Sep 7, 2022 - World

Israel rejects U.S. call for review of IDF rules of engagement in West Bank

Israeli soldiers in Hebron on Aug. 19. Photo: Hazem Bader/AFP via Getty Images
Israeli soldiers in Hebron on Aug. 19. Photo: Hazem Bader/AFP via Getty Images

Israel on Wednesday rejected the U.S. call for it to review the Israel Defense Forces' rules of engagement in the West Bank as part of accountability steps for the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Driving the news: State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Tuesday that the Biden administration will continue to press Israel “to closely review its policies and practices on rules of engagement” of the IDF in the occupied West Bank.

  • He said this is needed in order “to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, protect journalists and prevent similar tragedies."

Between the lines: U.S. pressure for Israel to review the guidelines, which define the circumstances under which Israeli soldiers can use live fire in the West Bank, is unusual. Patel's comments were the first time the Biden administration raised this issue in public after discussing it in private in recent weeks.

  • After meeting with Abu Akleh's family in late July, Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and asked for a review of the IDF rules of engagement in the West Bank, saying it would be a step toward accountability in the Abu Akleh case.
  • Blinken told Gantz he thinks that either the rules of engagement weren't followed or they need to be reviewed if an Israeli soldier shot Abu Akleh while she wore a bulletproof vest that was marked "press."

State of play: Patel's comments on Tuesday came a day after Israel published the final conclusions of its investigation into the death of Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

  • The investigation determined Abu Akleh was most likely killed by "unintentional fire" from an Israeli soldier who did not realize she was a journalist, a senior IDF official told reporters.
  • The senior IDF official said that the investigation found there was no violation of the rules of engagement and no problem in the briefing the soldiers received before the Jenin raid.

What they're saying: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid expressed "sorrow" over Abu Akleh's death on Wednesday but said "no one will dictate our rules of engagement to us, when we are the ones fighting for our lives."

  • Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the "IDF’s chief of the general staff, and he alone, determines, and will continue to determine the rules of engagement in accordance with our operational needs and values of the IDF."
  • "These instructions are implemented in a strict manner by soldiers and their commanders. There has not been, and there will not be any political involvement in the matter," Gantz said.

Another senior Israeli official told Axios that "the rules of engagement were reviewed as part of the IDF investigation and it was found that there were no violations. Nobody is going to change the rules of engagement because of U.S. political pressure."

  • Israeli officials believe the U.S. call for reviewing the rules of engagement is an attempt to respond to pressure by U.S. progressives who have demanded an independent U.S. investigation — something the Biden administration can’t and doesn’t want to do, the Israeli official said. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
  • "The Biden administration is not really pressing us because they understand we are not going to change the rules of engagement," the official added. "We told them our position before and after their public statement on this issue."
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