Israel bristled on Thursday at U.S. suggestions it may have used excessive force to confront Palestinian stabbings.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon accused Washington of “misreading” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying shooting knife-wielding Palestinians was self-defense. In an interview with Army Radio, Yaalon blasted State Department spokesman John Kirby’s contention, calling it utter nonsense.
“We are using excessive force?” Yaalon asked incredulously. “If someone is wielding a knife and killing people, [then our response is considered] excessive force? What are we talking about here? This is nonsense.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s was similarly outraged: “The comments by the State Department spokesman are so crazy, deceitful and baseless, that I expect President [Barack] Obama and Secretary of State [John] Kerry to distance themselves from them, and to clarify the U.S. position today,” he said.
Erdan said on Israel Radio it was the “height of hypocrisy” for Kirby, who last week needed to explain the U.S.’s accidental bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan leading to the death of 22 people, to now preach to Israel.”
With Secretary of State John Kerry due to arrive in the Middle East soon to try to calm the violence, Israeli officials said Prime Minister Netanyahu swiftly ordered cabinet ministers to say no more publicly.
At a daily press briefing on Wednesday, Kirby said Israel, which has set up roadblocks in Palestinian neighborhoods of eastern Yerushalayim to try to stem attacks, has a right and responsibility to protect its citizens.
But then he added: “Now, we have seen some — I wouldn’t call the checkpoints this — but we’ve certainly seen some reports of what many would consider excessive use of force.
“Obviously, we don’t like to see that, and we want to see restrictions that are elevated in this time of violence to be as temporary as possible if they have to be enacted,” Kirby said, without citing specific incidents.
Kirby later on Thursday appeared to back down somewhat, saying, “we have never accused Israeli security forces of excessive force with respect to these terrorist attacks.” He had meant they had seen reports of it.
He also issued an online clarification of a remark he made earlier which implied that Israel had violated the status quo on Har Habayis:
“Clarification from today’s briefing: I did not intend to suggest that status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif has been broken,” he posted early Thursday morning.
When Kirby was asked during the briefing whether the administration believes the status quo on the site has been broken, he replied: “Well, certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.”
That the status quo was not being observed, he asserted, is “indisputable. That’s not a belief; that’s a fact.”
Kirby was also busy clarifiying comments made by Kerry on Tuesday night that also irked Israel, suggesting that building in Yehudah and Shomron caused the current terror.
“What’s happening is that, unless we get going, a two-state solution could conceivably be stolen from everybody,” Kerry said. “And there’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years, and now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing.”
“The secretary wasn’t saying, well now you have the settlement activity as the cause for the effect we’re seeing,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “Is it a source of frustration for Palestinians? You bet it is, and the secretary observed that. But this isn’t about affixing blame on either side here for the violence. What we want to see is the violence cease.”