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Israeli Border Police officer shoots sponge round from short range at chest of paramedic trying to treat a wounded detainee

On the morning of Thursday, 11 November 2021, more than 100 people attended a demonstration marking the anniversary of Yasser ‘Arafat's death near the northern entrance to the town of al-...
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Israeli Border Police officer shoots sponge round from short range at chest of paramedic trying to treat a wounded detainee

On the morning of Thursday, 11 November 2021, more than 100 people attended a demonstration marking the anniversary of Yasser ‘Arafat's death near the northern entrance to the town of al-Birah. During the demonstration, some of the protesters burned tires, blocked several roads and threw stones at about 20 Border Police officers who were deployed in the area. The officers fired tear gas canisters, rubber-coated metal bullets and sponge rounds at the protesters. According to UN figures1, 15 protesters were injured by “rubber” bullets and sponge rounds, and 25 suffered tear gas inhalation.

At around 4:00 P.M., a Border Police officer fired a “rubber” bullet that hit one of the protesters in the leg. Two officers went over to the wounded man to arrest him as he sat on the ground. Muhammad ‘Omar, a 28-year-old volunteer paramedic from Bitunya who was wearing a reflective EMT vest, tried to get to the man too, in order to give him first aid. Video footage published by the media shows one of the officers forcefully lifting the wounded man to his feet, and then he and the other officer lead him away as ‘Omar tries to free him from their grasp. One of the officers hits ‘Omar in the face and seconds later, fires a sponge round at his chest from several meters away. ‘Omar falls to the ground, and the officers leave with the detainee. ‘Omar was then taken to hospital in Ramallah, where he was treated and discharged after several hours.

Shooting the sponge round at ‘Omar – a paramedic who was merely fulfilling his duty – from less than five meters away, directly in the chest, was unlawful and above all, dangerous. Firing a sponge round at the upper body at such short range can lead to serious injury, which is why it is forbidden even under Israel’s permissive open-fire regulations. The officer’s trigger-happy, almost nonchalant approach attests yet again to Israeli security forces’ disregard for human life when it comes to Palestinians.

In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 15 November 2021, ‘Omar recounted:

Muhammad Omar. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem, 14 Nov. 2021
Muhammad Omar. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem, 14 Nov. 2021

I was 50 meters away from the wounded guy, and the officers were about 25 meters from him on the other side, so they got to him before I did. One of them led him towards their vehicle. When I got there, I tried to pull him out of their hands so I could treat him.

In response, some officers who were on a hill north of us fired a tear gas canister at me. The gas started spreading but it didn’t bother me, and I kept trying to get the wounded man out of the officers’ hands. I told them I only wanted to treat him, and then one of the officers hit me in the face, below the left eye. I moved back a bit, and then I ran after the officer who was leading the wounded man away. Suddenly, he aimed his weapon at me and fired a sponge round at me from one or two meters away. It didn’t even cross my mind that he would shoot me. The bullet hit me in the chest, on the left. I was winded and felt intense pain and “pins and needles”, and immediately fell down.

The two officers continued running with the wounded guy and put him in their vehicle. I lay on the ground, writhing in pain. Several paramedics came over and gave me first aid, especially oxygen because I was having trouble breathing. Then I was taken to hospital in Ramallah, where I was examined and X-rayed. I was only bruised and was discharged after four hours. It still hurts, but less than it did that day. I’m taking painkillers.

  1. According to the database on the protection of civilians of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  

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