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From the field

Playing with Fire on the Temple Mount: Use of Lethal and Excessive Force by the Israel Police Force

December 1996, Summary


B'Tselem's investigation of Police actions during the events on the Temple Mount on 27 September 1996 paints a dismal picture of the widespread, reckless, and illegal use of force, including lethal force, that left three persons dead and more than 100 wounded.

Particularly serious is the use of live ammunition, which to date has been denied by senior Police officials. B'Tselem's investigation unequivocally proves that live ammunition was used in at least one case. This is proven by the ballistics analysis of metal fragments removed from the head of Si'am Hussein, who was amoung the wounded. In addition, X-rays taken of Wa'il Tamimi, who also was wounded during the events on the Temple Mount, show similar metal particles. For medical reasons, it was not possible to remove the particles found in his body, however the X-ray together with the circumstances of his injury strongly suggest that Tamimi was also wounded by live ammunition.

Hussein and Tamimi were injured a meter apart: Hussein in the back of his head while he was praying, and Tamimi while tying his shoes so that he could leave the expanse of the Temple Mount. Their testimonies reinforce each other: from their positions a meter apart, each describes how the other was wounded. The two are not acquainted.

B'Tselem is unable to determine whether the Hussein and Tamimi cases were the only ones in which police used live ammunition on the Temple Mount. However, a high degree of likelihood exists - without drawing any firm conclusion - that two of those killed, Ayman A-Dakaydak and Ibrahim Ghanam, were killed by live ammunition. This conclusion is based on the nature of their injuries, and where they were located when shot.

In addition to live ammunition, the police fired rubber bullets at masses of people, wounding many. Police open fire orders do not contain specific instructions for the use of rubber bullets. However, Police regulations are likely to be at least as restrictive as the IDF's open-fire orders, which specify that "It is absolutely forbidden to fire rubber ammunition at a range of less than 40 meters.... Firing a rubber ammunition projectile rifle will be at a "specific target," and will be aimed only at the legs of a person who is identified as a rioter or stone-thrower."

Contrary to these instructions, the police fired rubber bullets intensively from a distance of 20 meters and struck the upper portion of the body. Many of the wounded were shot while praying, fleeing, or trying to assist the wounded.

Although less lethal, no less serious is the police use of clubs. Testimonies given to B'Tselem disprove the Police's contention that police used clubs only in a few cases when they were attacked by persons throwing stones at them from close range. Witnesses told B'Tselem that they had been beaten with clubs when they tried to leave the mosque or leave the expanse of the Temple Mount.

Based on these findings, B'Tselem urges the Department for the Investigation of Police, of the Ministry of Justice, to investigate thoroughly the cases of death on the Temple Mount, and to investigate each and every case in which a suspicion exists of unjustified use of live ammunition, rubber bullets, or clubs, or any other means of force. The Palestinian contentions that police prohibition on ambulances from entering the area delayed evacuation of wounded must also be investigated.

The ballistics analysis of the bullet fragments taken from the body of one of the wounded, which was conducted at B'Tselem's request, show that the Israel Police Force has the technology to conduct a ballistic comparison to determine which police officer fired the bullet that was analysed. B'Tselem urges the authorities to use this opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation, and show that Israel is a country governed by the rule of law, where a serious crime is punished to the full extent of the law.