Human Rights in the Occupied Territories 2011
Suppression of weekly demonstrations in the West BankHose spraying demonstrators with foul-smelling liquid in a-Nabi Saleh following funeral of Mustafa Tamimi. Photo: Oren Ziv, activestills.org, 11 December 2011
In recent years, Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals have held demonstrations against the Separation Barrier and Israel’s control of land in the West Bank. Regular demonstrations are currently held in several places, such as the villages Bil’in, Beit Ummar, al-Walajah, al-Ma’sara, a-Nabi Saleh, Kafr Qadum, and Ni’lin. Many of the demonstrators are non-violent, but there are also demonstrators who throw stones.
In January 2011, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office distributed a video on YouTube, in which the former commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon, spoke about the demonstrations in Bil’in.
The approach, as far as we’re concerned, is to allow the demonstration so long as it is non-violent. We make a clear distinction between a non-violent demonstration, which is legitimate protest, and a violent demonstration of throwing stones, hurling pieces of metal, physically attacking and damaging the security fence. Against this, we shall use crowd control measures.
The claim that the military limits demonstrations in the Occupied Territories only when they are violent is not accurate. As a rule, the military treats every demonstration as an unlawful breach of public order that must be dispersed by various means. Every Friday, Border Police and soldiers come to the demonstrations and disperse them by one means or another. At times, security forces prevent demonstrations before they even begin, and seal off areas where demonstrations are planned, prior to and for the duration of the demonstration.
Hundreds of Palestinians from the various villages have been arrested and tried for stone-throwing, and often for taking part in an unlawful demonstration. The military has made a concentrated effort to arrest the organizers of the demonstrations in villages in the West Bank, and more than ten of them have been prosecuted for organizing demonstrations and incitement to violence. Most of the prosecutions rely on testimonies given by minors in procedures that violated their rights: they are detained in the middle of the night, questioned without their parents being present, and are not always properly informed of their rights.
In addition, dozens of Israelis have been arrested for taking part in demonstrations and being present in land declared a “closed military area.”Close >>
A show of force: Repression of protest in a-Nabi SalehSoldier fires tear gas directly at demonstrators in Nabi a-Saleh, June 2011. Photo from a B'Tselem video
Since December 2009, residents of a-Nabi Saleh, a village north of Ramallah, have demonstrated every Friday in protest against settlers’ appropriation of a nearby spring and land belonging to Palestinians from a-Nabi Saleh and surrounding villages. The protest procession has become one of the focal points of the weekly demonstrations in the West Bank.
In 2011, the security forces' response to demonstrations in the village violated the right to demonstrate. B'Tselem’s documentation of events in June and July showed that security forces stopped the demonstrations inside the village, often before they began. Security forces fired an enormous amount of tear gas (150 canisters in one particular demonstration). The canisters were fired inside the village’s built-up area; as a result, all the residents, and not only those taking part in the demonstration, were exposed to the gas. Some tear gas canisters were fired directly at the demonstrators, an illegal practice. Security forces also fired an inordinate number of stun grenades, at children and adults, to disperse them, also when the forces were not in danger. To prevent people from outside the village from taking part in the demonstrations, the security forces blocked all roads leading to the village. As a result, the right of all residents of the area to freedom of movement was violated.
In August 2011, with the beginning of the month of Ramadan, the security forces changed their policy and allowed demonstrators to march to the road exiting the village, stopping them a short distance from the village’s built-up area. Also, the security forces no longer blocked the roads leading to the village, which diminished the harm to the local population during the demonstrations. However, the demonstrators were still not allowed to reach the nearby spring, which is one of the focal points of the demonstrations. Also, the security forces still did not recognize the demonstrators’ right to demonstrate; they declared the demonstrations unlawful right at the start, though none of the participants threw stones or committed any violent act, and the security forces continued to disperse them by firing tear gas and spraying foul-smelling water called “the skunk.” The military declared the entire village a closed military area every Friday, thus preventing persons from outside the village to take part in the demonstrations.Close >>
The reality of “crowd control” techniques: Another demonstrator killed with a tear-gas canisterMustafa a-Tamimi. Photo: activestills.org
On the afternoon of Friday, 9 December 2011, after the main demonstration in the village of a-Nabi Saleh had dispersed, a few young men threw stones at an army jeep. One of them was village resident Mustafa a-Tamimi, age 28. Photos taken by photographer Haim Scwarczenberg and testimonies given by eyewitnesses indicate that the jeep turned around and began to move away. A soldier sitting in the jeep then opened the back door and fired a tear-gas canister directly at a-Tamimi, who was several meters away. The canister struck Tamimi in the face, causing extensive bleeding. He died the next day. In line with the new MAG Corps policy, a criminal investigation was opened immediately. As far as B'Tselem knows, this investigation has not yet been completed.<.p>
B'Tselem has documented many cases in which tear-gas canisters were fired directly at people during demonstrations, including in non-violent demonstrations in which there was no stone throwing and no actions that might endanger the security forces. For example, in April 2009, Bassem Abu-Rahmah from Bil’in was killed by a tear-gas canister that struck him in the chest while he was participating in the weekly demonstration in his village. In the demonstration in which a-Tamimi was killed, soldiers fired tear gas canisters directly at other demonstrators as well. B'Tselem has demanded a criminal investigation into 13 documented cases in which persons were seriously injured by tear gas canisters over the past decade. B'Tselem also knows of other cases in which demonstrators were injured by tear-gas canisters, some seriously.
For several years, B'Tselem issued warnings about the ongoing practice of firing tear-gas canisters directly at people during demonstrations. Firing of this kind breaches the military's open-fire regulations: tear gas is a non-lethal means for crowd control, and using it as a substitute for live fire is forbidden. The organization has demanded – both in writing and in meetings with senior military officials – that commanders clarify to soldiers serving in the field that firing tear-gas canisters directly at a person is unlawful.
In response to these demands, military officials have confirmed that direct firing of tear-gas canisters is indeed unlawful. For example, in July 2011, following further requests by B'Tselem, Major Uri Sagi, of the office of the legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, replied that, “following your letter, we have again clarified to the forces operating in Central Command the rules relating to firing of tear-gas canisters at persons, including the prohibition on firing a tear-gas canister directly at a person.”
Despite these declarations, security forces continue to fire tear-gas canisters directly at persons. As far as B'Tselem knows, no member of the security forces has been prosecuted for breaching the prohibition.Close >>
Violent dispersal of a demonstration in a-Nabi SalehClose >>