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State Attorney’s Office to police: forbidden to fire tear-gas canisters directly at demonstrators


4 May 2009

According to media reports, the State Attorney’s Office has ordered the Police to review its guidelines for dispersing demonstrators. The order comes in the wake of the death of Bassem Abu Rahma, a Palestinian who was demonstrating in Bi’lin, and of injuries suffered by a number of other demonstrators recently. B’Tselem welcomes the State Attorney’s Office’s directive, which follows requests by B’Tselem to stop firing tear-gas canisters directly at persons. The real test, however, is whether the directive is implemented in the field. B’Tselem calls on the State Attorney’s Office to investigate incidents of tear-gas canisters fired at people and to prosecute the police officers and soldiers who were responsible for the prolonged and flagrant breach of regulations, and the commanders who allowed the forbidden practice to continue.

In recent weeks, B’Tselem has warned law-enforcement authorities about the life-threatening danger inherent in directly firing tear-gas canisters, a practice that has already resulted in injury to dozens of persons, some seriously. In its April letter following Abu Rahma’s death, B’Tselem demanded that the army enforce its Open-Fire Regulations, investigate incidents in which soldiers have violated the regulations, and prosecute the delinquent soldiers.

On 3 May, B’Tselem received a response from the legal advisor of the Judea and Samaria Division, Col. Sharon Afek, stating that an explicit, comprehensive directive would soon be issued prohibiting the direct firing of tear-gas canisters at people. B’Tselem also called on the Judge Advocate General to ensure that military forces cease firing tear-gas canisters directly at people.

B’Tselem also provided law-enforcement officials with video documentation of soldiers and border policemen firing directly at demonstrators, evidence that the breach of the Open-Fire Regulations was not an isolated incident, but a widespread practice known to senior officers.

B’Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, demanding to order a Military Police investigation into the circumstances of the death of Abu Rahma, and to make it clear to security forces that it is absolutely forbidden to fire tear-gas canisters directly at a person. B’Tselem had sent a letter in similar spirit a month earlier, following the severe injury to the American Tristan Anderson, who was struck in the forehead by a tear-gas canister. B’Tselem did not receive a reply to its letter.

Attached to the letter was a selection of video clips filmed in the villages of Ni’lin, Bi’lin, and Jayyus. The clips showed repeated firing of tear-gas canisters directly at demonstrators, indicating that, for some time, and contrary to army claims, security forces in the West Bank have used this practice.