From the beginning of the Great March of Return protests on Land Day, 30 March 2018 until the end of June 2019, Israeli security forces killed 216 Palestinians, 43 of them minors, and wounded thousands, the vast majority with live ammunition. However, security forces also make deadly use of crowd control weapons, including tear gas canisters which are not designed to hit people directly.
At least seven of the Palestinians killed died as a result of a teargas canister hitting their head or face directly. Four of them were minors. According to the OCHA Protection of Civilians Database, as of 28 June 2019, more than 1,600 Gaza protestors arrived in hospital with injuries resulting from direct teargas canister hits, more than a third of them in the first three months of 2019.
Teargas canisters are a crowd control weapon with a firing range spanning 100 meters to several hundred meters, in the case of extended range canisters. They are designed to be non-lethal and the open-fire regulations, at least officially, as well as use instructions, forbid firing them directly at people due to the grave danger involved.
In the past few months, B’Tselem’s field researchers in the Gaza Strip collected testimonies from protestors who were injured by teargas canisters and eyewitnesses. These testimonies indicate that security forces routinely fire teargas canisters directly at protestors, in contravention of the regulations. The testimonies also indicate teargas canisters are fired from elevated positions, relative to the perimeter fence (earth embankments, or the roofs of military jeeps), or through gaps in the fence itself. B’Tselem has documented direct firing of teargas canisters in the West Bank, which resulted in severe injuries and killed at least two people.
Firing tear gas canisters directly at protestors is not a stand-alone practice. It is part of the open-fire policy Israel has been implementing along the Gaza border for more than a year. This policy, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 200 protestors and injured thousands is patently unlawful and immoral. Using lethal fire, whether live or otherwise, against protestors the vast majority of whom are unarmed and pose no danger to the lives of armored security forces on the other side of the fence, in the same way for more than a year, despite its well-documented horrific results is yet another expression of Israel’s disregard for the lives and bodily integrity of Palestinians.
Muhammad Fseifes, 21, injured in head – 31 May 2019
At about 3:00 P.M. on Friday, 31 May 2019, Muhammad Fseifes, 23, a resident of ‘Abasan al-Kabirah who is unemployed, arrived at the protest near the Gaza perimeter fence to the north of the town of Khuza’ah. At about 3:30 P.M., Fseifes and a group of young men, some waving Palestinian flags, moved forward to a spot a few dozen meters from the fence. Hanan Abu Tibah, 30, a resident of Bani Suheila, married and mother of four, also went with the group, waving a Palestinian flag.
In a testimony taken on 19 June 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, Abu Tibah related:
Muhammad Fseifes was with us. We shouted slogans and then the soldiers started to fire teargas canisters at us from a launcher mounted on one of the military jeeps. The gas canisters fell next to us and we moved back. Then we moved forward again and stood at the same spot, and the soldiers fired sponge-tipped rounds at us. Muhammad Fseifes was hit in the shoulder, chest, and leg. Medics who arrived on the scene took him away and treated him in the field.
Ten minutes later, Muhammad came back and stood with us, a few dozen meters away from the fence. There were a few young men and women around us. At about half past four, I saw a woman soldier standing near the fence. She fired three or four teargas canisters at us through gaps in the fence. I was standing a few meters in front of Muhammad. I looked back and saw him fall after a canister hit him in the head. I went over to him. His head was bleeding badly and his skull was fractured. I called out to the medics and signaled to them with the flag I was holding. A few medics and young guys came over. They bandaged Muhammad’s head and evacuated him to an ambulance on a stretcher.
In a testimony taken on 19 June 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, Fseifes stated:
I woke up after six days and found myself in the intensive care unit at the European Hospital. I saw my father next to me. He asked me if I recognized him and I said yes. The next day they moved me from intensive care to neurosurgery. The doctors told me that I might be left paralyzed on the right side of my body. When I heard that I went into shock. I was really scared. But by the next day I could already move my body and my limbs. I was happy, despite the pain from the injury. A few days later they let me go home.
I’m still taking pills and I’m being monitored at the hospital. I have 13 stitches on the right side of my head. Sometimes it hurts so much that I feel as though my head is about to explode. Sometimes I feel dizzy and I have to sit down right away, even on the floor. I’m afraid that I’m going to have these symptoms for a long time.
Volunteer medic Muhammad Abu Jazar, 21, injured in jaw – 8 March 2019
At about 3:30 P.M. on Friday, 8 March 2019, volunteer medic Muhammad Abu Jazar, 21, a resident of Khan Yunis, arrived at the demonstration to the north of the town of Khuza’ah. While he was on the way to evacuate an injured person a few dozen meters from the perimeter fence, a gas canister struck him in the jaw.
In a testimony taken on 10 March 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, Abu Jazar stated:
When I arrived that day there were only a few demonstrators. Usually the number of demonstrators increases after four o’clock. A few dozen demonstrators moved forward to a spot about 30 meters from the barbed wire fence. I was standing with a group of medics from various medical teams, all of us wearing official medics uniforms, about 25 meters behind the demonstrators. We deliberately keep our distance in order not to be hit by the bullets and gas they fire at the demonstrators.
At about four o’clock, one of the demonstrators who were near the barbed wire fence was hit in the leg by a live bullet. Medics who were close by called me to come over, because I had a stretcher. I ran over there, but in the meantime another medic had gotten there first and put the injured guy on his stretcher. Together with some other medics, we helped him to evacuate the injured guy. While we were walking toward the ambulances, which were parked on Jaker Road, I saw someone about 20 meters away from me who had been injured in the head by a gas canister. I left the first injured guy and went up to this guy with a stretcher, together with two other medics.
I moved a few meters toward him, and then soldiers fired teargas canisters in our direction. I felt the canister hit me in the jaw. I let go of the stretcher and put my hand to my jaw. I felt a strong pain in my jaw and my head was also hurting, and I felt dizzy. The two medics who were behind me grabbed me so that I wouldn’t fall to the ground. They helped me run far away from the gas. I was half unconscious and after they evacuated me I lost consciousness. I woke up in Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis. The doctors told me that my jaw wasn’t broken. They treated me and gave me painkillers.
At half past seven they discharged me from hospital and I went home. My jaw still hurts, especially when I eat, and I suffer from headaches and dizziness.
On 10 July 2019, Abu Jazar updated B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh that he was still suffering from pain from the wound and from headaches. When the headaches are particularly bad, he takes injections of painkillers.
‘Omar a-Najar, 26, married and father of two, is a resident of Bani Suheila and a volunteer medic. A-Najar was with Abu Jazar when he was injured. In a testimony taken on 4 April 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, he stated:
At about four o’clock, a few dozen people moved forward to a point about 30 meters from the barbed wire fence, shouting slogans. A few of them threw stones at the soldiers, who climbed up onto higher earth embankments behind the fence. There were also a few military jeeps behind the fence, and two of them fired teargas canisters. A soldier who came out of the roof of one of the jeeps fired gas canisters directly at the people. We were standing about 30 meters behind, to the west of the demonstrators. One of the guys, who was close to the concertina fence, was hit in the leg by live fire. Together with Muhammad and other medics, we gave him first aid and he was evacuated on a stretcher.
As we headed west, we saw an injured man who had been among the demonstrators who approached the fence and had been hit by a gas canister fired by the soldier on the roof the jeep. The man was hit directly in the left eye, I think, and fell to the ground. Muhammad and I were close to him and Muhammad had a stretcher. We moved toward him and then Muhammad was also hit by a gas canister fired by the soldier on the roof of the jeep. He fell and I caught him. He put his hand to his cheek. The canister that had hit him started to smoke only after it hit him and fell on the ground. I gave Muhammad first aid while he was lying on the ground. He was in a lot of pain. Then some more medics arrived, and we evacuated him on a stretcher to an ambulance parked on Jaker Road. He was still conscious. Then I went back into the field and stayed there until about seven o’clock.
Most of the injuries I saw that day were caused by direct hits by teargas canisters. Some people were injured after inhaling gas.
The killing of Bassam Safi, 22, and the injuring of photographer Munib Abu Hatab, 23, in the stomach – 22 February 2019
On Friday, 22 February 2019, two people were injured by teargas canisters fired directly by soldiers at demonstrators during a protest to the north of the town of Khuza’ah. Bassam Safi, 22, a resident of Khan Yunis Refugee Camp, was injured at about 5:00 P.M. by a teargas canister that lodge in his face. Video footage posted on social media shows Safi lying on the ground in an area close to Jaker Road, about 150-200 meters from the fence, smoke pouring out of his head. Safi was taken to the European Hospital to the south of Khan Yunis where he underwent surgery to extract the canister. He remained unconscious, in hospital, until he died of his injuries on 11 March 2019.
In a testimony taken on 1 March 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, Muhannad a-Najar, 19, a computer science student and resident of Khan Yunis, described the incident:
There were four or five military jeeps on the other side of the fence, and two of them fired heavy volleys of teargas canisters at the demonstrators. There were also a few soldiers who were firing teargas canisters using launchers. From my experience at the demonstrations, I’ve learned that the gas canisters fired by soldiers with launchers reach a very large distance and sometimes land in the area of the March of Return Protest tents. The range of the teargas canisters fired from the jeeps is limited and they move more slowly, so the demonstrators manage to dodge them. On that day, the soldiers also fired live ammunition, injuring several people. I saw lots of people who’d been injured after inhaling teargas.
Between half past four and five o’clock, I stood in the area near Jaker Road eating sunflower seeds. A guy was standing a few meters behind me, and I later learned that his name was Bassam Safi. He wasn’t doing anything. The soldiers on the embankment fired a few teargas canisters, one of which hit Safi directly in the head. When I turned around, I saw him lying on the ground on his back. A lot of gas was coming out of his head.
I ran to him to help, but what I saw and the gas coming from his head shocked and scared me and I couldn’t go any closer. I took out my phone and filmed what was happening. After the gas clouds dispersed, some civilians and medics approached the injured guy. I think they were from the Red Crescent. They put him on a stretcher and evacuated him to an ambulance parked on Jaker Road.
Munib Abu Hatab, 23, a photojournalist and resident of Khan Yunis, arrived at the demonstration area at around 3:00 P.M. In a testimony taken on 27 February 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, he stated:
At about five o’clock on Friday, 22 February 2019, I saw a soldier fire a gas canister toward the demonstrators. Then I saw the demonstrators run toward one of the injured people. I also ran over because I was far away from them. When I reached them, I saw a young man lying on the ground, about 200 meters from the fence. A lot of smoke was coming out of his head. The young guys were trying to stop the gas and give him first aid. I later learned that the young man transferred to the ambulance was Bassam Safi.
A few minutes later, I moved toward the fence to photograph the demonstration and the demonstrators. When I reached a point about 100 meters from the concertina fence, I saw over a hundred demonstrators in the area 50-100 meters from the fence. I had two cameras with me. One of the soldiers got out of the military jeep, aimed his canister launcher directly at me, and fired a gas canister that hit me in the right side of my stomach. I fell down on my back. The camera was behind my back and I fell on top of it. I was in a lot of pain and I started screaming in pain. I felt something burning inside my body. I was sweating a lot and felt dizzy. As soon as I fell down and started shouting, some medics and young guys came over to give me first aid. They bandaged me, put me on a stretcher, and took me to an ambulance on Jaker Road. From there the ambulance took me to the medical tent where some doctors checked me and evacuated me to the European Hospital in Gaza City.
I arrived at the hospital with burns and swelling at the point of the injury. They let me go home a few days later.
During my work as a photojournalist covering the March of Return Protests, I’ve noticed that lately the occupation soldiers have been targeting their gas launchers directly at the demonstrators and fire at them in order to hit them, rather than disperse them.
Jibril al-Kafraneh, 14, injured in head – 22 February 2019
On Friday, 22 February 2019, Jibril al-Kafraneh, 14, a ninth grade student from Beit Hanoun, arrived at a demonstration to the east of Jabaliya Refugee Camp. At about 16:00, a gas canister struck al-Kafraneh in the head and he lost consciousness. He was evacuated to the Indonesian Hospital close the refugee camp and was then transferred to a-Shifa’a Hospital in Gaza City. Ahmad a-Za’anin, 27, an electrician and resident of Beit Hanoun who is married with two children, was present on the scene.
In a testimony taken on 5 March 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd, a-Za’anin described the incident in which al-Kafraneh was injured:
I was standing about 200 meters from the fence. I wasn’t moving forward because the Israeli military was firing a lot of teargas and even live ammunition at the demonstrators. I know Jibril al-Kafraneh from Beit Hanoun and I saw him there.
Between half past three and four o’clock, I saw my cousin get injured in his left leg by two bullets and fall down. At the same moment, I also saw Jibril al-Kafraneh get hit by a gas canister that struck his head and ricocheted back. He was a meter or a meter and a half from me and he also fell down. I didn’t know who to run to and help first, Jibril or my cousin. All the demonstrators ran away because of the gas canisters. I rushed over to Jibril, who was lying unconscious on the ground, his head and faced covered in blood. I picked him up and took him to an ambulance that was a few meters away.
I went straight back to give my cousin first aid, and I took him to an ambulance, too. I got into the ambulance with Jibril. He was unconscious and the medics were giving him first aid. They bandaged his head and hooked him up to an oxygen supply. We reached the medical tents, but because his injury was so serious, they wouldn’t accept him there. They put him in an ambulance that took him to the Indonesian Hospital in the north of Gaza. I went there with him, but when we got there, they decided to transfer him to a-Shifa’a Hospital because he was in bad condition. I went with him there, too. At a-Shifa’a he woke up, but he was confused. They gave him a CT scan and took him into the operating room. After his family arrived I left.
In a testimony taken on 3 March 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd, al-Kafraneh stated:
I was sitting on the ground about 200 meters from the fence, looking at the demonstrators to the east. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, I got dizzy and I felt something hit my head real hard. I lost consciousness and when I woke up, I was in the surgical ward at a-Shifa’a Hospital with my family around me. They told me I’d been injured by a gas canister that hit me in the head and that they had operated on me for three hours. My skull was fractured. The canister made a hole a few centimeters deep in my head. I was in a bad way. They kept me at a-Shifa’a Hospital for about a week. I was in a bad way and suffered from convulsions, serious pain, and dizziness, incontinence, and difficulties breathing. I threw up a few times every day. I couldn’t stand on my feet and I couldn’t eat anything except for soup, yoghurt or juice. But the doctors looked after me and I began to get better. They let me leave hospital on Thursday, 28 February 2019.
Since then I’ve continued to get better. I still can’t walk, but I can eat better and the dizziness isn’t so bad. I take painkillers because of my headaches. It hurts so much that I can’t sleep, so I stay awake most of the night.
At the moment my life’s on hold because of the injury. I can’t go out of the house and see my friends. Before the injury, I used to ride on my bike every day to visit my cousin and my friends, or to buy groceries for the house. Now I can’t ride at all, and I can’t play soccer with my friends from the neighborhood. Sometimes when I hear my friends playing outside it makes me feel sad. I hope God brings me back to health so that I can go play with my friends again.
Jibril’s grandmother, Amira al-Kafraneh, 61, raised him after his parents got divorced. In a testimony taken on 3 April 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd, she described the day he was injured and his time in hospital:
When I got to a-Shifa’a Hospital, Jibril was in the operating room. His father and uncles were already at the hospital. They calmed me down and held me so that I wouldn’t collapse, because I have diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as thyroid and heart problems. The doctors told me that Jibril’s condition was serious, so when he came out of surgery I calmed down a bit. I cried a lot, hugged and kissed him, and my heart ached so much. Jibril was still sedated and he couldn’t speak at all. I stayed by him until midnight. I didn’t want to go home and leave him there, but eventually my children took me home. I was crying as I left the hospital.
Jibril spent a week in hospital. I got there at six o’clock every morning to make sure he was alright. After about two days, when he woke up, I was next to him. We hugged and cried. He said to me, “Don’t cry, Mama, I’m here next to you and you can see that I’m okay.” I cried for him for a whole week. I cried when I saw his clothes at home and when I saw his bike. The whole time I prayed to God that Jibril would recover and come home safe and sound.
When they let Jibril out of hospital and he came home, I couldn’t believe I was seeing him in front of my eyes, at home, safe and sound. I was so happy that I sang and clapped my hands. I couldn’t control my joy that Jibril had recovered. After that, I worried about him and pampered him all the time. At night I slept next to him. I didn’t leave him even for a moment, because I was afraid something might happen to him, God forbid. I thank God for bringing Jibril back to me and filling my home with happiness and joy.
Inquiries made by B’Tselem’s field researcher indicate that ever since the injury five months ago, Kafraneh has been restless and irritable and continues to suffer from severe pain.
Suhaib 'Imad, 12, injured in leg – 1 February 2019
At about 1:30 P.M. on Friday, 1 February 2019, Suhaib 'Imad, 12, a seventh-grade student from Jabaliya Refugee Camp, arrived at a demonstration to the east of the camp. During the demonstration he used a sling shot to throw stones at the security forces on the other side of the fence.
In a testimony taken on 7 March 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah, Suhaib 'Imad. described his injury:
At about half past one, I went to the square by al-Khulfa’a Mosque in the refugee camp and got on a bus to the demonstration on the Abu Safya lands to the east of the camp. There were about 40 of us. After about half an hour, more demonstrators began to arrive. I moved forward towards the fence with some of the demonstrators and we began to throw stones. I used a sling shot and aimed at an Israeli military jeep behind the fence. Then, I went with a few other demonstrators to the southern part of the Abu Safya lands. We stood opposite the gate in the fence and began to throw stones at an Israeli jeep and an embankment. Israeli soldiers were standing behind the embankment on the other side of the fence.
At about half past four, as we were about to turn round and head back home, a jeep approached us, firing teargas, and a soldier got out, aimed his weapon at us, and fired a teargas canister at us. I lay down on the ground a few meters from the fence with about seven other demonstrators. I felt a gas canister hit my right leg. The guys lifted me up as soon as the gas started to come out of my leg, but straight away they put me down again, because they’d inhaled teargas. They started to drag me by the hood of my sweatshirt to get me away from the fence and give me first aid. After they’d moved me a few meters away, medics arrived and put me on a stretcher. I felt a burning sensation in my leg. They took me to the medical tents and gave me first aid, and then they took me to al-A’uda Hospital in the refugee camp. They operated on me at the hospital to remove the canister that was stuck in my right leg. I had a hole in my leg above my knee where the canister hit me and it hurt a lot. I’m still lying at home now suffering from the wound caused by the gas canister.
Hayat 'Imad., Suhaib 'Imad's mother, 29, a homemaker and mother of three, stated in a testimony taken on 9 April 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd:
When I got to the hospital, I found Suhaib lying in bed. He was in very bad pain. They took him into surgery and when he came out, the doctors told me that his condition was very serious, and they had had to remove the front muscles in his leg. I was in shock when I heard that the gas canister had been stuck inside his thigh. Two days later, they moved him to the Médecins Sans Frontières ward at the hospital because of his serious condition. He stayed there for about two weeks and had several operations. His father stayed there with him the whole time. I’d come to hospital at six o’clock in the morning and leave at midnight. I was exhausted and sad, and I was praying that he’d be alright. I couldn’t take time to care for his little brothers or to do housework – I was preoccupied with Suhaib My boys kept asking me every day if they’d see me when they got home from school, and I’d tell them that I’d be in hospital with Suhaib.
Since his injury, my son can only walk with crutches or use a wheelchair. He isn’t going to school and spends most of his time in bed. Even when he goes out to get a bit of fresh air, he says that everyone stares at him because of the crutches and that bothers him. He used to love riding his bike, but he can’t do that now. I can see how sad and depressed he gets when the other kids are playing. For a while he had nightmares and would shout out at night, so I’d sleep next to him and hug him. I want him to go back to school and finish the semester like his friends. I want him to be able to get back to a normal life.
Inquiries made by B’Tselem’s field researcher indicate that Suhaib 'Imad's condition has improved since his injury six months ago and he is now able to walk short distances. He still needs physiotherapy and will have to undergo two more leg surgeries.