Security forces make deadly use of crowd control weapons in Gaza

B’Tselem, 06 August 2019

From the beginning of the Great March of Return protests on Land Day, 30 March 2018 until the end of June 2019, Israeli security forces killed 216 Palestinians, 43 of them minors, and wounded thousands, the vast majority with live ammunition. However, security forces also make deadly use of crowd control weapons, including tear gas canisters which are not designed to hit people directly.

At least seven of the Palestinians killed died as a result of a teargas canister hitting their head or face directly. Four of them were minors. According to the OCHA Protection of Civilians Database, as of 28 June 2019, more than 1,600 Gaza protestors arrived in hospital with injuries resulting from direct teargas canister hits, more than a third of them in the first three months of 2019.

Teargas canisters are a crowd control weapon with a firing range spanning 100 meters to several hundred meters, in the case of extended range canisters. They are designed to be non-lethal and the open-fire regulations, at least officially, as well as use instructions, forbid firing them directly at people due to the grave danger involved.

In the past few months, B’Tselem’s field researchers in the Gaza Strip collected testimonies from protestors who were injured by teargas canisters and eyewitnesses. These testimonies indicate that security forces routinely fire teargas canisters directly at protestors, in contravention of the regulations. The testimonies also indicate teargas canisters are fired from elevated positions, relative to the perimeter fence (earth embankments, or the roofs of military jeeps), or through gaps in the fence itself. B’Tselem has documented direct firing of teargas canisters in the West Bank, which resulted in severe injuries and killed at least two people.

Firing tear gas canisters directly at protestors is not a stand-alone practice. It is part of the open-fire policy Israel has been implementing along the Gaza border for more than a year. This policy, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 200 protestors and injured thousands is patently unlawful and immoral. Using lethal fire, whether live or otherwise, against protestors the vast majority of whom are unarmed and pose no danger to the lives of armored security forces on the other side of the fence, in the same way for more than a year, despite its well-documented horrific results is yet another expression of Israel’s disregard for the lives and bodily integrity of Palestinians.

Muhammad Fseifes. Photo by Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem, 19 June 2019

Muhammad Fseifes, 21, injured in head – 31 May 2019

At about 3:00 P.M. on Friday, 31 May 2019, Muhammad Fseifes, 23, a resident of ‘Abasan al-Kabirah who is unemployed, arrived at the protest near the Gaza perimeter fence to the north of the town of Khuza’ah. At about 3:30 P.M., Fseifes and a group of young men, some waving Palestinian flags, moved forward to a spot a few dozen meters from the fence. Hanan Abu Tibah, 30, a resident of Bani Suheila, married and mother of four, also went with the group, waving a Palestinian flag.

In a testimony taken on 19 June 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, Abu Tibah related:

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After the Supreme Court Praised the Open-Fire Policy, the Military Admits: We killed Protestors for No Reason

B’Tselem, 24 July 2019

Israel’s unlawful open-fire policy during the demonstrations along the Gaza perimeter fence – which were upheld by the Supreme Court – have so far resulted in hundreds of Palestinian deaths and thousands of injuries. Official sources now admit that they were well aware that people were being killed when even the State did not claim that this is justified. Despite this, no-one has taken action to amend the open-fire regulations. Instead, the military continued with its trial-and-error approach, ignoring the fact that human lives were at stake: people whose lives have been taken, and families who have been permanently devastated.

The day before yesterday (22 July 2019), it emerged that the officials were fully aware, at every stage, of the gulf between their declarations and reality. Carmela Menashe, a reporter for Kan News, reported that the military has now decided to change the open-fire regulations for snipers “after it emerged that firing at the lower limbs above the knee led, in most cases, to death, despite the fact that this was not the objective. Going forward, soldiers have been briefed to shoot below the knee and then at the ankle.” A senior officer at the military’s Counter-Terrorism School stated that the snipers’ objective “is not to kill but to injure, and accordingly one of the lessons learned related to the direction toward which they fire… At first, we told them to shoot at the leg. We saw that this can result in fatalities, so we told them to shoot below the knee, then we fine-tuned the regulations to shooting at the ankle.”

The decision to change the regulations only now, after more than a year during which they led to the deaths of at least 206 Palestinians, including 37 minors, and the injury of thousands, in no way suggests that the military attaches great value to human life. On the contrary, it shows that the military consciously chose not to regard those standing on the other side of the fence as humans. In its naivety, the High Court of Justice approved this practice. Both the military and the Court bear the responsibility for this criminal policy.

Background

In March 2018, thousands of residents of the Gaza Strip began demonstrating along the fence that separates Gaza from Israel, demanding an end to the siege of the Gaza Strip and the implementation of the right of return. From the outset, following the announcement of the first demonstration, Israel portrayed the protests as an existential threat to the state and regarded the participants as dangerous terrorists. As a result of this approach, the military implemented lethal open-fire regulations from the first day of the protests: regulations that are patently unlawful and immoral. As part of this policy, the military permitted the use of live fire against demonstrators on the other side of the fence and posed no danger to anyone, certainly not the armed and well-protected security forces stationed at a considerable distance from them. B’Tselem urged soldiers to refuse to obey these regulations and to refrain from shooting at unarmed protestors.

The regulation were legally challenged at the High Court of Justice. In its response to the petition, the State defended the regulations, declaring that “there can be no doubt regarding their legality.” The State emphasized that the regulations were approved by the Military Advocate General and the Attorney General, and that they permit live fire “solely in order to address violent disturbances that present a clear and present danger to IDF forces or to Israeli civilians.” The State added that “the rules permit precise fire at the legs of a main rioter or main instigator in order to eliminate the danger from the violence disturbance of the peace.” The State further added that “there is an orderly process in place for operational debriefing and implementation of lessons learned;” that “forces have been provided with clarifications and highlights designed to further limit, insofar as possible, the scope of injuries;” and that incidents involving fatalities have been referred for “review by the General Staff Mechanism for Fact-Finding Assessments which investigates exceptional incidents.”

The Court accepted this position verbatim and made no attempt to challenge it. Supreme Court Vice President, Justice Hanan Melcer, held that the regulations permit live fire solely when “there is an immediate, clear and present danger to IDF forces or Israeli civilians,” and allow only “precise fire at the legs of a main rioter or main instigator in order to eliminate the danger from the violence disturbance of the peace, with the goal of eliminating the anticipated imminent danger.”

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut concurred with Justice Melcer, similarly accepting each and every one of the State’s claims regarding the great caution the military exercises in the use of life fire, “in order to minimize as far as possible the potential harm to uninvolved civilians who participate in [the demonstrations].”

In the months since the beginning of the demonstrations, a gap between the State’s claims and the horrifying outcomes of the actual implementation of the unlawful open-fire regulations approved by the High Court grew wider. To date, the military has killed at least 206 Palestinian demonstrators using live fire, 37 of whom were minors under the age of 18. According to figures published by OCHA, more than 7,800 Palestinians have been injured by live fire. According to the World Health Organization, physicians have had to perform amputations in 139 cases – 30 of which involved minors and 121 involved the lower limbs. Moreover, 24 people have been left paralyzed as the result of spinal injuries.

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On the 69th Great March of Return

66 Civilians Injured by Israeli Forces: 28 Children, 2 Journalists, and 4 Women, Including a Paramedic

Palestinian Center for Human Rights – Gaza, August 2, 2019

On the 69th Great March of Return, 66 Palestinian civilians were injured due to the Israeli military’s continued use of excessive force against peaceful protests along the Gaza Strip’s eastern border. At least 28 children, 4 women and a paramedic were among those injured this Friday, 02 August 2019. Twenty-seven civilians were shot with live bullets and 2 children were deemed in a critical medical condition.

While this week’s protests saw a decline in the number of civilian injuries, PCHR fieldworkers documented many cases of live bullets targeting civilians’ upper bodies. Despite the absence of a real threat to Israeli soldiers’ lives; the occupation forces continued the systematic use of excessive force against protestors.

For the first time since the Great March of Return started in March 2018, there were no injuries reported in eastern Gaza City. The deployment of Palestinian security forces in official apparel along “Jakar” street, who denied civilians from approaching the border fence, contributed to the decline in injuries.

Today’s protest, which lasted from 16:00 to 19:00, was titled “Solidarity with Crimes against Wadi al-Humus,” and involved activities such as speeches by political leaders and theatrical performances. Dozens of civilians protested at varied distances from the border fence across the Gaza Strip.

To this date, PCHR documented 208 killings by Israel since the outbreak of the protests on 30 March 2018, including 44 children, 2 women, 9 persons with disabilities, 4 paramedics, and 2 journalists. Additionally, 13,391 were wounded, including 2,775 children, 413 women, 222 paramedics and 209 journalists, noting that many had sustained multiple wounds on multiple occasions.  Among those wounded, PCHR documented cases where 196 persons have become with disabilities, including 28 children and 5 women, and were as follows: 149 amputees; 21 paralyzed, 26 blind or deaf and 9 sexually disabled.

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US Congresswoman proposes cutting Israel aid

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York's 14th congressional district [Rothman's/Facebook]
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district [Rothman’s/Facebook]

The Middle East Monitor, April 18, 2019

US Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has proposed the US cut military and economic aid worth $3 billion a year from Israel in response to the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.

“I think these are part of conversations we are having in our caucus, but I think what we are really seeing is an ascent of authoritarianism across the world. I think that Netanyahu is a Trump-like figure,” she said during an interview with Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast.

“I think it is certainly on the table. I think it’s something that can be discussed,” she added referring to cutting the aid.

Ocasio-Cortez explained that there are many ways to protect the Palestinians from Israeli violations including a bill proposed by Democratic Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum that would prohibit US aid to Israel from being used to detain Palestinian children in the West Bank.

READ: Ocasio-Cortez calls out Congress double standards

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged during his election campaign to annex illegal settlements built on the Palestinian lands in the West Bank.

Ocasio-Cortez’s view on Israel and Palestine have received extensive media attention. The Democratic congresswoman expressed her support for the Palestinians during the Land Day protests in Gaza in which 135 Palestinians were killed by Israeli occupation forces and a further 13,000 were injured.

“This is a massacre,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

“I hope my peers have the moral courage to call it such.”

“No state or entity is absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else.”

The Ongoing Dread in Gaza: So Many Names, So Many Lives

Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, July 23, 2019

“I felt shaky and uneasy all day, preparing for this talk” – Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian from the territory of Gaza

Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian now living in the United States, grew up in Gaza. In Chicago last week, addressing activists committed to breaking the siege of Gaza, he held up a stack of 31 papers. On each page were names of 1,254 Palestinians living in Gaza who had been killed in just one month of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” attacks five years ago.

“I felt shaky and uneasy all day preparing for this talk,” he told the group. He described his dismay when, looking through the list of names, he recognized one; of a young man from his small town.

“He was always friendly to me,”Abusalim said. “I remember how he would greet me on the way to the mosque. His family and friends loved him, respected him.”

Abusalim recalled the intensity of losing loved ones and homes of seeing livelihoods and
infrastructure destroyed by aerial attacks of being unable to protect the most vulnerable. He said it often takes ten years or more before Palestinian families traumatized by Israeli attacks can begin talking about what happened. Noting Israel’s major aerial attacks in 2009, 2013, and 2014, along with more recent attacks killing participants in the “Great March of Return,” he spoke of ongoing dread about what might befalal Gaza’s children the next time an attack happens.

Eighty people gathered to hear Abusalim& and Retired Colonel Ann Wright, of US Boats to Gaza, as they helped launch the “Free Gaza Chicago River Flotilla,” three days of action culminating on July 20 with a spirited demonstration by “kayactivists” and boaters, along with onshore protesters, calling for an end to the siege of Gaza. Wright resigned from her post as a U.S. diplomat when the United States launched the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing of Iraq. Having participated in four previous international flotillas aiming to defy Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza’s shoreline, Wright is devoting her energies preparing for a fifth in 2020.

Another organizer and member of US Boat to Gaza, Elizabeth Murray, who like Wright formerly worked for the U.S. government, recalled being in a seminar sponsored by a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C., when a panel member compared Israeli attacks against Palestinians with routine efforts to “mow the lawn.” She recounted hearing a light tittering as the D.C. audience members expressed amusement. But, Murray said, “Not a single person objected to the panelist’s remark.” This was in 2010, following Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,383 Palestinians, 333 of whom were children.

Abusalim’s colleague at the American Friends Service Committee, Jennifer Bing, had cautioned Chicago flotilla planners to carefully consider the tone of their actions. A colorful and lively event during a busy weekend morning along Chicago’s popular riverfront could be exciting and, yes, fun.

But Palestinians in Gaza cope with constant tension, she noted. Denied freedom of movement, they live in the world’s largest open-air prison, under conditions the United Nations has predicted will render their land uninhabitable by 2020. Households get four to six hours of electricity per day. According to UNICEF, “sewage treatment plants can’t operate fully and the equivalent of forty-three Olympic-sized swimming pools of raw or partly treated sewage is pumped into the sea every day.”

Facing cruel human rights violations on a daily basis, the organizers urge solidarity in the form of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. U.S. residents bear particular responsibility for Israel’s military attacks against civilians, they note, as the United States has supplied Israel with billions of dollars for military buildup.

U.S. companies profit hugely from selling weapons to Israel. For example Boeing, with headquarters in Chicago, sells Israel Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems and Small Diameter Bombs that deliver Dense Inert Metal Explosive munitions. All of these weapons have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas.

During the 2009 Operation Cast Lead, I was in Rafah, Gaza, listening to children explaining the difference between explosions caused by F-16 fighter jets dropping 500-pound bombs and Apache helicopters firing Hellfire missiles.

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