IDF soldiers have a duty to protect Palestinian residents, but many of them choose to stand aside. A case in point. 

We recently published our newest report, “Standing Idly By,” which deals with the phenomenon of IDF soldiers avoiding both protecting Palestinians attacked by Israeli nationals and aiding law enforcement authorities in investigating violations carried out by the Israeli nationals. The case of R. will serve as case study. We must mention that this isn’t, of course, the first case of its kind.

One morning in the beginning of April 2015, R. took out his goats to pasture. At one point, he thought some of the goats had strayed from his flock, and went uphill to look for them. When he reached the goats, he realized they were not his and turned back.

As he was climbing down, a white jeep with flashing lights stopped in front of him, and out came two men, one of whom was armed. R. recognized the armed man as the CSC of a nearby settlement. The CSC demanded R. come over to him, but R. refused. He went down the hill and took his flock home.

A few minutes later, after R. and another herder managed to get to the house with their goats, R. suddenly noticed three vehicles and a quad bike advancing towards his home. R. had just enough time to close the windows and lock the doors, before ten Israeli nationals, all armed, began pounding at the door—one of them began climbing the house’s wall.

The fact that Israeli nationals may not enter a Palestinian’s house without the owner’s permission did not deter them, nor did it prevent one of them from attempting to climb the wall. A few minutes later, three IDF jeeps also made it to the scene. According to R., the soldiers noticed the settler trying to climb the fence, but did not prevent him from doing so.

R. opened his door to the soldiers—at which point he and the other herder were promptly handcuffed. R. said that while he was handcuffed one of the settlers entered the yard and began beating him. According to R., the soldiers did not prevent the assault, nor did they detain the attacker or call the police; they simply dragged the two goatherds to the police station. R. was detained for three days under suspicion of entering a settlement and stealing goats, before being released—without being interrogated or standing trial. The soldiers who handcuffed him told him nothing about the reason for his detainment.

Beyond the question whether R. did steal goats or not—as mentioned above, he was not put on trial—the IDF troops reached R.’s house, saw an Israeli national trying to invade it without authority, and did nothing. They later saw that Israeli national beating R. while he was handcuffed—and did nothing.

Note, and this is important, that they had all the authority they needed to detain the settler until the police arrived. This wasn’t just their right; this was their duty.

Every soldier has the basic duty, anchored in international law and dozens of High Court of Justice rulings (as well in, as of last year, IDF regulations) to protect the local (Palestinian) population of the West Bank and its property. But a majority of IDF soldiers don’t even know the definition of their duty (on this, at length, see our report). They don’t know what a protected person is. They don’t know that it is their duty to protect Palestinians. They know, however, what the spirit of command wants of them: don’t get in trouble with the settlers. Forget about the law—don’t get me in trouble now. That’s what standing idly by is. The soldiers know that if they stand in the settlers’ way they’ll get in trouble, but that nothing will happen to them if they stand aside. The IDF, for its part, maintains ambiguity and provides its soldiers with very partial training regarding this problem, which has been documented since the Karp Report in the early 1980s. Soldiers know what they may do when it comes to a law-breaking Palestinian; they haven’t a clue how to deal with an Israeli one.

As for the Jewish marauder who attacked R.? Nothing will happen to him. R. decided not to complain to the police. To quote him, “I do not intend to lodge a complaint with the police since I am afraid of the army, the settlers, the police and judges.” He is so afraid, he won’t agree to publish his name.

So it goes.