Court examines IDF violence in West Bank

Next week, the commander of the IDF’s Central Command, Major General Gadi Shamni, will take the stand in the final hearing of a criminal case that has shaken the IDF to the core and cost at least one senior officer his career.

General Shamni will testify in the case of Lieutenant Adam Malul, a junior officer in the Kfir Brigade who is accused in a military court of using excessive force against Palestinian detainees in a West Bank village last year. General Shamni will explain exactly what degree of force soldiers are allowed to use to quell demonstrations.

Lieutenant Malul’s case took an unexpected turn two months ago, when his Brigade commander, Colonel Itay Virov, supported him in court.

He testified that “use of violence to avoid a case where we might need to use even greater violence is not only allowed, but sometimes necessary. Hitting or pushing someone in order to get the mission done is certainly possible. Slaps, sometimes hitting someone on the back of the head or in the chest, kneeing or lightly strangling, are all reasonable to calm someone down”.

A Pandora’s box was opened.

The Kfir Brigade is tasked mainly with fighting terror on the West Bank. Colonel Virov is an outspoken officer, well known for backing his subordinates.

The IDF’s attorney-general, Brigadier Avihai Mendelblitt, and General Shamni, Colonel Virov’s superior, hurried to counter his testimony. Gen Shamni reprimanded the colonel and published an open order to all Central Command officers making clear that “it is forbidden to use strength and violence without justification or in an excessive fashion towards Palestinian civilians”.

The result so far is that the officers in the field are full of admiration for the colonel and critical of the general.

“Virov knows exactly what is happening in the West Bank,” says one Kfir captain, “and he simply explained how you can use a little bit of force to ensure that things don’t get out of hand and worse. Shamni is simply being a hypocrite.”

Next week General Shamni will have to explain the orders given to young IDF officers charged with keeping the peace in the West Bank.

Lieutenant Malul’s fate will be decided by the military court but his colonel has apparently already been sentenced. IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has already made it clear that Colonel Virov can forget about promotion.

Last updated: 5:00pm, July 17 2009