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From the field

A Death Foretold: Firing of "Rubber" Bullets to Disperse Demonstrations in the Occupied Territories

November 1998, Summary


"Rubber bullets," used by the IDF to disperse demonstrations, are in fact steel with a thin rubber coating. Their use is based on the perception of security officials that "rubber" bullets are less lethal than live ammunition, and are, therefore, an appropriate weapon for non-life -threatening situations.

However, from the beginning of the intifada until the end of October 1998, at least fifty-seven Palestinians have been killed by rubber-coated steel bullets. Hundreds have been wounded. The dead include twenty-eight children under seventeen, of whom thirteen were under the age of thirteen. Since September 1993, when Israel and the PLO signed the Declaration of Principles, rubber ammunition has killed fifteen Palestinians, seven of them under the age of seventeen.

Predisposition to Fire The Open-Fire Regulations permit the firing of "rubber bullets" to disperse riots and demonstrations only after other means, such as tear gas, stun grenades, and warning shots in the air, are ineffective. The shooter is permitted to aim only at the legs of a person who has been identified as one of the rioters or stone-throwers. In addition, the Regulations explicitly prohibit the firing of "rubber bullets" at a distance of less than forty meters and at children. There are numerous difficulties in carrying out these regulations, including estimating distance in a tense and changeable situation; identifying children among a crowd; and accurately aiming when firing "rubber bullets."

Testimonies given to B'Tselem indicate that security forces often fire "rubber bullets" in violation of the Open-Fire Regulations, at times with fatal results. In some cases, the security forces themselves admit the breach of regulations.

New York Times correspondent Joel Greenberg was an eye-witness to the shooting death of eight-year old Ali Jawarish and provided testimony to B'Tselem:

When the soldier fired, he was some fifteen to twenty meters from the fleeing children. At that time, some children were detained and others were fleeing, no stones were thrown. After the firing, the soldiers retreated. When they did so, I noticed a child, around nine or ten years old, lying motionless on the ground.

Shooting with Impunity In the vast majority of cases in which soldiers shot "rubber bullets" and killed Palestinians, no one was held accountable. Forty-nine of the Fifty-seven cases of Palestinians killed by "rubber bullets" involved IDF soldiers. In only three of these cases did the authorities initiate legal action against those responsible. In the rest of the cases, the Office of the Military Advocate General either conducted no investigation; has yet to complete the investigation (in some cases, years after the incident); or closed the investigation without recommending legal action.

In the three cases where the authorities took legal measures against the soldiers who had killed Palestinians, one was acquitted; one sentenced to twenty-one months' imprisonment and two years' probation; and one subject to disciplinary proceedings.

The Office of the Military Advocate General refuses to change the Open-Fire Regulations although many people, including children, have died. At the same time, it systematically fails to prosecute offenders. This policy indicates a blatant disregard for Palestinian life.

Conclusions The figures indicate that rubber bullets are lethal and should be permitted only in life-threatening situations. "Rubber bullets" should not be used to disperse demonstrations.

As long as "rubber bullets" continue to be used and the current Regulations continue to apply, the Office of the Military Advocate General and the military judicial system must enforce the law and prosecute and punish soldiers who fire in violation of the Regulations.