Security forces use tear-gas canisters as weapons

18 Mar 2009

B'Tselem today requested the Judge Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, to immediately clarify to security forces that it is absolutely forbidden to directly aim tear-gas canisters, including extended-range type canisters, at demonstrators in the West Bank. Firing of this kind has already resulted in injuries, some grave, to dozens of Palestinians and Israeli and foreign citizens. B'Tselem also called on the JAG to conduct a thorough and effective investigation into cases in which there is a suspicion that this prohibition has been breached, and bring the persons responsible to justice for their misdeeds, including the officers who gave the orders or turned a blind eye to the illegal firing.

On 13 March, a Border Police officer fired an extended-range type tear-gas canister that struck Tristan Anderson, an American citizen, during a demonstration in Ni'lin. B'Tselem's investigation reveals that the police officer fired the canister directly at Anderson from 60 meters away, even though Anderson had not thrown stones and had not endangered the police officers. The grenade struck him in the forehead, fracturing his skull and injuring the front lobe of his brain. It is still too early to determine the extent of the damage.

This is yet another case in which security forces have fired tear-gas canisters directly at demonstrators, injuring them. In recent weeks, B'Tselem has requested law-enforcement agencies to investigate three such cases, one involving a 13-year-old boy. B'Tselem has extensive video footage of police officers and soldiers firing tear-gas canisters directly at demonstrators.

In response to the injury to Anderson, the IDF Spokesperson informed Ha'aretz that, “Based on the field inquiry conducted after the incident, the means to disperse demonstrations was used in accordance with the procedures.” This response is surprising, given that B'tselem knows of testimonies by security forces indicating that orders regarding the use of tear-gas launchers prohibit shooting directly at the target.

Video: Border policeman fires tear-gas canisters directly at Palestinian demonstrator, injuring him seriously in the head, Bil'in, 23 January 2009. Filmed by David Reev.

In the letter, B'Tselem emphasized that tear-gas is intended to be non-lethal. Firing of tear-gas canisters at a short distance, directly at a person, turns the canisters themselves into a missile of sorts. Extended-range type tear-gas canisters, recently brought into use in the West Bank, are even more dangerous, as they move at a very high speed and are heavier, thus causing much greater injury.

Therefore, permitting the firing of tear-gas grenades directly at persons, whether by express command or by turning a blind eye, endangers human life and conveys a message of disrespect for the lives and bodily integrity of Palestinians and other demonstrators.

Soldiers carrying out policing actions must do everything in their power to prevent injury to civilians. For this reason, it is forbidden to fire at civilians, unless the soldiers are in real, imminent, life-threatening danger, and where other means to cope with the danger do not exist.