The right to demonstrate, Border Police style – firing 0.22-inch bullets and sponge rounds at non-threatening protesters
In the summer of 2019, settlers established a new outpost southeast of ‘Ein Samia and east of Kafr Malik. In November 2020, they relocated it north, near the Bedouin community of Ras a-Tin, whose residents graze their flocks there. Area residents have repeatedly demonstrated against the establishment of the outpost. In one such demonstration, on 18 December 2020, a setter fired live rounds at the protesters and other settlers threatened them with two large dogs. Israeli security forces who were present did nothing to intervene.
Throughout the demonstrations, the forces continued to implement Israel's longstanding open-fire policy in the West Bank, which conveys blatant disregard for the lives and wellbeing of Palestinians. The policy permits security forces to use lethal live fire even in circumstances that pose no mortal risk to anyone. It also permits them to use other means — defined by the military as “crowd control weapons” — in dangerous and even deadly ways. This policy led to the killing of ‘Ali Abu ‘Alia, a 15-year-old resident of al-Mughayir, in a demonstration on 4 December 2020.
All the parties responsible for determining, implementing and enforcing this policy are well aware of its outcomes. Senior military officials approve it, legal advisors sign off on it, soldiers on the ground carry it out, and the military law enforcement system rapidly whitewashes it by making a show of true concern and investigation while in fact condoning these acts.
In two of the demonstrations, Border Police officers shot and wounded two protesters. ‘Abdallah Abu Rahma (55) was hit in the shoulder by a sponge round fired at him from close range as he was backing away from the officers. Y.B. (19) was hit in the leg by live sniper fire just as he was about to throw a stone at the officers from 100 to 150 meters away. In both cases, the shooting was unlawful, immoral and unjustified – in keeping with the open-fire policy Israel implements in the Occupied Territories.
‘Abdallah Abu Rahma injured, 20 November 2020
On Friday, 20 November 2020, area residents held the first in a series of protests against the new location of the outpost. At around 10:30 A.M., a convoy of private vehicles set out from nearby villages towards the outpost, which lies about 1.5 kilometers east of the Alon Road. When the convoy was about 200 meters away from the road, the participants noticed Border Police officers standing by the roadside. The 60 or so protesters parked their vehicles and continued on foot. The officers started advancing towards them, hurling stun grenades and firing tear canisters at them.
About half an hour later, at around 11:00 A.M., a small group of protesters reached the Alon Road with several journalists and two paramedics. The forces informed them that the area was a closed military zone and ordered them to leave. When the protesters did not comply, the officers arrested one of the paramedics, Muhammad Hamed, and tied his hands behind his back. One of the protest’s organizers, Bil’in resident ‘Abdallah Abu Rahma, who works for the Palestinian Authority’s Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was standing on the other side of the road and went over to the officers to help Hamed.
Video footage of the demonstration captured what happened next. Border Police officers hurled two stun grenades at the protesters and journalists and pushed an elderly protester standing near them. The force’s commander then instructed an officer to fire a sponge round at Abu Rahma from several meters away. ‘Abu Rahma tried to flee, but the bullet hit him in the shoulder just as he had turned around and started backing away from the officers.
In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, Abu Rahma recounted:
At that point, a small group of people was standing by the road, including two paramedics, several protesters and journalists. I was giving an interview to the media. During the interview, I saw a paramedic try to cross the road with the group. Things in the area were calm and the protesters were not being violent. Still, the officers grabbed the paramedic and violently handcuffed him. Several protesters tried to intervene to release him. I was on the other side of the road. The interviewer and I quickly wrapped up the interview and crossed the road to join the protesters. I wanted to try and get the paramedic released.
As I made my way over, I heard the commander instruct one of the officers: “Give him one, give him one.” In other words, shoot him. At that moment, before I had time to get away from the officer, just as I'd turned around, he fired at me from about five meters away. The bullet hit me in the right shoulder muscle. Thank God I was trying to escape, otherwise it would’ve hit me in the chest and could have killed me. I felt like something had shaken my entire body, and it hurt a lot. I ran for about 100 meters, shouting, until I was a safe distance away, and then I collapsed. The ambulance that was there followed me. They put me inside and started treating me with ice on the wounded area and bandages. I had a bruise several inches large. It looked like a burn, and burned and hurt like one.
Abu Rahma was taken to the Mujama Falastin Medical Center in Ramallah, where he was examined and later discharged at 2:00 P.M.
Y.B. injured, 27 November 2020:
A week later, on Friday morning, 27 November 2020, at around 10:00 A.M., about 100 protesters set out in private vehicles towards ‘Ein Samia. Again, as two Border Police jeeps were standing by the Alon Road, the protesters parked about 100 meters from the road and started walking towards it. The officers hurled stun grenades at them, and within minutes about 20 more soldiers and Border Police officers arrived. They spread out along hills in the area, hurling stun grenades and firing rubber-coated metal bullets at the protesters, some of whom threw stones at them.
Some protesters blocked the road with burning tires, stopping the police from advancing. The protesters threw stones, some using slingshots, at officers who were standing by two Border Police jeeps, about 100 to 150 meters away from them. The officers hurled tear gas canisters and fired rubber-coated metal bullets at the protesters. As the stones were thrown at such a distance, most did not reach the officers.
Hisham Abu Shaqrah (32), a press photographer from Ramallah, was standing behind the Border Police jeep that was in front. He filmed a police sniper lying on the ground by the jeep and firing a 0.22-inch caliber bullet ('two-two'') at the leg of a protester, Kafr Malik resident Y.B., as he was about to throw a stone.
In a testimony he gave by phone to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, Abu Shaqrah recalled:
At around 11:30 A.M., I was standing about 40 meters away from the Border Police’s front jeep. About six officers were standing by it, firing tear gas canisters and “rubber” bullets at the protesters. Some of them had taken up positions behind the open driver's door, and it looked like they were using it as a shield. One of them lay down on the ground, between the others' legs, got into a sniping position and aimed his rifle at the protesters. A commanding officer was standing above him giving him orders in Hebrew, from what I could understand. I heard him say, “A bit more to there, that’s it. Aim, fire.”
A few seconds later, the officer who was lying on the ground fired a two-two bullet at one of the protesters and hit him in the leg. I recognized the bullet by the sound it makes. The guy immediately started limping and hopping around on his foot, trying to get away. Some other guys came over and helped him get away. One of the paramedics tried to go over to him, but the officers blocked his way, so he got into a Palestinian ambulance and the officers let it drive ahead and evacuate the wounded man.
I heard the officers cheering the sniper and congratulating him as if he'd done something great. They looked happy and were laughing and patting him on the back. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my time as a journalist. I’ve never seen Israeli soldiers or police officers celebrating like that.
In a testimony he gave by phone to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, Y.B. spoke about his injury:
I felt like an electric current hit me hard in the left leg. I couldn’t stand on it and starting limping on my right leg. I moved a few meters away, and some guys who were standing next to me grabbed me and carried me away. Just then, an ambulance that was in the area arrived. The paramedics disinfected the wound and bandaged it. It turned out the bullet had entered and exited my leg. They took me through a side road, far from away from the forces, to al-Mughayir and from there to hospital in Ramallah.
When I got to the hospital, they examined and X-rayed me. A tendon in my leg may be torn, and I might have to undergo surgery. They gave me a shot in my muscle against infection and inflammation and bandaged the wound. Then they discharged me and told me to come back on Monday for a checkup. At the moment, I can’t walk without crutches. I’m afraid the injury will cause me long term damage and that the limp will become permanent.