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From the field

Allowing the use of live ammunition against stone-throwers in East Jerusalem will have lethal consequences

The government seems hell bent on using force, and nothing but force, in East Jerusalem

According to media reports, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to authorize the use of live fire against stone-throwers in East Jerusalem. The request came after an incident in which Jerusalem resident, Alexander Levlovitch, was killed following suspected stone-throwing at his car and is meant to allow local police forces to shoot live 0.22 caliber bullets at Palestinian stone-throwers. These bullets, also known as Two-Twos or Ruger rifle bullets, have a lesser impact than “ordinary” live bullets, but may still be fatal or cause serious injury.

Based on experience gained over recent years in the West Bank, B'Tselem expects that AG approval for this move would not have the result desired by the government and rather than “restore order” to Jerusalem, it would exacerbate the cycle of violence with lethal results. It would also contravene recommendations made by the Or Commission, established to investigate the killing of Palestinian citizens in Israel by Israeli security forces in the fall of 2000. The commission stated that: “It must be unequivocally clarified that the police cannot use live fire, including sniper fire, to disperse crowds. Live ammunition is reserved for special situations… The guiding principle must be that a potentially lethal measures can only be used in situations of clear and immediate mortal danger”. Since the beginning of the year, security forces in the West Bank have killed three Palestinians using Two-Two bullets, during stone-throwing incidents in which members of the security forces were not in mortal danger. Four more Palestinians, two of them minors, were killed by “ordinary” live ammunition shot by security forces in similar incidents. These are seven of 20 Palestinians killed by security forces in the West Bank since the beginning of the year. Dozens of Palestinians have been injured by live fire during clashes of this kind, some of them sustained very serious injuries.

Sniper firing 0.22 bullets at stone throwers, a-Nabi Saleh, 5.12.2014, Photo: Haim Schwarczenberg
Sniper firing 0.22 bullets at stone throwers, a-Nabi Saleh, 5.12.2014, Photo: Haim Schwarczenberg

On top of the risk entailed in allowing the use of lethal weapons, experience gained through monitoring Two-Two use in the West Bank shows that the restrictions placed on using this type of ammunition get eroded over time, and the result is a constant expansion of the Two-Two use. Currently, snipers routinely fire Two-Two bullets at Palestinians in many flashpoint areas in the West Bank, in circumstances that are far removed from those in which the open-fire regulations permit the use of live ammunition. Contrary to official statements that the use of live ammunition is controlled and restricted, it appears that forces on the ground have little difficulty getting authorization to shoot at stone-throwers, even when the latter pose no danger to the troops. Snipers also sometimes fire at body parts which are prohibited by the regulations, increasing the risk of a fatality.

B'Tselem has warned for year that the way the military uses Two-Two bullets on the ground, as well statements made by the IDF spokesperson and military and border police officers, contradict official statements made by the Military Advocate General Crops that the orders governing the use of Two-Two bullets are extremely restrictive. The message soldiers on the ground actually receive from the military is that Two-Twos are not a dangerous, lethal weapon, but just another crowd control tool. This message defies the law and puts lives at risk.

The media has also reported today that the Cabinet has approved a police plan which includes the use of assault dogs and collective punishment against East Jerusalem residents, in an official bid to put pressure on them to restrain people from taking part in the clashes. These reports show that the government is bent on continuing to address the situation in East Jerusalem only by force. Israel has tried this method before, elsewhere. There is no doubt that law enforcement agencies must keep public order and protect residents, but the approach that has been taken is unlawful and immoral. It ignores the deep seated discrimination in East Jerusalem and the daily violations of the human rights of its Palestinian residents, while using increasingly violent measures against them.