The undercover units in the territories operated during the Intifada. Today
one hardly hears about them, although they were not dismantled.
Since the beginning of the Intifada and until the end of 1998, 162
Palestinians were killed from undercover units shooting. The task of the
undercover units is primarily to capture wanted persons - that is, persons
who are considered dangerous terrorists and are suspected of involvement
in serious crimes such as murder of "collaborators", and grave assaults
against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers. These units operated in
conjunction with the General Security Service, utilizing intelligence
information. Media reports about the existence of the undercover units
were repeatedly denied by security sources until the units were exposed in
an Israeli television report (`Yoman', 21.6.91).
The methods of operation of the undercover units create a high likelihood that persons of the territories will lose their lives. The more an action endangers the life of IDF soldiers, the more likely that live fire will be used, and that wanted persons or others in the area will be harmed. There is an element of uncertainty in these methods of operation, both because there is a danger that a given operation will develop in a dangerous and unanticipated direction which requires a harsh response, and in the terms of identifying the wanted persons. The speed with which the action occurs, the element of surprise, and the fatal fire not preceded by milder methods, in many cases prevents positive identification, and leaves the way wide open for error, and for inflicting harm on innocent persons. As it appears from some of the cases which B'Tselem investigated.
Obscuring of the boundaries between self-defense and implementation of arrest, by creating categories of "wanted persons" and "masked individuals", as an adjunct of criminal law, is illegal, invites the forbidden taking of human life, and entangles both those who give the orders and those who implement them in most severe criminal offenses. Even if there is no policy of "eliminating" wanted persons, B'Tselem report that investigated the issue (1992), indicates an atmosphere which justifies fatal shooting by undercover units in general, and shooting at wanted persons in particular, including circumstances which do not justify "self-defense", as defined in the ruling. In the zeal to capture wanted persons, deviations from the official orders are understood as an unavoidable necessity. The message passed to soldiers in the "oral tradition" which has grown up around the written orders, is that even if the killing of wanted persons is not a goal in and of itself, it is not viewed as wrong.
This message is as immoral as it is illegal. In the State of Israel, as in all properly functioning countries, only a court is authorized to impose a death sentence on a person, after he has been lawfully tried and convicted. The charges against wanted persons, no matter how grave, do not justify aberrations from this principle.