The human rights organization Yesh Din has published a new report entitled Standing Idly By, which details the actions of IDF soldiers when offenses are committed by Israeli citizens against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The phenomenon of “standing idly by” encompasses a number of types of inactivity by soldiers including: (a) witnessing violence by Israeli citizens against Palestinians or their property and doing nothing to prevent harm or destruction while the act is taking place; (b) refraining from detaining or arresting the perpetrators after the event; (c) failing to secure the scene to allow the collection of evidence; or (d) failing to testify about the event to the police.
According to the provisions of international law as well as repeated rulings by the Israeli Supreme Court, the IDF is obligated to maintain law and order in the West Bank. Therefore, upon the occupation of the West Bank its forces were given policing powers. However, the report shows how over the years the army has avoided fulfilling that duty and tried to impose it on the Israel Police.
Moreover, to this day the army has avoided drafting procedures and orders that would define accurately and concisely the order of activities required from a soldier during violent incidents by Israeli citizens against Palestinians. Even the military procedure concerned with law enforcement on Israeli citizens in the West Bank, which only went into effect in mid-2014, needs, according to the IDF spokesperson, to be “updated, revised and re-examined.”
The testimonies of 77 officers and soldiers, collected by the organization Breaking the Silence for this report, indicate that soldiers are not aware of their obligation to protect the Palestinian population in the West Bank, do not understand the powers vested in them, and do not know how they are required to operate during an event where Israeli citizens harm Palestinians. The testimonies indicate that the quality of the training the army provides on this subject is poor.
As far as Yesh Din knows, until this day only one single soldier has ever been tried for standing idly by, and even that was only a disciplinary rather than criminal procedure. Yesh Din demands that the phenomenon be addressed on the criminal level and be defined as a crime in the Military Justice Law, which should impose a deterring punishment on soldiers and officers who commit such offenses. “Offenses by Israeli citizens in the West Bank – settlers and others – has been tolerated for decades,” says report author Eyal Hareuveni of Yesh Din. “In order to confront this long-standing and entrenched pattern, the IDF must issue clear and concise standing orders that clarify to the soldiers their powers as law enforcers and their duty to protect the Palestinian population. Likewise, the offense of standing idly by should be defined as a criminal offense in the Military Justice Law.”