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Why defining security in Israel is such a challenge

By Anne-Marie Bissada

Over the weekend of 11 November, tensions between the Gaza strip and Israel peaked once again, when the Israeli Defense Forces, the IDF, led a botched raid in Gaza. It was the first known time the IDF had set foot in Gaza since the war of 2014. This has raised questions within Israel about the challenges faced by its defence forces.

News of the incursion was met by rocket fire from Gaza towards Israel. And that in turn was met by Israeli fire. The IDF later said the operation "was not intended to kill or abduct terrorists but to strengthen Israeli Security".

The clash that resulted from the blown operation killed seven Palestinian militants, including a local Hamas military commander, as well as an Israeli army officer.

A ceasefire was brokered by Egypt on 13 November. In response to the truce, Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman resigned, saying such an agreement was "capitulating to terror".

"I think it is crazy, that in 2018 our only option about the Gaza strip is to fight with them with less or more ammunition…” says Nadav Weiman, a former IDF soldier and advocacy directory of Breaking the Silence, a group that is set on ending what it sees as the ongoing military occupation of Palestinians through questionable tactics and operations.

But Gilad Segal doesn’t agree. He’s also a former IDF soldier but reservist now, and a member of an organization called My Truth that works to undo perceived biases in the media and outside of Israel on the role and work of the IDF.

"What happened that eventually led to the [resignation] of the security minister […] we believe that it's something that comes from weakness in Israel to solve the situation which leads eventually to a lot of political pressure on the minister who's a political figure" says Segal.

He adds that as a member of the coalition, the minister was likely unable to push through certain actions, adding "the margin of operation is very limited, for Israel, in order to solve the issue in Gaza."

Military Occupation?

But what is this issue in Gaza? Of course everyone knows about the fighting between the Gaza strip and Israel. As mentioned earlier, tensions exploded in a full-on war back in 2014. When the Islamist movement Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, both Egypt and Israel quickly moved to impose a blockade of its land, air and sea space. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by certain countries such as the United States and the European Union.

To many, including Weiman, this constitutes as an ongoing military occupation of Gaza. “I think if most people around the world would close their eyes and I would tell them occupation […] they would think about soldiers standing at a checkpoint checking IDs.”

But this notion runs deeper than mere checkpoints he adds."If you want to control five million Palestinians that don't want your control on them, you have to do it forcefully. And the Israeli security plan, we can say, is that all of the Palestinians should be with their heads down at all times, this is how it is easier for us to control them, this is how they won't resist us, this is how we will bring security to Israel.”

The very term of ‘occupation’ however, is not very clear. "It [occupation] is a misleading term" says Segal. “There is no occupation not in the legal sense, not in the figure of speech sense. No occupation of Gaza. Israel doesn't occupy Gaza. You can argue that Israel occupies the West Bank. Not the case in Gaza. In 2005, we withdrew to the very last centimeter, we don't control even one bit of sand" he adds.

Already we see that the very term of occupation is debatable. And if that is not widely recognized across the country than how does one continue to support the actions of one of the regions, if not the most powerful militaries?

Directives from the top

When Gazans began their Great March of Return on March 30th this year, actions taken by the IDF were already criticized by human rights groups.

According to the Office of the High commissioner for Human Rights, between March and October 1st, 228 Palestinians were killed and just over 24,000 were injured. In the same time period one Israeli was killed and 40 were injured.

Weiman says as a sniper posted in Gaza between 2005 and 2008, his orders were quite simple, "If you want to shoot and kill an armed Palestinian, you will need three things: means, ability, and intention." Without any of the three, also referred to as "the rules of engagement" then the trigger could not be squeezed.

What we are seeing today, however, appears to be a different story says Weiman. Such changes in directives come directly from the cabinet, not the officers.

"So now, when I hear soldiers are getting commands that the legitimate target is an unarmed protester, on the eastern side of the Gaza fence, it's crazy. This is not the IDF that I grew up in" laments the former IDF soldier.

But to Segal, ordering a shoot-to-kill policy without abiding by the rules of engagement is unheard of. He explains that when a soldier is assigned to a particular post, there are orders of opening fire.

"It's called exactly that and this is the first thing you ask when you go and take a post and you ask what are my orders of opening fire. And the normal fire, and I don't know what in Gaza specifically, but it changes very little."

"It is normally when you're life is in complete risk. And the person in front of you who is threatening it has the intention and the means to do it, and this is the last resort, then you may open fire. Not in order to kill, but in order to neutralize the threat."

"If such orders are in fact being given to soldiers--to shoot at unarmed protesters-- then the question remains how the state of Israel defines its operation to ensure security. The soldiers themselves cannot be held responsible for such actions."

"The problem is not the army" says Weiman. "The problem is the quality of our government."

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