On April 15, 2018, four human rights organizations – the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Yesh Din, Gisha and HaMoked - urgently petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ), demanding that the Court order the military to revoke the rules of engagement that permit live fire at Palestinian protesters along the Gaza-Israel border, who do not pose a mortal threat. In light of the high number of casualties in these demonstrations, the organizations request that the Court schedule an urgent hearing for the petition.
In the petition, the organizations claim that the rules of engagement concerning Gaza permit the use of live fire on protesters classified by the military as “key agitators” or “major disturbers of the peace”, even when these individuals do not pose a clear and immediate threat to human life. The rules also permit soldiers to shoot at demonstrators for mere proximity to the Gaza-Israel fence (from the Gazan side), even if they do not pose a threat to human life.
As a result of these rules, since the start of the demonstrations along the Gazan border, some 30 protesters have been killed by sniper fire and over 1,200 have been injured by direct fire. The petition argues that "this is an incomprehensible rate of civilian deaths, without any requirement that harming them is only justified if they posed a real and immediate threat to the lives of Israeli citizens or Israeli forces."
The petitioners argued that there is no prohibition on demonstrating in Gaza and that if incidents of violence or attempts to cross the fence occur during demonstrations, they constitute civil disturbances of the peace. In such disturbances, the law permits live fire only in cases of immediate mortal danger. Additionally, even if the area in which the demonstrations are held is considered a combat zone in light of the hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the demonstrations themselves are not combatants and are therefore not subject to the laws of war. The petitioners further argued that given Israel's claims that it has not been occupying Gaza since the 2005 ‘disengagement’, the IDF has no legal authority to declare a closed zone within Gaza – and certainly has no authority to shoot people merely for entering the zone.
The petition cites the IDF code of ethics, which stipulates that soldiers will not use arms against non-combatants. "We are saddened to find ourselves compelled to submit a petition that states the obvious: civilians should not be harmed or killed unless they pose a direct threat to the lives of others… This petition deals with human lives, and is submitted as a last resort, and following the military's conduct and the realization of threats made by the political echelons, the Minister of Defense and the commanders of the military, to cause serious harm to civilians."
The petitioners clarify that “according to the international laws governing the use of arms, lethal force may be used only to save lives in danger, and not to safeguard any other value. Indeed, only protecting life can justify putting another life at risk.”