9 July 2009
The army does not classify 0.22 inch caliber bullets as a means to disperse demonstrators or quell disturbances, the Israeli Military’s Judge Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, informed B’Tselem.
Since the end of 2008, security forces in the West Bank have used 0.22-caliber bullets as an additional means, along with the firing of rubber-coated metal bullets and tear-gas, to disperse demonstrators. In addition, in media statements the IDF Spokesperson referred to 0.22-caliber bullets as a crowd-control measure.
As a result of the use of 0.22 bullets, at least two unarmed Palestinians were killed: on 13 February 2009, ‘Az a-Din al-Jamal, age 14, in Hebron, and on 5 June 2009, ‘Aqel Sror, age 35 in a demonstration in the village of Ni’lin. Dozens of persons have been wounded, some seriously. To the best of B’Tselem’s knowledge, since the killing of Sror, 0.22-caliber bullets have not been fired at demonstrators in Ni’lin.
B’Tselem had written to the Judge Advocate General, demanding that the army cease firing this ammunition at unarmed demonstrators in the West Bank. In its letter, the organization pointed out that, apparently, soldiers and officers in the field view 0.22-caliber ammunition as a means to disperse demonstrators, which led to its widespread and dangerous use. From observations at demonstrations in Ni’lin in recent months, B’Tselem found that 0.22-caliber bullets were not fired in life-threatening situations, but during clashes with demonstrators, some of whom were throwing stones at Israeli forces. B’Tselem provided the JAG with video footage of Border Police officers firing 0.22-caliber bullets in situations in which their lives were not in danger.
In his response, the JAG stated that the rules for firing 0.22-caliber bullets in the West Bank are “stringent, and comparable to the rules for opening fire with ‘live’ ammunition.” He added that, “If misleading information regarding classification of this means [0.22-caliber bullets] has been transmitted to the media or various organizations, it was done by mistake or due to a misunderstanding.” The Judge Advocate General further stated that, “Recently, the open fire regulations that apply to this means have been clarified to the relevant operational elements in the Central Command. Soon the Command will make an evaluation of the situation, headed by a senior Command official, in which framework the lessons relating to the use of this means that have accumulated in recent months will be examined.”