Following B’Tselem’s documentation: Israeli army decides to stop using dogs to disperse West Bank demonstrations

Published: 
18 Jun 2012

On 15 June 2012, the Haaretz newspaper reported that, following a demonstrator’s injury in Kafr Qadum after an Israeli soldier set a dog on him, the army had decided to stop using dogs to disperse demonstrations in the West Bank. The Kafr Qadum incident was documented by a B’Tselem volunteer, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel contacted the Judea and Samaria Division Command demanding that soldiers be reminded that they are forbidden to use dogs to attack civilians in general and demonstrators in particular.

The article in Haaretz stated: “An inquiry in the unit and in the ground forces revealed that the soldier removed the dog’s muzzle and released the dog, which then attacked Shteiwi. The IDF viewed this as a ‘professional failure’ by the combat soldier, who was unable to free the Palestinian from the dog’s grip for a long time. In the wake of this incident, a decision was made by the Ground Forces and the Center for Special Flights and Training , to which the Oketz canine unit belongs, to stop using dogs during demonstrations. Nonetheless, an army source clarified that the use of dogs for demonstrations may be reinstated in the future, ‘but with a muzzle.’”

B’Tselem lauds this decision, but calls on the army to completely cease the unacceptable policy of using dogs to attack civilians. During 2011-2012, B’Tselem documented the use of dogs not only at demonstrations but also in other circumstances. For example, dogs were used during the arrest of Palestinians who tried to enter Israel without valid work permits, and during a search inside a home in which civilians were present. The use of attack dogs is threatening, dangerous, and uncontrollable, and could result in severe and disproportionate harm to unarmed civilians. Insofar as is known to B’Tselem, the civilians attacked by army dogs in the cases documented were not endangering the soldiers and could have been detained nonviolently.

Background

During 2011-2012, B’Tselem has documented eight cases in which military dogs attacked and injured civilians.

In five cases that took place during April 2011, military dogs attacked and bit Palestinians attempting to enter Israel without permits via the Separation Barrier in the a-Ramadin area of the southwestern West Bank. B’Tselem petitioned the MAG Corps and OC Central Command to stop using attack dogs against Palestinians entering Israel without permits. Since the practice was publicized by the media, no similar incidents in the vicinity have come to B’Tselem’s attention. In response to B'Tslem's complaint the MAG Corps said in January 2012 that the Military Police Investigation Unit is investigating the complaints.

On the night of 21 December 2011, Israeli soldiers were conducting an arrest operation in Idhna village west of Hebron. Soldiers came to the ‘Awad family home to arrest Samer ‘Awad, age 24. While soldiers were inside the house, a dog that was accompanying the soldiers attacked Samer’s mother, ‘Amira, age 47, and bit her arm. When Kheirallah, one of Awad’s brothers, tried to prevent the attack on his mother, he was himself attacked by the dog and then by a soldier.

On 3 February 2012, Akram Hanatsheh, age 19, a resident of a-Tabaqa southwest of Hebron, was in the area where there was a confrontation with soldiers in his village. Hanatsheh tried to run away but an army dog chased him, bit his arm and would not let go. Soldiers then came over to Hanatsheh and assaulted him themselves while the dog was still biting his arm.

On 16 March 2012, a demonstration was held at Kfar Qadum, west of Nablus. Such demonstrations have been held weekly for the past nine months to protest the closure of the Qadum-Nablus road. The protesters reached the roadblock, screamed slogans expressing their opposition to the closure, and made speeches. A clash ensued between demonstrators and soldiers, who tried to disperse the crowd using tear gas and “skunk” spray among other things, and some of the demonstrators threw stones. At this point, a soldier unleashed a dog on the group of demonstrators. The dog attacked one of them, Ahmad Shteiwi, age 21, bit his arm and hung on for several minutes, even after his handler tried to get him to let go. After the soldiers managed to release Shteiwi’s arm from the dog’s jaws, they arrested him and his uncle, who had tried to help him.

The army policy permitting attack dogs to be used on civilians is unacceptable. This is a dangerous, uncontrollable tool which could lead to severe and disproportionate injury to unarmed civilians. Insofar as is known to B’Tselem, the civilians described above as having been attacked by dogs did nothing to endanger the soldiers and could have been detained nonviolently.

B’Tselem urges the military commanders to immediately change the existing policy and completely prohibit the use of dogs to attack civilians, before any more civilians are injured.