JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel’s military chief on Sunday after the general was criticised for saying he would not want soldiers confronting a wave of Palestinian stabbings to “empty a magazine” into a girl wielding scissors.
One member of Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet said Lieutenant-General Gadi Eisenkot’s remarks last week could be misinterpreted by Israel’s international critics as confirming allegations, which it denies, that disproportionate force has been used against assailants, many of them youths.
Another cabinet minister, posting on Facebook, said soldiers might now hesitate to shoot attackers, putting themselves and others at risk.
Netanyahu called the internal political debate “hollow” and said Israel’s top general was merely “stating the obvious” about rules of military engagement, under which soldiers can open fire only when lives are in danger.
“Everything said after (Eisenkot’s statement) stems from ignorance or an attempt at political bashing,” Netanyahu told his cabinet in public remarks.
Video of alleged attackers being hit by multiple gunshots, sometimes after falling to the ground, has stirred controversy. Israel says such force is sometimes necessary in fluid situations where soldiers’ and civilians’ lives are in danger.
In the latest example on Friday, Al Jazeera television aired footage showing two or three Israeli paramilitary police repeatedly shooting a Palestinian lying on the ground after, according to Israeli authorities, he stabbed two officers outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
“It’s impossible to judge the situation the combatants are in,” Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Channel 10 television on Saturday. “There have been incidents in which (security forces) opened fire, the terrorist was not killed, and he managed to stab again.”
Addressing high school students on Wednesday, Eisenkot got into political hot water when he spoke of the rules of engagement.
“There were places where a 13-year-old girl was holding scissors or a knife and there was an obstacle between her and the soldiers,” he said.
“I wouldn’t want a soldier to open fire and empty a magazine into a girl like that, even if she is doing something very serious, but I would want him to use the necessary force to carry out the mission.”
Last November in Jerusalem, two Palestinian girls stabbed an elderly man with scissors before a policeman shot and killed one of them and wounded the other. Closed circuit video showed the officer firing several times at one of the girls as she was lying motionless on the ground.
Since October, stabbings, shootings and car rammings by Palestinians have killed 28 Israelis and a U.S. citizen.
Israeli security forces have killed at least 168 Palestinians, 111 of whom Israel says were assailants, while most others were shot dead during violent anti-Israeli protests.
On Sunday, a Palestinian tried to stab a soldier near the town of Jenin in the occupied West Bank and Israeli forces shot him dead, the military said. Palestinian medical officials said the alleged assailant was aged 16.
Palestinian leaders say many Palestinian attackers have acted out of desperation in the absence of movement towards creation of an independent state. Israel says they are being incited to violence by their leaders and on social media.
Last month, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom called for an investigation into whether Israel was carrying out extrajudicial killings. Israel described her comments as ludicrous.
Editing by Digby Lidstone