into the matter, the IDF’s Military Advocate General (MAG) “found that there was no legal obstacle to holding training in inhabited areas as part of maintaining security in the area.”

The legality of training inside the villages in the Palestinian Territory is anchored in the principles of “belligerent occupation,” wrote MAG’s deputy prosecutor for operational affairs, Maj. Harel Weinberg. Such principles hold that an Israeli military commander is the sovereign authority in the area, and must maintain security and public order in the West Bank – including by means of occasional training exercises in populated areas.

The MAG, however, promised to “make clear” that the soldiers taking part in drills “must avoid putting the population at risk, damaging their property or causing unreasonable disturbance to their daily routine.” Any deviations from these rules will have to be clarified with the MAG, which will “take the appropriate measures” when necessary.

An Israeli soldier argues with a Palestinian protester during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron March 1, 2013.(Reuters / Mussa Qawasma)

Under international humanitarian law, the population in the Palestinian Territory are regarded as protected persons. The Fourth Geneva Convention defines protected persons as “those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.”

But while Israel is bound by international law to protect Palestinians in the area, it also maintains the sovereign authority of its military in most of the occupied territories (the so-called Area C). Palestinian activists claim the concept has been used by Israeli soldiers to act with “virtual impunity” when it comes to the Palestinian population.

The occupied Palestinian territories comprise the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. They have often been referred to as such by the UN and international legal bodies ever since Israel overtook both from Jordan and Egypt in 1967, following the Six-Day War. Prior to that, they made up part of the larger area intended by the United Nations to become the territory of the future State of Palestine. Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, parts of the territories – known as Areas A and B – came under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority, while Israel retained full military control over most of the area – Area C – now comprising 61 percent of the West Bank. Following the 2007 Hamas takeover in Gaza, the OPT became politically divided, with the Gaza Strip being governed by Hamas and West Bank areas dominated by Fatah.