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Security forces use tear-gas canisters as weapons


18 March 2009

B’Tselem today requested the judge advocate general, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, to immediately clarify to security forces in the Occupied Territories that it is absolutely forbidden to aim tear-gas canisters, including extended-range type canisters, directly at demonstrators in the West Bank. Firing of this kind has already resulted in injury, some very serious, to dozens of Palestinians and Israeli and foreign citizens. B’Tselem also called on the JAG to conduct a thorough and effective investigation into the 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 sixty meters away, even though Anderson did not throw stones and did not endanger 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 one more 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 thirteen-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 inquiry made in the field after the incident, the use of the means to disperse demonstrations was in accordance with the procedures.” This response is surprising, given that testimonies of security forces of which B’Tselem is aware indicate that orders for the use of teargas launchers prohibit shooting directly at the target.

In its letter, B’Tselem emphasized that tear gas is intended to be non-lethal. Firing of such canisters at a short distance, directly at a person, turns the tear-gas canister itself into kind of missile. Extended-range type tear-gas canisters, recently brought into use in the West Bank, are even more dangerous, as move at very high speed and are heavier, and thus cause 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 transmits a message of disrespect for the lives and bodily integrity of Palestinians and other demonstrators.

Soldiers carrying out policing actions must do everything they can 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.