On 15 April 2018, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), together with fellow organizations Yesh Din, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and HaMoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual, submitted an urgent petition to the High Court of Justice (HCJ), demanding that the Court order the military to revoke the rules of engagement that permit live fire along the Gaza-Israel border at Palestinian protesters who are not posing a threat to human life.
According to the petition, the rules of engagement implemented along the Gaza border permit live fire at protesters classified by the IDF as “key inciters” or “key participants in riots”, even when these individuals do not pose a clear and immediate threat to human life. The orders also permit soldiers to shoot at demonstrators for merely approaching the Gaza-Israel fence from the Gazan side.
The petitioners argued that there is no prohibition on demonstrating in Gaza, and that if incidents of violence or attempts to cross the fence occur during demonstrations they constitute civic disturbances. In such cases the law permits live fire only in cases of immediate danger to human life. Additionally, even if the area in which the demonstrations are held were considered a combat zone in light of the hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the demonstrations themselves are not combative and are therefore not subject to the laws of war.
The petitioners further argued that given Israel’s claims that it has not been occupying Gaza since the 2005 disengagement, the IDF has no legal authority to declare a no-go zone on the Gaza side of the border, and certainly has no authority to shoot people merely for entering the boundaries of that zone.
The petitioners cited the IDF code of ethics, which stipulates that soldiers will not use arms against non-combatants, and emphasized that “according to the international laws governing the use of arms, lethal force may be used only to save lives in danger, and not to safeguard any other value or principle. Indeed, only protecting life can justify putting another life at risk.”
Since the start of the protests in Gaza on March 30 and until the petition was submitted, 30 people were shot and killed and over 1,200 injured by live ammunition. The numbers continue to go up.
On 24 May 2018 the High Court of Justice unanimously rejected the petitions. Deputy Chief Justice, Judge Hanan Melcer, who wrote the main verdict, accepted all the claims made by the State. Chief Justice Esther Hayut stated that it is problematic to allow soldiers to open fire on “key inciters” or “key participants in riots”, but added that this should be examined ex post facto in the context of concrete incidents and through operational inquiries or other examinations.
Link to the petition HCJ 3003/18, to the State’s responses and to the verdict (Hebrew)