JERUSALEM — A junior Israeli army officer was suspended Sunday after a preliminary investigation determined that he had unnecessarily ordered his men to open fire on stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators, killing a 20-year-old man.
An army spokesman said the incident occurred near the northern perimeter of the occupied West Bank, in the village of Faqqua, northeast of Janin. The shooting followed a number of recent reports that Israeli troops, in a change from earlier practice, had opened direct, live fire in response to attacks with stones.
Longstanding army procedures prohibit such fire unless there is a real threat to the soldier's life and unless he has first tried to disperse his attackers with oral warnings and a series of warning shots in the air and at their feet. The same restrictions were lifted several weeks ago in the case of attackers hurling firebombs at troops.
A military spokeswoman said this was not the first time during the nearly five months of Palestinian unrest in the occupied territories that an Israeli soldier was faulted for unwarranted use of live gunfire. She would not cite specific examples, however, and noted that "not everything is published."
The army's chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Nehemiah Dagan, said last week that Israeli soldiers commit an average of 200 "excessive acts" against Palestinians in the occupied territories each month. He did not explain what he meant by "excessive acts," but the vast majority are believed to involve physical abuse rather than misuse of firearms.
According to the army's account, a patrol was ordered into Faqqua on Sunday morning to clear roadblocks and remove dozens of outlawed Palestinian flags hanging from electrical lines. The spokeswoman noted that the village is considered a "problematic" one and that a 26-year-old resident had been shot to death during another clash there two weeks ago.
The patrol was attacked by residents throwing stones, the army said, and the troops were ordered to open fire, killing a man later identified by Palestinian sources as Naim Youssef Tarha. Senior officers who went to the scene determined that the shooting was unjustified and suspended the unit's deputy company commander pending a full investigation by military police.
Tarha was at least the 168th fatal Palestinian victim of the uprising that began in the occupied territories last Dec. 9. One Israeli soldier and a teen-age Israeli girl have also been killed.
The army also confirmed Sunday that two soldiers were involved in a physical confrontation with a CBS television crew in Nablus on Saturday and said that the troops had shattered the windshield of the crew's car.
According to the military account, the situation in Nablus was tense at the time, and a patrol asked the crew to stop filming and leave the area "in order not to fan the flames of an already delicate situation." It said a verbal exchange developed that "turned into a run-in."
Hit With Rifle
CBS cameraman Amnon Leventhal said he was punched in the face and hit twice in the head with a rifle butt when soldiers ordered him and a colleague out of their car in Nablus and began roughing them up.
Robert Slater, a Time magazine correspondent and chairman of Israel's Foreign Press Assn., said there have been several incidents during the last five months in which soldiers have attacked camera crews. And in one case, an army officer reportedly pointed a loaded rifle at a Newsweek photographer and threatened to kill him.
Israel Radio and West Bank hospital sources said that, besides the one fatality, at least four other Arabs were wounded by army gunfire in clashes Sunday, despite an assessment by the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, that the Palestinians in the occupied territories now understand that violence will gain them nothing.
Israel Radio quoted Shomron as saying that the Arab states are not helping Palestinians in the territories, that the world at large is content to watch television coverage of their uprising and that "nobody is lifting a finger in practical terms for their cause."
However, a senior Israeli security source in the territories cautioned in an interview that despite Shomron's comments, the \o7 intifada, \f7 or uprising, appears far from over.
While the situation has been quieter during the last few days, this source noted, "there is no major change in the basic motivation of the people." As a result, he said, the atmosphere remains highly volatile, with the slightest incident liable to turn quickly into a violent clash.
Despite a reduction in the number of incidents compared to earlier weeks, for example, April was the deadliest month of the uprising to date, with at least 45 Palestinians and one Israeli killed.