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To the Government of Israel

Use of Force

Under international law, Israeli forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are obliged to restore and ensure public order and safety, and respect and protect civilians. The means and manner of law enforcement and military operations must conform to the standards of international humanitarian and human rights law.

In law enforcement situations, Israeli military forces should abide by the standards set forth in the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and be provided with the equipment and training necessary for this purpose. Israeli forces should not use firearms in law enforcement situations, except when strictly necessary to defend themselves or others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, and only in proportion to the actual danger presented. Curfew enforcement and control of demonstrations should comply with law enforcement standards, and rules of engagement should be changed to reflect this.

If, in the context of law enforcement, lethal force is used, Israeli forces must comply with the principles of human rights law. These principles include:

  • The exercise of restraint in the use of force, acting in proportion to the seriousness of the threat and the legitimate objective to be achieved.
  • Ensure that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected person at the earliest possible moment.

If, in the context of armed hostilities, lethal force is used, Israeli forces must comply with the principles of international humanitarian law. These principles include:

  • The obligation to distinguish, at all times, between civilians and combatants.

  • The prohibition against attacking the civilian population or individual civilians and their property.

  • The obligation to refrain from indiscriminate attacks.

  • The principle of proportionality – namely, the military advantage of an attack cannot be outweighed by the impact on civilians or civilian objects.


The government of Israel should:

  • Allocate sufficient resources to monitor civilian casualties throughout the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Military authorities should keep records, and observe and analyze trends, related to specific units and commanders, as well as tactics, to ensure accountability and minimize civilian casualties. These statistics should be made public on a regular basis.

  • Maintain an official record of all complaints received against IDF personnel by date, location, alleged incident type, and action taken. Statistics regarding substantiated complaints and investigations should be made public on a regular basis. Statistics on all disciplinary proceedings taken by the IDF should be collected in sufficient detail and reviewed at a sufficiently high level to enable IDF authorities to identify patterns of wrongful behavior, and to adopt any necessary preventive or corrective measures. These statistics should be made public on a regular basis.

  • End the practice of relying on operational debriefings or “field investigations” into alleged civilian killings in determining whether to open criminal investigations.

  • End exclusive military jurisdiction over cases in which soldiers are accused of serious human rights abuses against civilians in non-combat circumstances.

  • Establish an independent body to receive and investigate complaints of human rights abuses and breaches of international humanitarian law committed by Israeli security personnel, including members of the IDF, the Border Guard, Israel National Police, and the Israel Security Service (Shin Bet). This independent body should have the capacity to initiate investigations of alleged wrongdoing on its own, and not simply in response to complaints. It should be staffed by competent, qualified, and impartial experts, who are functionally and practically independent of the suspected perpetrators and the agency they serve. The independent body should have sufficient personnel and adequate resources to carry out its responsibilities.

  • Provide the independent body with all information, as well as technical and financial resources, necessary to investigate fully all aspects of complaints, as well as to review patterns of abuse. Investigators should have unrestricted access to places of custody and the alleged incident, as well as to documents and persons it deems relevant. The independent investigative body should be empowered to summon witnesses and compel their testimony, and to demand the production of evidence and all relevant operational orders and related briefing materials. The body should have the ability to recommend for criminal prosecution any individual when credible evidence exists that the person has committed a crime.

  • Remove alleged perpetrators from active duty or from the areas where the incident under investigation took place while the investigation is underway.

  • Publicize widely information on how to file complaints, and contact details of investigating bodies, in the Hebrew and Arabic media, including media outlets in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and on the Internet. Complaint filing procedures should include a telephone hotline capable of receiving anonymous witness testimony. The process of registering a complaint should be straightforward, and persons making the complaint should be assured of confidentiality if they so request. All complaints for which evidence or credible allegations of wrongdoing exist should be investigated.

  • Bring to justice all individuals responsible for wrongdoing in a timely manner. Punishments should be commensurate with the gravity of the crime, including judicial as well as administrative penalties for all individuals guilty of unlawful killings, torture, or other serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

  • Ensure that when a complaint is not upheld by an investigation, the complainant receives a decision in writing, in his or her own language, which sets out the evidence as well as the findings of the completed investigation. The investigation should establish a clearly auditable trail, one that demonstrates that a robust, impartial, and expeditious investigation took place and why the investigators reached the conclusions they did.

  • Establish clear guidelines to all individuals involved in organizing and obtaining witness testimony of individuals residing in areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and not normally under IDF control, including basic procedures on how to identify and search for witnesses or complainants, support services for witnesses or complainants, and appropriate interview and liaison techniques. Ensure these guidelines are shared with Palestinian District Coordination Office (DCO) officials responsible for facilitating Palestinian testimony. Clearly inform all witnesses and complainants of the procedures available to assist their giving of testimony, including the guarantee of non-arrest and facilitation of travel. Enable the use of video conference facilities for individuals unable to travel. Witnesses should be protected from intimidation and retaliation.

  • Ensure effective access by families and their legal representatives to any hearing and to all relevant investigatory information. Ensure that families can practically exercise the right to present other evidence.

  • Enable compensation of all individuals who have suffered harm as a result of unlawful or criminal behavior by state agents by taking the following steps:

  • Amend Sections 5 and 5A of the Civil Torts Law (State Liability), 5712 –1952, to allow individuals who suffered harm as a result of unlawful or criminal behavior by state agents to receive compensation.

  • Create a compensation commission to expedite claim proceedings for all compensation awards under a reasonable monetary threshold.

  • Make all victims of unlawful or criminal behavior aware of their right to receive compensation, and of the means to obtain it.

  • Apply Article 77 of the 1977 Penal Code pertaining to personal liability of perpetrators and monetary compensation for victims.

  • Make applicable in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in Israel, victims’ rights provisions of the Offense Victims Rights Act (2001).

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>June 2005