Israeli Soldiers Attacked in West Bank Refugee Camp

The Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem / AP
March 1, 2016

JERUSALEM—After two Israeli soldiers were attacked when they drove by accident into a West Bank refugee camp Monday night, the army ordered its Hannibal Procedure to be put into effect—namely to use massive fire, if necessary, to prevent soldiers being taken prisoner, even if it endangers the soldiers themselves.

In the end, one of the soldiers escaped by himself and the other was rescued without massive fire being needed. But in an aggressive incursion into the camp by combat units and border police two Palestinians were reported killed in clashes and a unknown number wounded.

The two soldiers, handlers of combat dogs, who had driven into the camp had been following Waze navigating device on their way from one army camp to another. The developers of Waze, who are Israeli, said that applications normally used in Israel do not take drivers down roads going through dangerous areas, such as refugee camps, but that the application had apparently been turned off in this case.

Upon entering the Qalandiya Refugee Camp north of Jerusalem, one of the more restive camps on the West Bank, the car carrying the two soldiers was hit by fire bombs and set aflame. One soldier escaped in the darkness and reached a nearby Israeli settlement. The other soldier, who became separated, managed to find a hiding place and contacted the army on his cell phone.

Fearful that the soldiers might be captured and held prisoner, the army command immediately mustered a large force of soldiers and border police and entered the refugee camp, meeting resistance. Nine security personnel were lightly injured and one moderately injured but the missing soldier was soon located.

The Hannibal Procedure was originally drawn up three decades ago but has rarely been implemented. As originally drafted, it stated that in the event soldiers are captured, the immediate response must be their rescue "even at the cost of hitting or wounding our soldiers." The rationale for the order became clear to the general public after an Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Hamas in 2006 near the Gaza Strip. The few soldiers in the area fired at the captors as they were leading Shalit across the border fence but missed. In firing, they were also risking Shalit’s life. He was released from captivity five years later in return for more than1,000 security prisoners, many of whom have since resumed militant activities, according to Israel. There were many objections to the procedure, both within the army and outside it, but it remains as an option.

In the war in Gaza two years ago, after the presumed capture of an Israeli officer, the Hannibal Procedure was invoked and heavy artillery fire brought down on the area through which it was believed his captors were proceeding. It was later learned that the officer was already mortally wounded when captured. Some 40 Palestinians in the area were reported killed in the barrage.

Published under: Israel