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From the field

Crowd Control: Israel’s Use of Crowd Control Weapons in the West Bank

Summary, Jan, 2013

Crowd control weapons are supposed to be non-lethal, enabling authorities to enforce the law without endangering human life. In fact, however, they are dangerous weapons that can cause death, severe injury and damage to property if used improperly.

This report details the crowd control weapons used by Israeli security forces in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem).

Tear gas is a chemical irritant that severely affects the eyes and the respiratory system. It is the predominant crowd control weapon in use by Israeli security forces and is dispersed through several types of grenades manufactured in the United States: A rubber tear-gas grenade (known as “400” or “skittering grenade”), which can be hand-thrown or fired from a launcher mounted on a rifle, and a 40mm aluminum canister (known as “gas rocket”) which is fired from a launcher. In East Jerusalem security forces also use the splitting tear-gas grenade which separates into three sub-canisters. 40mm-caliber canisters are fired from several different types of launchers. Some are mounted on soldiers’ rifles and can be fired one grenade at a time. Others are stand-alone launchers which can fire from one to six grenades in quick succession. Israeli security forces also have at their disposal a jeep-mounted system that enables firing salvos of grenades, which can cover a large area with tear gas.

Stun grenades are also a predominant crowd control weapon. They are a diversionary measure, whose explosion emits a bright light and a thunderous noise. The grenades are designed to cause panic, thereby enabling security forces to overpower people. Like the tear-gas grenades in use by Israeli security forces, the stun grenades are also manufactured in the United States.

Rubber-coated metal bullets are utilized primarily against stone-throwers. Security forces use two types of bullets made of a metal core coated with either rubber or plastic, and fired from launchers mounted on rifle-barrels. These so-called “rubber” bullets are manufactured by Israel Military Industries Ltd. The Orr Commission prohibited the use of rubber-coated metal bullets within Israel’s borders. In East Jerusalem, since the prohibition, Israel Police has been using 40mm-caliber sponge rounds imported from the Unites States.

Firing Rubber-Coated Bullet – Cylinder

The Skunk is a foul-smelling liquid developed by the Israel Police for the purpose of dispersing demonstrations. It is sprayed from truck-mounted water cannons. The odor is so offensive that it forces any person in its vicinity to back off. The report also details the relevant orders of the military and the Israel Police which regulate the use of these weapons, and which the security forces refuse to divulge. In addition the report surveys the implementation of the regulations in the field and the detrimental results of violating them.

This report has found that there are two main problems with the use of crowd control weapons in the West Bank. First, the wording of the open-fire and safety regulations is ambiguous, and in some cases the regulations cannot be properly followed. Second, when security forces in the field violate the regulations, even systematically, practically no action is taken to put an end to this wrongful conduct. Senior-ranking officers deny that violations of the open-fire regulations are the norm and classify injury to civilians from improper use of crowd control weapons as “exceptions to the rule”. Furthermore, even in the rare instances in which investigations into such incidents are conducted, most are closed without the perpetrators or their superiors being held accountable. Following are some of the report’s findings:


  • Soldiers and Border Police often fire tear-gas grenades directly at demonstrators with the aim of hitting them, or fire carelessly, without ensuring that demonstrators are not in the direct line of fire, in direct contravention of regulations.
  • Soldiers and Border Police systematically violate standing orders, firing rubber-coated metal bullets even in circumstances clearly prohibited by the orders. B’Tselem has documented instances in which security forces have fired rubber-coated metal bullets at a closer range than that permitted by the regulations, making it potentially lethal. They have also fired at minors, at the upper torso and at passersby or demonstrators who had not been throwing stones and did not pose a danger to security forces or any other individual. In some cases, commanders, including high-ranking officers, knew of the unlawful firing and even ordered it.
  • Security forces sometimes fire live ammunition during demonstrations, particularly at Palestinians who are throwing stones at them. B’Tselem has documented use of live ammunition in circumstances that were not life-threatening.
  • Soldiers and Border Police have fired 0.22 inch-caliber bullets under circumstances that do not warrant the use of lethal weapons. In effect, this ammunition is used as if were a non-lethal means of crowd control.
  • In several cases security forces sprayed the foul-smelling Skunk liquid at or near homes, raising grave suspicions that it is being used as a collective punitive measure against residents of villages where regular weekly demonstrations are held.
  • Police officers make use of pepper spray in contravention of official police procedure, which is designed strike a balance between law enforcement considerations and safety considerations.


The unlawful use of crowd control weapons by Israeli security forces is accompanied by further restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of speech and their freedom to protest the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. These restrictions include the arrest and prosecution of demonstration organizers; the dispersal of demonstrations using force, even when demonstrators were not violent in any way; and the deportation of foreign nationals participating in the demonstrations. Areas in the West Bank where demonstrations are held every Friday are declared closed military zones for the time scheduled for demonstration. Specific orders designating closed military zones enable security forces to keep Israeli activists from taking part in the demonstrations and to make them liable for arrest and prosecution. These disproportionate restrictions deviate from the instructions issued by the Legal Advisor for the West Bank, which prohibit the declaration of an area a closed military zone to a specific group, such as activists at demonstrations.

Members of the security forces who are faced with stone throwers, sometimes in large-scale events, have the authority to use the various weapons detailed in this report. However, the authorities must ensure that the troops on the ground obey the open-fire regulations and use crowd control weapons within the parameters that keep them non-lethal. It follows that every soldier, officer, or police officer violating these rules must be prosecuted. In addition, B’Tselem demands that Israeli security forces:


  • prohibit the use of live ammunition, including 0.22inch-caliber bullets, for the purpose of dispersing demonstrations, except in instances of mortal danger;
  • restrict the use of rubber-coated metal bullets to instances of mortal danger, to be used as a preliminary measure, before firing live ammunition;
  • completely prohibit the firing of 40mm tear-gas canisters either directly at individuals or horizontally, in a way that could cause result in injuries.