Practice Relating to Rule 47. Attacks against Persons Hors de Combat
With reference to Israel’s Law of War Booklet (1986), the Report on the Practice of Israel states: “The protection of those persons who are hors de combat
is a basic tenet in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], and IDF soldiers are required not to make any such individual the subject of attack.”
Israel’s Manual on the Laws of War (1998) states:
The laws of war do set clear bars to the possibility of harming combatants when the combatant is found “outside the frame of hostilities”, as when he asks to surrender, or when he is wounded in a way that does not allow him to take an active part in the fighting. In such situations it is absolutely prohibited to harm the combatant.
Israel’s Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) states:
[T]he rules of war include a ban on attacking a combatant who is “hors de combat”, for example while he is asking to surrender or if he is wounded in such a way that does not allow him to participate in combat actively. In situations such as these, it is absolutely forbidden in the strongest terms to attack such combatant. The moral argument for this is that as long as the soldier is participating in the military effort, he knowingly risks his life. When he is clearly asking to surrender and exit from the fight or while he is incapable of participating in combat actively, there is no moral justification in attacking him, nor is there any military reason to do so.
The rules of war clearly set the boundaries of combat. A soldier who has surrendered or who is wounded is outside them. Attacking a combatant who has surrendered is murder and the same also applies to attacking a combatant who has been wounded and has ceased to pose a threat to our forces.
Considerations such as delays in reaching the objective due to the need to guard prisoners-of-war or even assigning personnel for the purpose of transferring them to the home front, do not permit attacking prisoners-of-war who have surrendered and have been disarmed. It is difficult to think of a military mission of such urgency that it does not allow the removal of prisoners-of-war to the rear or even immobilising them until the arrival of reinforcements. The military police is responsible for the management of prisoners-of-war in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], and every combat unit has a military police unit which in time of emergency will be responsible for receiving prisoners-of-war and transferring them to prison camps.
Which circumstances define a combatant as “out of the theatre of war”? Is a soldier who is attacking in hand-to-hand combat range required to hold his fire in the presence of an enemy combatant who raises his hands? This is a difficult question to answer.
From every angle, a number of criteria are involved in examining the issue: is it absolutely clear that the combatant intends to surrender, by means of recognised signals such as raising the arms? Did the person surrendering lay down his weapon?
The Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) is a second edition of the Manual on the Laws of War (1998).