Testimony: Orders Forbade Ever Shooting Settlers With AM-Israel-Unrest, Bjt
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Israeli troops were under orders not to fire on Jewish settlers, even if the civilians shot at Palestinians, a police commander told a hearing into the Hebron massacre Thursday.
″The order was that if a settler, a Jewish settler, shoots his gun, even in the street ... toward locals ... it’s forbidden to shoot at him,″ said Chief Superintendent Meir Tayar, commander of the paramilitary border police in Hebron.
″You take cover and wait for the clip to finish, then stop him in some other way, not by shooting.″
He was testifying before a commission of inquiry investigating the massacre. It will be up to the commission to find out if such a don’t-shoot order actually was issued and to recommend any action to be taken.
The testimony underscored Palestinian demands for international protection following the massacre.
Tayar’s men, operating under army orders, help guard the Tomb of the Patriarchs where a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, killed 30 Muslim worshipers on Feb. 25. Troops arrived after the massacre was over.
The army spokesman’s office would not comment on the regulations.
Other officers confirmed such orders were in effect during routine street unrest, but maintained they were not meant to prevent security forces from foiling an attack such as Goldstein’s.
Brig. Gen. Shaul Muhfaz, the military’s West Bank commander, said soldiers were discouraged from firing at Jews because of the assumption that any Jews shooting a weapon would be doing so in self-defense.
Lt. Col. Yemini Canaan, head of the army’s Operations Branch in the West Bank, said other scenarios were never discussed by military planners.
During the hearing, the commission’s head, Chief Supreme Court Justice Meir Shamgar, pressed Tayar on whether a blanket ban on shooting Jews seemed logical. ″Not so much. I was not 100 percent comfortable with it,″ he said, adding other officers felt the same.
The testimony was likely to spark charges of military negligence in facing down settler violence in the occupied lands. Weeks before the country was shocked by scenes of settlers firing their weapons down a Hebron street while soldiers looked on.
″It is the duty of whoever is in charge of law and order to act against anyone shooting, Jew or Arab,″ said Ori Orr, a legislator and reserve general, calling the standing orders ″stupid and improper.″
During the six-year Palestinian uprising against occupation, more than 1,270 Palestinians have been killed, most by army gunfire.
The vast majority of Palestinians are banned from owning guns. The exceptions have been Palestinians belonging to the Israeli police force and Palestinian collaborators with Israel.
Testimony also revealed lax security at the massacre site. Maj. Daniel Ben Shoshan, an operations officer, admitted surveillance TV cameras malfunctioned Feb. 25.
Witnesses have said only half the 10-member guard detail showed up for duty that day, and that when the first officer arrived at the scene, the shooting was already over.
Tayar said three border policemen were late, apparently because they were not awakened by the duty commander at their base.
Earlier Thursday, Hebron’s military governor, Col. Shalom Goldstein, said the ancient Tomb, sacred to Muslims and Jews, was a frequent site of friction. In 1993, there were 25 cases of confrontations, most verbal, he said. The colonel, no relation to the killer, said he reported the incidents to his superiors.
Meanwhile, media reports suggested that Goldstein had carefully planned the shooting spree. Yedioth Ahronot said that two days before the massacre, Goldstein took out life insurance worth $250,000.
The Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem Thursday asked to appear before the panel to present information on settler attacks on Arabs. Izhar Beer, a group spokesman, said the evidence would reveal authorities’ failure to enforce the law with settlers.