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IDF still using banned weapon against civilian protestors

Chaim Levinson | Ha’aretz

19 September 2010

The Israel Defense Forces continues using the Ruger 10/22 rifle to disperse protests even though it has been prohibited by the military advocate general, a hearing at a military court revealed last week. A brigade’s former operations officer told the court he wasn’t even aware of the prohibition.

Last Wednesday, the Judea Military Court convened for the sentencing hearing of protest organizer Abdullah Abu-Rahma from Bil’in, convicted last month of incitement and organizing illegal demonstrations. The state submitted an expert opinion by Maj. Igor Moiseev, who served as the Binyamin Brigade’s operations officer for two years.

The opinion details the cost of ammunition fired in Bil’in and Nial’in from August 2008 to December 2009; it notes that the army used Ruger bullets that cost a total of NIS 1.3 million. Moiseev described the Ruger as a nonlethal weapon.

When Abu-Rahma’s attorney Gabi Laski inquired if Moiseev knew that the military advocate general had ruled that Ruger rifles are not to be used to disperse protests because they are potentially lethal, Moiseev said he was not aware of such an instruction. The state objected to the question.

In 2001, the military advocate general at the time, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Menachem Finkelstein, prohibited the use of Ruger bullets as nonlethal ammunition.

Nevertheless, the IDF reverted to using the Ruger against protesters in 2009, killing a teenager in Hebron in February and a protester in Nial’in in June. Human rights group B’Tselem asked the military advocate general to make clear that the weapon was not meant for crowd control.

In July, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit wrote that “the Ruger is not defined by the IDF as a means for riot control. The rules for using these means in Judea and Samaria are strict and parallel to the rules of engagement for live fire. If the media or organizations were told anything else regarding the definition, this was an error or misunderstanding.”

He wrote that “recently, the rules were stressed once again to the relevant operations officers in Central Command. The command in fact expects to hold a review headed by a senior commander, examining the lessons drawn from using such means in recent months.”

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said in a statement yesterday that rules for firing 0.22 ammunition are part of the general rules of engagement, “and as such are classified and naturally cannot be elaborated on. In general, it can be noted that the rules applying to 0.22 ammunition are strict and are parallel, in general, to rules applying to ordinary live ammunition.

“The operations officer’s testimony was given at a sentencing hearing of someone convicted of incitement and organizing and participating in violent riots in the village of Bil’in. The quote used is partial and does not reflect all comments by the officer on the means used by the IDF to disperse such riots. The IDF takes care to act in accordance with the rules of engagement.”