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Israel Using Crowd Control Weapons ‘Unlawfully’

JERUSALEM, Jan 31 2013 (IPS) - The Israeli army is systematically using crowd control weapons and live ammunition unlawfully against Palestinians in the West Bank, signaling a widespread breach of military regulations and an alarming culture of impunity, a leading Israeli human rights group has warned.

At least ten Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army’s use of crowd control weapons in so-called “disturbance of the peace” situations in the West Bank since 2005, Israeli group Btselem stated in a new report, titled ‘Israel’s Use of Crowd Control Weapons in the West Bank’.

Additionally, Israeli soldiers killed 46 Palestinians with live ammunition in the same time period.

“Members of the security forces make almost routine use of these weapons in unlawful, dangerous ways, and the relevant Israeli authorities do too little to prevent the recurrence of this conduct,” the report found.

When used properly, Israel’s crowd-control weapons – which include tear gas, stun grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets, water cannons, foul-smelling liquid called ‘The Skunk’, and more – are meant to disperse crowds. The way the Israeli army uses these weapons today, however, can make them deadly, Btselem said.

“The authorities must ensure that the troops on the ground obey the open-fire regulations and use crowd control weapons within the parameters that keep them non-lethal. It follows that every soldier, officer, or police officer violating these rules must be prosecuted,” the report stated.

In an e-mail to IPS, the Israeli army spokesperson’s office disputed Btselem’s findings as “biased”, and stated that the incidents outlined in the report “are exceptions to IDF policy, rather than the rule.”

“The IDF does everything in its power to ensure that the use of riot dispersal means is done in accordance with the Rules of Engagement, minimising collateral damage and maintaining stability and security in the region,” the spokesperson’s unit stated.

Still, since the beginning of 2013 alone, at least five Palestinian youths were killed by live ammunition fired by the Israeli military in the West Bank.

Seventeen-year-old Samir Awad was killed after sustaining four bullet shots near the separation fence in Budrus village on Jan. 15. The Israeli army said Awad was trying to enter Israel illegally when he was shot.

On Jan. 23, 22-year-old Palestinian student Lubna al-Hanash was shot and killed on a main road near Al Aroub refugee camp, in the southern West Bank. The Israeli army said soldiers only fired after Molotov cocktails and rocks were thrown at them.

United Nations humanitarian coordinator James Rawley released a statement on Jan. 30 highlighting his concern at the Israeli army’s use of live fire in the West Bank, which has killed eight Palestinians since mid-November, and urged “maximum restraint in order to avoid further civilian casualties.

“Using live ammunition against civilians may constitute excessive use of force and any such occurrences should be investigated in a timely, thorough, independent and impartial manner. Individuals found responsible must be held accountable,” Rawley stated.

Palestinians have engaged in non-violent civil disobedience against Israel’s policies of occupation and colonisation for decades. Weekly, non-violent demonstrations have taken place in several West Bank villages since 2005.

A handful of Palestinians have been killed, and dozens more have been seriously injured by Israeli soldiers attempting to quell these protests and through the army’s inappropriate use of crowd control weapons.

In April 2009, Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed in the Palestinian village of Bil’in after being hit in the chest by an Israeli army-fired extended range tear gas grenade. Abu Rahmah’s sister, Jawaher, was killed in January 2011 after inhaling massive amounts of tear gas during another protest in the village.

Twenty-eight-year-old Mustafa Tamimi, from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, was also killed in December 2011, when a tear gas canister struck his head. The Btselem report stated that despite photographic evidence proving a soldier fired the tear gas canister directly at Tamimi, the Israeli army continues to deny this direct-firing practice.

“The IDF carefully investigates complaints that are tendered, instigating military police investigations when necessary, as per the policy determined by the Supreme Court and in line with the IDF’s ethical code,” the army spokesperson’s unit told IPS.

According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, however, only 3.5 percent of complaints received by the Military Police Criminal Investigations Unit of crimes committed by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank lead to indictments.

“The State of Israel is not meeting its obligation to protect the civilian population living in the area it occupied through the proper and effective investigation of suspicions of criminal offences committed by soldiers,” Yesh Din found. (END)

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